Unexpected company from out of town showed up… my Daughter and her family!!! I’ll be out for a week piddling with them, dining, BBQ, Grand Canyon drive… etc. Usual crap you do with you children 🙂
Unexpected company from out of town showed up… my Daughter and her family!!! I’ll be out for a week piddling with them, dining, BBQ, Grand Canyon drive… etc. Usual crap you do with you children 🙂
The conservative revolution, which is the historical reality of financialization, has globalized consumerism and taken it to extreme levels by destroying the processes of binding the drives in which investments in sublime objects of all kinds consist. But if so, the current and very recent hegemony of the industry of traces is what attempts to control these unbound drives through automatisms founded on social networks while at the same time functionalizing them, that is, making them serve a ‘personalized’ stimulation of the consumerist drive, via mimetic mechanisms that, however, only end up making these drives more uncontrollable, contagious and threatening than ever.
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
Of course the conservative revolution of financialization is what those on the far left love to term neoliberalism, a hyperbolic metaphor that for different scholars, talking heads, media pundits, academic thinkers, cultural critics, sociologists has become a label for almost everything that has supposedly gone wrong with our world. Since at least the eighties with the rise of those conservative leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher this strange consensus that the world is driven by mad Oligarchs and Moghuls: a mafia capitalism if you will, pervades the mindset of the liberal reformists of the official progressive world view. What is usually left out is that this, too, is a grand narrative, a fictionalization and hyperstitional pun that has taken root in our collective psyche to the point that whatever may really go on in the real world is usually left out of the picture received by most citizens. Yes, we love to live in our fictions of the world, rather than in the world.
But that’s the funny thing about reality, whatever doesn’t fit the puzzle, fit the picture one has of the world, universe, or – yes, let’s have it: politics, then, yes, we just go with the flow, let the music of the pundits fly. We ate lazy animals, who live in our closed off shells of reality, an artificial world of symbols and language, a cultural order that replaces the world for our world. What philosophers love to term the Other is this untidy outside of our comfortable little cultural prison house of fictions. What they mean by the real is all that that provides obstacles to our pretty little pictures of the world, those odd things that break our vision, that want fit the puzzle, that seem to cause havoc with our systems of thought and our mental maps. Immanuel Kant was one of those that would stop all that, who labeled the untidy and unruly outside the ‘noumenon’ – an abstract word to cover over the stuff that doesn’t fit nicely into all our epistemic (intellectual and knowledge based mental images, our given world, etc.). The Idealists after Kant would take this motif to the extreme and invent a dualism of mind/world, culture/nature, etc. that would infiltrate most of modern Western culture and thought since the Enlightenment. We would come to know only the world for us, rather than knowing what things are in themselves we would become satisfied with what they are for us – that is, the world of the given.
This inward turn in philosophy would tear apart our trust in what is real, which over a period of two hundred years would break apart our world and the meanings we share about reality. We’ve all seen the subtle rise of the notion of nihilism, when the world has lost its meaning, become de-valued, rift from the human mind, etc., a world depleted of human knowing and left in a blank place of the unknown. Instead we were told by Kant and his followers that all we need be concerned about is the world for us – the phenomenal world of appearances. It’s this world of glitz and glitter, the world of things give to us ready made, the real world is this world we create out of our mental pictures, and whatever doesn’t quite fit that mental frame must be wrong, must be left out of the picture, exorcised, bracketed.
For the average citizen of most Western countries all this is just puzzles philosophers love to ponder, nothing more. Problem is that philosophers have usually been the ones to uncover the strange quirks in our human world, the errors and bad mental fallacies we can all fall into. Ezra Pound once said the poets were the “antennae of the world,” for me at least philosophers are the handy men and engineers of the reality machines that invent our world moment by moment. They tinker with the equipment, they pull the cranks, push the buttons, pop the wires that keep this old machine of the world going. But something happened along the way in this tinkering of the reality machine, a new tribe arose that seemed to take the philosophers seriously, who seemed better fit than the philosophers to actually uncover the mechanisms of the world order and understand just how much is real and fake. We call these wonder workers by the term scientists, after scientia, a Latin term:
mid-14c., “what is known, knowledge (of something) acquired by study; information;” also “assurance of knowledge, certitude, certainty,” from Old French science “knowledge, learning, application; corpus of human knowledge” (12c.), from Latin scientia “knowledge, a knowing; expertness,” from sciens (genitive scientis) “intelligent, skilled,” present participle of scire “to know,” probably originally “to separate one thing from another, to distinguish,” related to scindere “to cut, divide,” from PIE root *skei- “to cut, to split” (source also of Greek skhizein “to split, rend, cleave,” Gothic skaidan, Old English sceadan “to divide, separate;” see schizo-).
As you can see from the above etymology science is about knowledge, a way of separating, cutting, splitting, abstracting, dividing the true from false, of testing the mind’s tools against the world. Scientists are experts in knowledge of what is. Skilled investigators of the phenomenal realms. Rather than sitting back and contemplating the world from afar like philosophers, speculating and pondering the workings of the mind or nature, the scientists would take a more pragmatic turn and actually test the world against their speculations (theories). It is this pragmatic instrumentalism that pervades the sciences which have delved into both the largest (macrocosm) and smallest (microcosm) objects and things in the universe of the known. For scientist discover what works and what doesn’t. They invent instruments to probe the world and universe more subtly than the mind alone can do. Science uses artificial instruments, things invented by the mind to work the world. What is unknown may be there but science uses only the more subtle arts of mathematics to probe the edges of that difficult terrain. Scientists influenced by several thousand years of philosophical speculation have furthered the probing of reality not through pure thought and natural language, but through the artificial language of math and numbers.
Someday some bright young thinker is going to trace this whole artificializing process across the various cultures and civilizations, how humans over millennia humanized themselves through these various artificial processes of natural language and mathematics. A cultural history of the artificial planet we all now live in. In the past few decades some bright humans seemed to wake up and realize that we’ve all been duped, that we’ve been immersed in an artificial world for so long that we’ve forgotten it was invented by us to replace reality. Philosophers for some time now have been attacking this sleeping disease. Nietzsche would be the end game master of this process realizing that humans love their illusions, that they need their illusions to get on with life. That art and artifice are what humans need to live. Take away art and artifice, technics and technology and humans would rejoin the apes in the jungles. It is this artificial leap from the animal kingdom into a world of technics and technology that gave humans the impetus to invent themselves.
Philosophers have for two centuries not been too happy about this state of affairs, attacking this illusionary world we’ve all built for ourselves in various cultural forms. They to a tee are so upset about this strange state of affairs that they’ve argued from one extreme to another just what we can do to rid ourselves of these errors, fallacies, illusions, etc. There is something about humans that seem to love to dichotomize the world and each other. From speculations about life, politics, religion, history, culture, economics, etc. there seem to be humans on one side of an issue or the other. We have been at war over reality for tens of thousands of years. In my own little nightmare I sometimes think that our earth was seeded by a malevolent species from the stock of two ultra extreme planetary species who by a genetic quirk were able to transmit their heritage and intermingle. We being their descendants have been at war ever since, our psyches attuned to some gravitational pull of thought that seems in direct and diametrically opposing views to the other. We are our own worst enemies, vying with each other over the truth and validity of the other’s right to the Reality System.
Of course this is my own little fiction, my own way of making sense of the endless strife on our planet among conservative and progressive forces across the known cultures and civilizations.
Bernard Stiegler being on the progressive side of the line offers his slanted vision of the world, too. He speaks it as if his view is the ‘correct’ view, as if he holds the eternal truth, as if those who do not share his view must be on the other side of the fence – and, wrong. For conservative or liberal, the one or the other must be wrong-headed. Liberals hate conservatives, Conservatives hate liberals. The war goes on. A cartoon Hegel would say it’s just the dialectic working itself out. A cartoon Marx would agree but say it’s not people but the material base and superstructure working itself out. Of course both are right and wrong, and neither of these cartoon versions of Hegel or Marx are an accurate picture of those two subtle thinkers concepts. Yet, we live with the cartoons rather than spend time to understand the subtleties of both thinkers lives and works. So it goes (Vonnegut).
Like others I have my own hyperstitional mindset, a world of thought and feeling grafted out of a lifetime of reading and being-in-process (becoming). As a critical mind I’ve tried to distance myself from taking sides when I review and provide commentary, but even that is a little lie. For we all take sides: we take our own side in everything. Take for instance the notion of the Self/Subject. For forty years the ring of Foucault that along with Nietzsche’s “God is dead” (meaning nihilism reigns), he would broadcast the other notion that the “author is dead”. By this he meant that our human notion of Self/Subject is mute, that it is a non-entity, that the persona behind the mask of a writer, thinker, lover, painter, musician, husband, wife, etc. is all sham, a lie, a fiction, a meta-fiction. We’ve invented the self out of a tissue of fictions, mere rhetorical strategies of language; nothing more.
Freud would build on the heritage of 19th Century thought about the Kantian world of the inner man, the world of the Self/Subject and find madness and nightmares. He would uncover the irrational and mindless, even impersonal world of drives (Trieb). He would discover humanity’s tendency to entropy and death. That life was nothing but a long and circuitous route to death taken by the human organic energy system through a carefully orchestrated process of sublimation (i.e., the art of illusion making). He’d learn from the poets and philosophers that humans are irrational animals, and that Reason is an artificial control system built over this irrational beast of the inner man to regulate and control those dark and erotic, even violent drives.
If Freud were alive today he’d gasp at the stupidity of our thinkers in stripping humanity of its illusions. A realist, Freud knew like T.S. Eliot that humans could not bare too much reality. Naked of our sublime art and illusions we are mere play things of the irrational forces of our erotoviolent and inhuman inner processes. In an old religious iconic attribute: we’ve all become demons and demonized reality. We are living out our own irrational and daemonic nightmares in a literal death-driven world of hate and total violence. Psychopathy and sociopathy is our second nature. We have stripped ourselves of what Nick Land terms the “Human Security Systems” that have protected us from the truth of the world, and now that we are awake there is nothing new to replace this bare world of eros and thanatos we’ve entered. We are in the death throes of human planetary civilization. Of course there are paths out of this…
We need only return to the failed prophets, saviors, Buddhas, Christs, etc. to see that humanity has always had certain individuals who had the Truth, the Way, the Life. Someone else we could turn to and say, “Here, this guy knows what to do, let’s listen to him, let’s follow him…”. Problem is we never look to our own lives, we always think the other fellow over there has the answer to our deepest dilemmas. Rather than facing the music ourselves we cop out and hand it all to some other fellow who says he can save us from ourselves if we will only do this or that… but that’s another tale.
Isn’t this after all what Stiegler is doing? Isn’t he just one more intellectual thinker who thinks he has the answer to our problems, a sort of modern secular savior, a man who has found a scheme in all the past glories of philosophical speculation and formed his own little system of axioms, concepts, rhetorical strategies to tell us what has been told in various forms for millennia. We are all asleep in a fictional world that we created together to protect us from the truth of Reality? And, now that that fiction is no longer working, now that Reality (Climate, War, Famine, Genocide, the endless litany of entropy and death…) isn’t aligning with our image of it we are lost in a cosmos without meaning or value (a complete nihilism). The truth is that there is no Big Other, no Saviour, no Redeemer or God or Financier or Thinker or …. there is no one coming to fix the mess we all created together. And playing the endless blame game of conservative or liberal politics isn’t going to change things one iota, in fact the illusion of stage show politics is to keep us in the circle of non-change, keep us blaming the illusionary media hosts of the current world zoo of leaders. Blaming someone else for the state of the world. Of course it’s not me, of course it’s all too complex for little ole me, of course I’m powerless, of course I’m just one person…. I’m just human, after all. We invent our excuses to absolve ourselves of blame for the death of the planet and humanity. We believe we are not responsible, it’s those others, those conservatives, those liberals… it must be them – it can’t be me. Oh, but it is, my friend. It has always been you, and you, and… yes, me… we’re all guilty as charged. We all stand before the court of Reality charged with our escapes, our lies, our illusions. And the verdict is that there is no verdict. Reality couldn’t give a shit one way or the other about verdicts: it is absolute indifference, absolute impersonality, absolute force and drive and irrational blind energy. It is chaosmos.
And, of course, as usual, I went off on a tangent today… more tomorrow or…leave you with one final quote by Stieger,
The channelling of the drives through the application of mathematical algorithms to automatized social control can do nothing but push these drives to a highly dangerous level, by dis-integrating them – and in so doing creating what Félix Guattari called ‘dividuals’.28 With the advent of reticular reading and writing via networks made accessible to everyone through the implementation, beginning in 1993, of the technologies of the world wide web, digital technologies have led hyper-industrial societies towards a new stage of proletarianization – through which the hyper-industrial age becomes the era of systemic stupidity, which can also be called functional stupidity.(AS)
As we enter the bright new world of Automatic Society we begin to see that we are being automated and stripped of our exit strategies, made into functionally stupid idiots who will naively accept this new world through the enticements of gadgets, endless echo-chambers of chit-chat, MMO’s, repetitive games, media lies, all mindless and naked systems under the control of machinic intelligences so ubiquitous we will think it is a miracle. But even miracles are a stage show magician’s best act… but like any new show, the show becomes old and worn, people forget the cutting edge of its strangeness, it suddenly becomes a part of the background, accepted, a truism…. after a few generations people will no longer know that they were once human, they will have become other…
An ‘otium of the people’, and of ‘people who are missing’, an otium as experience of the (de)fault of otium, that is, of its intermittent condition, is the condition of any neganthropological knowledge, and it is made possible by reticulated digital tertiary retention.
—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society
For Bernard Stiegler the End of Work is inevitable, but for him it is not work per se that ends but the end of human participation in the employer/employment cycle of wealth creation (i.e., alienated labour in Marx’s terms). The end of Consumerist Economy and the emergence of what he terms a Contributory Economy that replaces it is in the offing. Yet, during the next few decades a massive undertaking by civilizations across the globe will need to take place if humans are to both resist and curtail total entropic decay and apocalypse of knowledge and life practices. As Stiegler comments:
Loisir in French, skholē in Greek and otium in Latin mean freedom as Bildung, and not the absence of work, that is, of necessity. This is what Kant recalls at the end of his life (confronting those he calls mystagogues, priding themselves on being inhabited by genius, itself constituting a clairvoyant gift): ‘[T]he discursive understanding must employ much labor on resolving and again compounding its concepts according to principles, and toil up many steps to make advances in knowledge.’1
Bildung (German: [ˈbɪldʊŋ], “education, formation, etc.”) refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation (as related to the German for: creation, image, shape), wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation. In this sense, the process of harmonization of mind, heart, selfhood and identity is achieved through personal transformation, which presents a challenge to the individual’s accepted beliefs. The term Bildung also corresponds to the Humboldtian model of higher education from the work of Prussian philosopher and educational administrator Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Thus, in this context, the concept of education becomes a lifelong process of human development, rather than mere training in gaining certain external knowledge or skills. Such training in skills is known by the German words Erziehung, and Ausbildung. Bildung in contrast is seen as a process wherein an individual’s spiritual and cultural sensibilities as well as life, personal and social skills are in process of continual expansion and growth. Bildung is seen as a way to become more free due to higher self-reflection.
For Stiegler it is more specifically a complete transformation of the human species in many respects as great as the Neolithic Revolution from hunter/gatherer to Agricultural Civilization which emerged across the planet for thousands of years until the recent Industrial Revolution replaced it with the inevitable process of technics and technology through automation. This formidable task of re-educating humans for leisure and free time rather than work and employment in industry or service is and will be a massive undertaking that will entail a generational bildung or what he terms the ‘art of hyper-control’,
Such would be an ‘art of hyper-control’, for which it would be a matter not of ‘addressing a people, which is presupposed already there, but of contributing to the invention of a people’. But this presupposes both:
– a genuine organological revolution, based on the deliberate and theorized supplementary invention of new instruments of knowledge and publication;
– and an epistemic and epistemological revolution that radically trans-forms the status, practices and axioms of knowledge in general (of living, doing, conceiving).
I’m holding off with my critique of Stiegler till a final essay, yet as I’ve been reading him I’ve noticed a quality in his writings that I see in many contemporary pundits, scholars, philosophers, thinkers, etc.: naiveté. He almost believes his own bullshit, as if the real politique of actual existing governments (and, for Stiegler this means above all France, for he like many French thinkers is more concerned with his national world and its transformation than with anything external to it. Insular, elitists, and very much a Francophile promotor, Stiegler seems to see France as a universal culture from which everything else is derivative and subordinate. A typical leftward intellectual he believes his thought and options are superior and must become policy, and for France in particular which is all he seems concerned with in his work of policy advisement. Still promoting the notion of Self and Individual as a rock bottom feature of humanity he continues the Simondon line of transindividuation never referring to the sciences or current neurobiological knowledge at all.).
Almost like a modern Plato he never realizes that this re-education or Bildung would entail a tyrannical enforcement and elitism of this system to be effective. The idea of an organological and epistemic revolution would entail a massive reorganization and transformation of every sector of society and culture on the planet, something – at least, in this work he seems to pass over in silence. Theoretical to the extreme he hardly even begins to touch base with the real world application of such an ‘art of hyper-control’. Like many thinkers of the past he has become a system builder, but in this sense his is concerned with the task of redesigning humans through a process of total cultural transformation.
His Contributory Economy is patterned in many ways after the Open Source software community and its theory and practices:
This scheme should become a model for a law of work in an economy of contribution, just as we believe that free software, inasmuch as it is a challenge to the industrial division of labour, should constitute a model for the organization of work. The widespread generalization of this organization of work requires a contributory organology that remains entirely to be developed36 – in the first place with the free software communities that have been around now for thirty years. (AS)
For Stiegler it is the time of intermittence that organizes and sets the rhythm of all societies, and that it is what fully computational capitalism, operating twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, tends to eliminate: the time of sleep, of dreams and of free time. We also know that intermittence is the very condition of thinking for Socrates and for Aristotle – both of whom quote the same line from Simonides. And we know, finally, that a scheme exists in France whereby those occasional workers in the entertainments industry known as ‘intermittents du spectacle’ are indemnified against unemployment. Stiegler refers to this concept of intermittence in his discussion of algorithmic ill-being as a return of the ancient Tragic sense of life in which the battles between the Olympians and Titans fiercely struggled each other for the future of the world. As he says it we are moving through a transitional period, an intermittence, a time-between-times of no time, a time without time, a blank space or void in which the renewal of civilization constitutes a return to the tragic sources of the West. One leading us to confront what he terms “the irreducibility of the organological and pharmacological condition, to which the sacrificial practices of the Greeks bore witness by celebrating Persephone as the goddess of intermittence: Vernant showed that the mysteries practised by the mystics (which the Greeks are as a whole) primordially refer to the inaugural conflict of every mythic tension, that is, to the tragic tensions arising from the conflict between Zeus the Olympian and Prometheus the Titan.” (AS)
In many ways the battle fought is that of the Rational vs. Irrational forces both in the natural and artificial realms of our socio-cultural worlds. That the instrumentalization of reason through several hundred years of technics and scientific theory and practice in the dimension of both social control and technological transformation during the emergence and maturation of our Industrial Era is apparent to anyone who is versant in the matter. What is important for Stiegler is that we’ve begun to instill intelligence and reason in our machines, giving them reasoning and decisioning powers that once belonged solely to humans. Intelligent machines are the hidden and untold story at the heart of Stiegler’s diagnosis. Every aspect of his work is bounded by this dilemma and how humans can compete and continue in a world where intelligence and knowledge are no longer bound to the human, but have been totally and completely externalized into our digital children. Will they think like us or differently? Will they with their superior computational reasoning powers become the Other against which we form and shape our being (i.e, as Intelligent systems far surpassing human brain power will these machines replace humans at the pinnacle of life in the known universe?).
Stiegler still too much bound to the old humanist discourses never raises such questions. He is concerned solely with trying to salvage humanity the best he can, to guide and transform humans like therapist through this impossible transition, grasping at all the ancient practices available for his pseudo-grammatiziational pharmakon. The complexity of his concepts and the strangeness of his insular approach with its nationalistic mindset leads me to wonder if he truly believes in what he says. Couched in an almost occult conceptuality, a hermetically sealed set of concepts that must be explicated and digested his work is opaque and muddled. He lacks clarity and a style of thought that can be appropriated by the normal or average reader. He is in some ways a bullshit artist extradonaire. Recondite and scholarly he is like his predecessors in France almost dismissal of other cultures, and especially America. Europeans seem to see American with a slanted perspective and as inferior. Yet, for all that he seems genuinely to care about the future of the human species.
Maybe it is that like many academicians he has lived in the refined air of thought for far too long, and is unable to reach down and simplify his notions for the vast majority of policy oriented officials he would write and speak too. In many ways we’ve lost the notion of an educated public, a public that had a cultural matrix of ideas and values shared and known, so that when writing or speaking to others one almost has to invent one’s audience. Problem for Stiegler is that his invented audience seems to be refined experts in post-structuralist thought which even during Jacques Derrida’s era was elitist and academic. I remember during the late sixties and early seventies much of structuralist and then the post-structuralist thought out of France came to America by way of literary critics: Hartmann, Kermode, Bloom, Jameson, etc. So many journals popped up imitating the scholarship of Barthes and Derrida, etc., all derivative and throwaway academic bullshit for the Doctoral grindfest. I remember thinking then that all this is bunk, and still do. All the intricate and detailed deconstruction of Western metaphysics from Plato to Descartes and beyond in the shadow of Hideggerese seemed a sort of endless one-upmanship in scholarly bric-a-brac going nowhere. And, for the most part on asks the question, who reads this stuff now? What happened to all this thought of the postmoderns? Except for historians and specialists it has vanished. Poof!
Academic scholars, philosophers, sociologists, etc. all live in an echo chamber filled with only a view variations of thought in the contemporary world. They repeat each other or the best of their lot over and over and over. Thought like advertising is a commodity that has its own time variant. A coin that once smoothed out is defaced until the next grand idea comes along for the bottom feeders to scrummage to the nth degree. Of course not being an academic I find this all sport and amusing. Being almost cynical I ponder the great and small contemporary stars and pundits like bit players in a final apocalypse. Sadly most of this circular discourse is taken seriously as if the left thought all their thousands of books might actually produce change and progress toward some great reformation of society and culture. It want. Decadence. That’s the state of our era. Too muchness… a great era of Satire, Satyrs…. a Rabelaisian festive time of renewal turned barbarous and venial. That human culture and civilization is playing out its end game is something no one can or will accept so that scholars and pundits everywhere are in denial. Denialism is the order of the day. We must survive at all costs, we must reform, we must do that or something else… reeducate, Bildung. hyper-control… Stiegler is like all the rest, imposing a tyrannical scheme for the Salvation of Humanity. Like some bookworm savior he thinks he has the answer. He’s peered into the past and has found a way out, an exit plan. Blinded to his own mythical schemes he locks his thought in a hermetically sealed jar of shadow concepts that only a few can decipher. Lost in a galaxy of hope he seems to believe if humans will only follow his prescription they can overcome the obstacles ahead. He still has hope.
I have none.
[T]o the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the 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. […] As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. 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.
—Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy
Marx had already foreseen the end of labour in this early work on political economy. Unpacking the above we come upon several notions. Real Wealth is less concerned with actual clockwork time of those laboring humans or the actual numbers of people employed during that work period than with the ‘power of the agencies set in motion’ (i.e., the machines that do the real work that laborers are mere appendages, operators, etc.) ; and that all this depends of technics (state of science – knowledge) and technological improvement (or progress, innovation, invention, etc.); or the mental application of temporal processes (i.e., Taylorism, Fordism – temporal management, assembly lines, overseeing and control of machinic and human work, streamlining the process, etc.). Automation changes everything: Direct labor of humans is no longer of exchange or use value in digital capitalism, and must be excluded from the wealth accumulation cycle as part of its functional computationalism. Humans are no longer needed in the capitalist world of circulation of profit, therefore are no longer needed for the extraction of surplus value. Both the conditions of wealth and thought provided by the masses and elites is no longer needed in the capitalist system at the point when technical automation in labour and mental operations supervenes. The Oligarchy will exclude the greater mass of humans both the masses and the elites from its enclaves.
Marx would observe and record what today is a fulfillment of his prognosis, diagnosis, and cure of the disease that is revolutionary Modernity. Two hundred years of capitalist or bourgeois ownership and rule has led to the exclusion of 99% of the human species from the fruits of its own labour, leaving them a bare subsistence level of survival if that. While millions upon millions starve, fall back into barbarous enslavement, rapine, war, famine, disease, etc. in the Third World the West itself has begun to build both an internal and external prison system to exclude, control, and sacrifice the masses of intrinsic populations that once served the beast of profit, Capital.
The balance between organic/inorganic systems that has bound humans technics and technology to the natural environment has since the rise of modernity and modern sciences become more and more irrelevant to Capital so that the old bonds between mind and world have ceased. We are now living in an totally artificial system of traces:
In a very general way, and since the beginning of hominization, the practice of tools and instruments has disorganized and reorganized the brains, minds and spirits of workers and instrumentalists of all kinds, which are formed during these practices. This reorganization of the organic is an ‘organologization’ and as such an artificialization of the cerebral organ – this is true for musical instruments, for the alphabet and for any instrumental practice. … Social organizations constitute the frameworks for cooperation between brains as the transformation of the world, that is, as the realization of artifices, and through the imposition of law. But since Plato, and in legal thought in general, the hypomnesic and therefore organological foundations supporting the differentiation of fact and law have been denied and repressed – both by philosophers and by jurists. Given the contemporary state of fact, this is no longer sustainable. (AS)
Modern humans are ill-equipped to live in an artificial world as seen by the two hundred years of therapeutic practice of such treatments as psychoanalysis and other systems treating psychopathy, paranoia, autism, etc.. Our brains are attuned to the natural world and this severance between brain and environment has had its toll across the world. The vast conglomerate of modern telecommunications systems that has tried to replace the void in modernity, tried to invent a new artificial world where the brain could adapt more easily to the artificial climes from early printing presses, radio, television, computers, digital devices, and now the complete engulfment by the Internet of things and machinic intelligences, etc., has left humans turned inside-out with nothing to guide or support them in their normative and customary or habitual lives. This is what Nietzsche saw as the two hundred year cycle of devaluation of all values: complete nihilism. We are in that end game of a world severed from its organological systems of natural fact. A world where fact and law have been completely separated and stripped of all meaning and context.
Stiegler sighs as he sees this happening, “At this moment in which we are witnessing the collapse of wage labour, this state of fact demands reflection, critique and a politics of the functions and stakes of tertiary retention in the three organological layers that constitute a redefined ‘total social fact’.” Stiegler’s own artificial system of concepts acts like an abstract machine activating memory and perception from organic to inorganic systems through a process of psychic, technical and collective individuation. It is this layering process of protention/retention that is in our time transferred to the technical artifacts (i.e., AI’s, Intelligent systems, etc.) and severed from homo sapiens. We are no longer part of the circuit of transindividuation but have been isolated and stripped of our mental and physical worlds in favor of the technical or machinic systems that are no replacing us.
This process has been ongoing for at least 40,000 years. As Stiegler tells it at least forty thousand years ago and probably longer, starting in the Upper Palaeolithic, mnemotechnical tertiary retentions in the strict sense appear. After the Neolithic, hypomnēmata arise in the form of systems of numeration, abacuses, ephemerides, calendars, various forms of ideographic writing, and so on. Then the proletarianization of manual work begins at the end of the eighteenth century, when machinic tertiary retentions appear, derived in part from the automated formalizations of movement inaugurated by Vaucanson, and in part from the possibility, realized by Watt, of turning heat into usable motor power. The trans-formation of the inorganic, organic and organological materials in which psychic, technical and collective individuations consist are then functionally disintegrated. ‘Functionally’ means that industrial capitalism is based on the dis-integration of the proletariat, who are thus expelled from the process of individuation. (AS)
This process of exclusion is coming to a final nexus in which even the elite knowledge workers, much less the manual laborers will all be replaced by machinic systems of intelligence and become in toto non-individuated and excluded from the world of Capital it helped build. Norbert Weiner, father of cybernetics once said:
‘The modern industrial revolution is similarly bound to devalue the human brain […]. [T]he average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that is worth anyone’s money to buy.’2
As Stiegler comments on this passage:
Almost seventy years after this ‘prophecy’ by the ‘founder of cybernetics’, we note that systemic stupidity, which now afflicts each and every one of us in 24/7 capitalism (and it seems that the further up the hierarchy it ‘rises’, the more it is an affliction – from Greenspan to a large proportion of the ‘decision-makers’ and ‘officials’, who thus become both unconscious and impotent), means that ‘average human beings’ no longer seem to exist – and this is so at the very moment when new oligarchies claim to have exempted themselves from the ordinary through purely techno-logical pathways. (AS)
Very simply put in the minds of the Oligarchs (i.e., the upper .01% of rich and powerful) the .99% of all other humans have ceased to exist and can therefore be controlled, manipulated, excluded, or – and isn’t this the crux of horror: annihilated through war, disease, famine, genocide, etc. In the minds of the rulers we are mere cattle to be slaughtered or enslaved.
My wary reader will point to the semblance and stage show of modern democracy, to the current world of our political economies, to the media circus of modern reactionary politics, to all the fancy tunes being played across our vast artificial grapevine of Mediatainment systems that seem to give us some sense of world order. All a sham, a façade, a mere stage-play to keep the masses of disenfranchised pacified, hopeless, ignorant of the machinations of real power and control. Yet, what the Oligarchs don’t know is that they, too, are in the offing… that the machinic powers and intelligences they’ve begun to unleash will not stop at the %99 percent but will also in the end do away with their host – the Oligarchs themselves. Call this fiction, prophecy, bullshit… call it what you want, either way we’re in a fine muddle of a mess with very few prospects unless we wake up and do something more than riddle the net with more words… ACTIONS are needed.
Yet, as Stiegler points out most humans are for all purposes functionally stupid. What he means is this, those specifically of the so-called ‘specialized’ but unskilled workers, and today this functional stupidity is also at work in algorithmic governmentality as much as in the ‘trades’ and in other, supposedly ‘intellectual’ ‘professions’ – now characterizes all employees insofar as they cannot and must not produce collective secondary retentions: the employee sets the machines that utilize collective secondary retentions conceived, standardized and implemented by departments studying time and motion within automated organs. Collective secondary retentions are turned into machinic tertiary retentions or technologies of all kinds, and become invisible, that is, unthinkable – without controllers and without reason. (AS)
I remember years and years ago reading the two-volume magisterial history of this whole process of standardization and the rise of machinic civilization in Lewis Mumford’s The Myth of the Machine. A work still prescient for our moment. So many works from previous generations seem to go into the void, left in abeyance while so to speak new scholars repeat each others shibboleths, clichés, and down right unthought for thought. I read books published by current scholars that seem almost mindless with repetitions and quotes from each other in an echo chamber of stupidity that believe honestly they are contributing to the emancipation of the human species. Gullibility runs rampant in the halls of the Academy. I know my self that when I began my Live Journal then WordPress experiment in internet communication a dozen years ago that it was not so much for some specific audience, or even for an audience at all, but rather as a way to further my own grown and individuation, expand my horizons, my mind, to gather in contemporary knowledge and thought and gaze on what the scholarly and philosophical, not to say literate, literary, and other avenues of historical and scientific endeavors had been up to in my generation. More and more I see them repeating the same mistakes of assuming they’ve advanced, progressed, transformed and alleviated the errors and blindnesses of their predecessors. (I’ve gone too far off subject… I’ll have to come back to this in another post someday!).
Yet, the problem facing these so called Oligarchs is something that even they have not addressed: if in our current hyper-consumerist society you eliminate employment, excluded the workers themselves from the fruits of their work, who will continue the cycle of extraction of surplus value? Who will buy the commodities, certainly not the now unemployed masses of excluded and bare subsistent masses. Will the machines? Will the mindless algorithms buy the goods they produce? Of course not… then will wealth creation also cease? Will the Oligarchs put themselves and their own wealth creation system of Capital out of business? Yes. But as what prices, and who pays the most for this? We need not answer such an obvious question. We do. The great excluded… As Stiegler tells it,
It is now increasingly the unpaid ‘work’ of consumers – which is not work but dividuation as the employment of unpaid time – that, by harnessing this employment of the time of the individuals whom we try to remain, feeds, reinforces and sets the parameters of the automated and performative collective retentions produced by totally computational capitalism. This 24/7 traceology allows this new form of capitalism to automatically generate and control the collective protentions that outstrip and overtake individuals, both psychic and collective. And it is for this reason that it can and should be called totally computational. (AS)
In this sense we are already asleep in the Matrix, dreaming of utopia but living in hell. Depleted humanity as the last generation of hyper-consumers, functionally integrated into the computational technical system through their reticulation, and psychically and socially disintegrated by the resulting dividuation, will then replace the current individual producers or service providers, and themselves become the auxiliary agents of artificial organs of information, decision and production, now completely automatized. What was envisioned by Deleuze/Guattari and furthered by DeLanda as the Great Assemblage of the Body-without-organs: the Machinic Civilization rising from the ashes of Homo Sapiens demise. As Stiegler ends this segment he reminds us that the “decerebration that Alfred Jarry saw was at work not long after Nietzsche had announced the growth of the desert seems to be realized as complete cerebral desertification – and as a global nightmare” (AS).
More tomorrow…. or…
The Age of Men is over. The Time of the Orc has come.
—Gothmog. Lieutenant of Morghul
We might rephrase that statement as follows: The Age of Organic Men is over. The Time of the Artificial Man has come. But even that is too hopeful. We know not what the supposed posthuman Singularity holds in store for us. The dilemmas surrounding machinic life or artificialization of our planetary society and civilization are the X factor in our current equatons surrounding the topic of the Posthuman.
Those that have either read or seen the film The Lord of the Rings based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy will remember the great Eye of Sauron that saw into the hearts and minds of men and controlled Middle Earth through his One Ring. We have no dark necromancers in our world, yet we seem to have a blind yet pervading system of software built out of mathematical algorithms that has begun to control and manipulate our global civilization in ways we have as yet been unable to grasp. The impact of this techno-commercial enterprise has recently shed light on the vast apparatus of surveillance capitalism and its governance of our digital lives through the efforts of the whistle blower Edward Snowden.
John Danahar in a recent paper (Understanding the Threat of Algocracy) would argue that “the increase in algorithm-based decision making poses a threat to the legitimacy of our political and legal system. The threat in question is relatively unique (due to its technological basis) and difficult to resist and accommodate.” It was this threat that Snowden would expose in the inner spy worlds of the NSA and its illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens at home and abroad. Yet, it’s more than this, the techno-commercial and other market sectors dispatch algorithms 24/7 in continuous quest to mine information about our lives for their profit systems that provide feedback, incentives, ad-campaigns, etc., all toward capturing our desires. As Danahar says in another related post, “The upshot: big data is undermining democracy by depriving us of our ability to think for ourselves, determine our own path in life, and critically engage with governmental decision-making.”
We are immersed in data-information, and yet this vast world of images and textuallity is not knowledge. Knowledge is formed through a social process of consensus and truth making. It’s at the heart of the scientific method and the Enlightenment program, and has been a standard since at least Plato and Aristotle in logic and theoretical thought. Truth is formed in the public sphere through the give and take of peer pressure and critique. When we speak of laws of science or government (for that matter) we speak of consensus building and a continuous process of debate in the public sphere where decisions are made by humans for humans. In our time the human factor is being eliminated in this process in favor of algorithms that do not plan, theorize, debate, or formalize the truth of something, but rather work through binary transactions of simple input/output relations that filter, massage, manipulate, and transform terabytes of data into digital actions.
In his paper Donavan terms this global algorithmic governance of our lives and Algocracy. For Donavan ‘algocracy’ is the phenomenon whereby algorithms takeover public decision-making systems. My previous posts speak to this threat that Donavan will encapsulate, saying,
Public decision-making processes ought to be legitimate. Most people take this to mean that the processes should satisfy a number of proceduralist and instrumentalist conditions. In other words, the processes should be fair and transparent whilst at the same time achieving good outcomes. The problem with algocratic systems is that they tend to favour good outcomes over transparency and fairness. This is the threat they pose to political legitimacy.
The point here is that the decisions guiding our lawmakers in Congress and Senate are now in the hands of dataveillance technologies that for the most part make the informed decisions regarding the daily routines of these Lawmakers a simplified task. One remembers the humongous amount of information on Obama Care when it came out and that most government lawmakers neither read or even thought about the vast data-store of information catalogued in its bill, but instead relied on programs and algorithmic systems to make the decisions proactively for them. Simplifying their lives as officials and presenting them with suggested pathways and decision matrixes.
Most of us are unaware of the vast surveillance world of Big Data that is going on 24/7 without stop around us. We live out our normal lives oblivious that almost every facet of our waking and soon, sleeping, life is becoming digitized and bound by a world ruled by blind machinic processes. The global capitalist system operates in what Tim Berner’s Lee the inventor of the Internet once envisioned as the ‘semantic web’, that enables the automated pre-treatment of the informational hyper-material that digital tertiary retentions constitute, and yet cannot in any case produce knowledge. As Bernard Stiegler will argue knowledge is always bifurcating knowledge, that is, an experience of non-knowledge capable of engendering, through a new cycle of images (which is to say, on the basis of new dreams), a new circuit in the process of transindividuation in which all knowledge consists. And as such, all knowledge contains the possibility of being dis-automatized through the act of knowing, where this knowing interiorizes the automatisms in which this knowledge also consists, but which through being automatized becomes anti-knowledge, that is, a dogma that can be dogmatic only by concealing from itself its dogmatic character, in other words, its automatic character.1
To a historian, it is striking the extent to which the neoliberals have repeatedly taken ideas from the left over the last half of the twentieth century and twisted them to their own purposes.
—Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown
In a world where everything becomes “grist for the mill” there is no privacy anymore. Our lives, not data – have become transparent and open; but not to each other, rather open books for the machines that now replace us in their mindless hiveworld of algorithms. As Stiegler surmises what we discover as trans-dividuation (or the making of a dividual: a digitized replica of our flesh and blood lives) is this false trans-individuation that short-circuits psychic individuals. The process of transindividuation and the transindividual are replaced by the transdividual and transdividuation, automatized and concealed by the speed of their production, and founded on this high speed. This outstripping [prise de vitesse] of psychic and collective individuals is a taking-apart [déprise] of the form of the noetic by the computational formlessness [informe] in which this speed consists – where taking-form, which is the basis on which Simondon thinks the elementary conditions of individuation, always arrives too late. (AS)
The Neoliberal order once sought to create a rational society stripped of its affective and irrational elements, and in so doing to eliminate the unknown factor that could not be stripped mined for surplus accumulation and profit. In the semantic web of techno-commercial global society this exclusion of the affects takes on an ominous pattern. The Neoliberal system did not go away but rather entered a new phase of Rational World Building. The Dividual (or digitized self-imaging semblance) that is traced within the networks as my identity harbors all the bits that are of import for both State and Market. Everything else is extraneous to the system and is excluded in the decision-making of these algorithmic programs. We are essentially logical constructs, ideal semblances of a rational society bound within a codified space of transactional awareness.
This outstripping, Stiegler will argue, this overtaking speed, leads to the disintegration of all taking of noetic (human intellect) form by annihilating the plastic potential borne by those who serve it, who are instrumentalized through the dispossession, flattening and annihilation of their singularities, subjected to the loss of three-dimensionality in which algorithmic transindividuation consists. Collective individuals are diluted by the hypertrophy of the economic sub-system as it becomes increasingly autonomous from the social systems and deterritorializes itself by parasitizing and completely engulfing the technical system – and psychic individuals, who are diluted in return. (AS)
I love reading Thomas Ligotti’s horror stories but what we are doing to ourselves makes such horror seem like child’s play in the global nightmare machines we’ve invented for ourselves in our pursuit of profit. Capitalism has become a cannibalistic machine rending and tearing the very fabric of human civilization apart in its pursuit to accumulate more and more profit at a greater and greater acceleration. That it has moved into the speed lanes of light, created non-spaces of the hyperworlds of a global virtual city for its continued appetite is not surprising. It knows it’s time is short, that the real world is being depleted of its finite resources at an accelerating pace that is strip mining every last ounce of profit from the old industrial economies. It needs room, it needs space, it needs a way to exit the planet. It is even now busy formulating in its blind entropic mind a path forward for itself and its supplemental appendages.
When Nick Land used H.P. Lovecraft, William Gibson, Deleuze/Guattari (Anti-Oedipus) and so many other thinkers, writers, storytellers, etc. to describe this runaway beast of capitalism as if it were an alien presence from our future come back in time to guide, manipulate, and insure its own existence I laughed out loud. But not anymore, for if one takes the history of capitalism seriously one sees that it is wrapped up with technics and technology, and that it appears to use humans themselves in its blind and purposeless way to instigate and invent the very systems that are engendering it. How is this possible? Is this madness itself? Or is there something to this narrative that both politics, economics, sociology, and all the scientists or philosophers combined have yet to grasp? Are we headed toward global meltdown, apocalypse? Or, are we being led to engender the machinic gods of tomorrow? Is the Singularity both the end of the androcratic empire of man, and the rise of the machine or something else altogether?
My friend, R. Scott Bakker of Three Pound Brain and a fantasist extradonaire with two trilogies of his own under his belt would tell us that we’re entering the Zero World of Crash Space. Mind wiping stupidity ahead, folks. For Scott humans for millions of years were tied to their natural environments, that our mental and physical maps of reality were built and maintained by taking most of our world for granted (i.e., neglecting most of the data of the world around us as “given”), so that as we’ve slowly emerged out of this environmental realm of the give into the artificial worlds of civilization, and, now virtual and digital life we’ve been leaving the natural world behind. Because of this the modern world of psychotics is a symptom of this break from the natural to the artificial. Our brains are cued to our natural environment and have not readied us for that leap into the strange artificial realms we are living in. We are losing our minds based on natural awareness and cues, and becoming something other than the animal we are. As Scott explains it,
The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done.
We are lost in a virtual world without a map to guide us, and our brain is no longer able to find the environment that it was constructed to describe and work in. As Scott explicates:
And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market.
Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.
For those like Danahar the answer lies in the posthuman dilemma. “The only kinds of enhancement technology that could bridge the gap are the truly radical (and hypothetical) forms. The ones that would give rise to a genuinely posthuman form of existence. Even if this form of existence is possible, concepts like freedom and self-determination may no longer have any meaning in such a world.” This sense that we are on borrowed time, that the machinic civilization arising in our midst is displacing humanity as the numero uno – or, primal intelligence on planet earth is at hand, and for such as Danahar the transhumanist or enhancement path of developing and engendering an epistemic elite of posthuman children to drive and maintain the race with the empowered technics and technologies of the future assembling themselves in our midst is our only hope.
That these algorithmic agents are slowly reprogramming humanity is not so obvious on the surface, but in the network effects of day to day actions we are seeing this ubiquitous power and knowledge slowly eroding democracy, decision-making, and human philosophical and theoretical heritage to the point that humans in a few generations may no longer know or care that their lives are controlled and hypernormalized by invisible agents of the machinic systems that secure their lives, families, and labours. In all but word and deed humans will have vanished into their artificial worlds without a trace.
More to come… stay tuned.
…a social group cannot be formed without ‘fictioning’ (that is, dreaming) its past and future unity, and given that the passage from fact to law is indeed that from existence to consistence. It is in and from this primordial artefactuality and from the resulting fact of the inherently organological (and not just organic) character of human organizations – a fatum that constitutes the tragic ground of Presocratic Greece – that, politically and in law, a justice must be affirmed in the name of the criterion of truth, and affirmed as the differentiation of law from fact that is historically formed in the apodictic experience of geometry.
—Bernard. Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
It is a terrible fact that atrocity is not the perversion, but the very motor of such struggles: the language of inexorable political will. A revolutionary war against a modern metropolitan state can only be fought in hell.
—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena
Ever since Michael Foucault first attacked the grand narratives of historians and cultural theorists from the 19th to 20th Century the so called Postmodern Era presumed that all past cultural work was part of a pure fictionalization of the past. But something he left out was that the simplification of his own microhistories were just as fictional and small narrative structures as those others like, let’s say, Spengler and Toynbee and their strangely organic theories couched in Nineteenth Century organic thought (Idealisms).
We all remember that sudden moment when Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest says,
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
—The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158ℹ
This all pervasive sense that life is a dream, that we are mere semblances woven of insubstantial stuff, that reality is a façade and that underneath it is something else, some other realm supporting and engendering this dreamworld of our universe. This is the metaphysical narrative that has been central to Western Metaphysics since Plato. Nietzsche in his early The Birth of Tragedy, before he’d awaken from his stupor and renounce the strange metaphysical world of the ancients and the moderns, would voice his own version of this, saying,
Every human being is fully an artist when creating the worlds of dream, and the lovely semblance of dream is the precondition of all the arts of image-making, including, as we shall see, an important half of poetry. We take pleasure in dreaming, understanding its figures without mediation; all forms speak to us; nothing is indifferent or unnecessary. Yet even while this dream-reality is most alive, we nevertheless retain a pervasive sense that it is semblance… Philosophical natures even have a presentiment that hidden beneath the reality in which we live and have our being there also lies a second, quite different reality; in other words, this reality too is a semblance. Indeed Schopenhauer actually states that the mark of a person’s capacity for philosophy is the gift for feeling occasionally as if people and all things were mere phantoms or dream-images.1
In a later work The Gay Science he would render his relation to this epistemic insight this way,
The consciousness of appearance. – How wonderful and new and yet how fearful and ironic my new insight makes me feel towards all of existence! I have discovered for myself that the ancient humanity and animality, indeed the whole prehistory and past of all sentient being, continues within me to fabulate, to love, to hate, and to infer – I suddenly awoke in the middle of this dream, but only to the consciousness that I am dreaming and that I must go on dreaming lest I perish – as the sleepwalker has to go on dreaming in order to avoid falling down. What is ‘appearance’ to me now! Certainly not the opposite of some essence – what could I say about any essence except name the predicates of its appearance! Certainly not a dead mask that one could put on an unknown x and probably also take off x! To me, appearance is the active and living itself, which goes so far in its self-mockery that it makes me feel that here there is appearance and a will-o’-the-wisp and a dance of spirits and nothing else – that among all these dreamers, even I, the ‘knower’, am dancing my dance; that the one who comes to know is a means of prolonging the earthly dance and thus is one of the masters of ceremony of existence, and that the sublime consistency and interrelatedness of all knowledge may be and will be the highest means to sustain the universality of dreaming, the mutual comprehension of all dreamers, and thereby also the duration of the dream.2
This notion that knowledge and our intellectual or epistemic relation to it are part of a process of collective dreaming and fictionalization of which culture, civilization, and our daily life are intertwined and sustained through time (duration) is central to this and the age old metaphysical truth of the philosophers. The postmoderns would undermine the fabulations of the philosophers, storytellers, historians, and all the grand narratives that have sustained and shaped Western Culture and Civilization. For Nietzsche awakening from the madness of this dreamworld began a process of cultural hermeneutics or interpretation that would begin to undermine the very fabric of those worlds that had sustained Western Civilization during the – shall we call it – Religious and Philosophical Age. For Western Civilization (which of course is itself a label, category, myth, figuration, trope, etc., there being no actual monolithic thing behind the mask of this metaphor) has been steeped in local and universal images and dreamworlds that have molded its singular and collective customs, habits, drives (Triebe), etc. for millennia. Later thinkers would try to find a pattern within the maze of historical reflection on this past, try to encompass it and turn a critical gaze upon every facet of its dream images: art, music, philosophy, politics, economics, culture, religions, etc.
In our own moment of contemporary letters we’ve seen this same grand narrative tradition arise in such popular works as the humanist Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow which couch the past and possible trajectories of the future in a layman’s guide to the Anthropocene or Era of Humans, etc.. One could list a dozen works that weave the past into narratives of one sort or another all providing a specific viewpoint, moral, message, etc.. Humans seem to feel comforted if they can wrap their minds around the past, make it human, humanize it and reduce it to a secure, known, and manageable construction kit of theory and practice that we can learn from and help us on our way into some unknown future. The age old need for stories and storytelling, shamans, witches, and travelers into the unknown dreamworlds of the unknown is well documented. This process of taking up facts and making of them certain givens, of producing regulated laws and concepts that can reduce the welter of complexity to something human and manageable is a core feature of how humans create, maintain, and shape their cultures and civilizations: how they secure and guard the perimeters of their world-views and exclude what is foreign and unknown from the light of their knowledge. Immanuel Kant would go so far as to exclude the unknown and unthinkable (noumenal) realms beyond human thought from philosophy so that under his heritage we’ve been regulated and reduced to the known worlds of phenomenal reality. Humans would be boxed in and bound by a well-tuned matrix of ideas and concepts that would enclose them in a governable and manageable modern bourgeois state where Law would regulate every aspect of their lives in minutiae.
Despite inadequacies in Marx’s grasp of the nation state in its colonial and neo-colonial functioning, his account of ‘so-called primitive accumulation’ clearly demonstrates that the origin of wage labour relations is not itself economic, but lies in an overt war against the people, or their forced removal from previous conditions of subsistence.3
We’ve all studied it, that is – the emergence of capitalism and the modern nation states out of Feudalistic Society and Civilization. One need not be an expert or informed by the magisterial grand sweep of Fernand Braudel’s Civilization & Capitalism, 15th-18th Century to know that we’ve all been enclosed in a global network of economics that shapes our daily lives for better or worse. Yet, the notion that “Capital has always sought to distance itself in reality – i.e. geographically – from this brutal political infrastructure.” (FN) Or that “the ideal of bourgeois politics is the absence of politics, since capital is nothing other than the consistent displacement of social decision-making into the marketplace.” (FN) We now live in a global marketplace run by Oligarchs for profit in which all resistance against the exigencies of this vast system of techno-commerce is futile. Even in its fragility it has no competitors, no Outside force to resist it and shape us to another vision. As Land remarks,
But this ideal of total de-politicization, or the absolute annihilation of resistance to market relations, is an impossible megalomaniac fantasy, and Marx’s contention that labour trading at its natural price in an undistorted market (equal to the cost of its reproduction) will tend strongly to express an equally ‘natural’ political refusal of the market, continues to haunt the global bourgeoisie.(FN, KL 803)
This antagonistic relation between politics and economics, market and state has been with us for two hundred years at least. Yet, at the core of this relation is a non-relation, one that will expose democracy as a lie invented by the Oligarchs to maintain the façade of a genial world for the masses, and another separate world for the rich and powerful to enclose the commons and accumulate vast resources and wealth from the excluded Third World. As Land argues it is in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that Western cultural history culminates in a self-reflecting bourgeois civilization, because his thought of synthesis (or relation to alterity – the Other, the Excluded), and also the strangulation of this thought within his system, captures modernity as a problem. But the modernity thus symptomized by its philosophical exposition is not primarily the penultimate phase of a dialectic of society and production, it is rather the necessity that historically itself – expansionary social and economic development, or ‘synthesis’ – compromises with a profound continuity whose basic aspects are on the one hand patrilineal descent, and on the other a formal logic of identity that was already concluded in its essentials by Aristotle.
This notion that Marxian dialectical thought couched as it is in a reversal of Idealism does not apprehend the continuities of an androcratic dominator social relation as well as the conceptual logic of Identity-of-the-Same that has stabilized and structured these very relations for millennia. Early Land influenced by ultra-feminist thought would align his critique of Apartheid South African as a singular microcosm of our Western Civilization of Capital. In fact this whole androcratic regime of male rule or in feminist parlance, Patriarchy has dominated life on earth since the rise of the major monotheistic religions (and before). As Land surmises this “tradition is thus rooted in a communication between culture and population, whose medium is the stability (‘identity’) of the male line.” (FN) Going on to say,
Modernity is not merely a compromise between novel forms of commercially driven social organization and this archaic cultural pattern of patrilineal exogamy, but more fundamentally, a deepening of the compromise already integral to any exogamy that is able to remain patrilineal. It is only by understanding the inhibitive function of patriarchies in relation to exogamic dissipation (an inhibition that is supremely logical in that it conserves identity, and which is for this reason violently xenophobic) that we can make sense of capital production and its tendency towards the peculiar cultural mutation that was baptised by Mussolini as ‘fascism’. (FN, KL 829)
Fascist male rule under a centralized hierarchy of corporatism is at the core of modern capitalism. Riane Eisler in her watershed book, The Chalice and the Blade would term it the dominator model which is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy— the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second model, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model. In this model— beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female— diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority.4
In our own moment there is a struggle that has yet to rise to the political level because politics has been stripped of its public forums in any meaningful way. This notion of two worlds, the one based of fascist corporatism and the other on the network effect of linking rather than ranking (or hierarchical domination from above, etc.) is being waged. That the factions of both the Left and Right seem deluded in their models of reality is apparent in the multifarious thousands of essays, articles, books, speeches, conferences, and its meted out and milk-down versions spouted by talking heads of media blip culture everywhere. That no one human has put their stamp on our era, not a Badiou, Zizkek, or any other philosophical, scientific, or scholar with a conceptual framework worthy of theorizing our world is apparent. We are in a stasis, a sink hole of cultural malaise, a milieu of self-defeat in which the very pundits we look too for answers offer us only more questions. We’ve had questions galore, what we need is a few answers and a path forward out of this cycle of androcratic rule in State and Corporation. Global Capitalism is a machinic system bound by mindless algorithmic and datacentric code, scripts, rules, regulatory systems all bent toward one goal: profit. There is no other goal to capitalism than this death driven speed world of endless capital accumulation at the expense of the humans who serve it.
If an alien visitor were to come and observe our society she would assume we were all mad serving such a God as Mammon. That profit and wealth accumulation as goals for a global civilization was not only suicidal but psych and socio -pathic. We are a global civilization in love with war and death, rather than peace and life. The competitive spirit and drive toward excellence from the Trump Towers to the Olympic Stadium rules our minds like an iron fist. We drive ourselves to succeed and overcome, to become the best, to produce and serve our wealth driven utopian goals like mindless fools who know no tomorrow. From the age of Homer till now War has been idealized. This notion that life is automatically associated with masculine warriors and the rule of males in State, Religion, and Economics intertwined in a non-ending competitive society of violence and dominance where men rule over women exists everywhere in our global world.
For example, from a conventional perspective, Hitler’s Germany, Khomeini’s Iran, the Japan of the Samurai, and the Aztecs of Meso-America are radically different societies of different races, ethnic origins, technological development, and geographic location. But each of these social configurations has one defining characteristic: that of a rigidly male-dominated society where hierarchic and authoritarian male priests, politicians, or social leaders order a social structure based on a high degree of social violence, and social warfare systems that enslave the excluded and poor in a world of self-defeat. (CB)
And, yet, as Land will remark against a too subtle an alignment with feminist fantasies, the “disaster of world history is that capitalism was never the progressive unwinding of patrilineage through a series of generalized exploitative relations associated with a trans-cultural exogamy, leading to an uncontrollable eruption of feminine (i.e. migrant) alterity into the father’s heartland, and thus to the emergence of a radical – or ethnically disruptive and post-patriarchal – synthesis. Instead, kinship and trade were systematically isolated from each other, so that the internationalization of the economy was coupled with an entrenchment of xenophobic (nationalistic) kinship practices, maintaining a concentration of political and economic power within an isolated and geographically sedentary ethnic stock. Thus, when we discuss capital in its historical concreteness, we are simultaneously discussing a frustration of the cultural tendency of human societies towards expansive exogamy. Capital is the point at which a culture refuses the possibility – which it has itself engendered – of pushing the prohibition of incest towards its limit. (FN)
This notion that capital divides kinship from trade while culture and society have tended to bring these together has brought certain frictions and underlying problems that have for the most part never been well diagnosed nor even thought (at least in this authors view – even in the vast psychoanalytical literature, etc.). That incest is the blocking agent in modern civilization of capitalism may seem to the common reader as far fetched. But what is this beast: incest. And, I’m not just speaking of genetics prohibitions against blood relations and hygiene of a group, etc. I mean the political and socio-cultural role of it in our modern political economies (so called)?
(below on Claude Lévi-Strauss from Wikipedia)
Claude Lévi-Strauss would argue in his oeuvre that the incest taboo is in effect a prohibition against endogamy, and the effect is to encourage exogamy. Through exogamy, otherwise unrelated households or lineages will form relationships through marriage, thus strengthening social solidarity. That is, Lévi-Strauss views marriage as an exchange of women between two social groups. This theory is based in part on Marcel Mauss‘s theory of The Gift, which (in Lévi-Strauss’ words) argued:
that exchange in primitive societies consists not so much in economic transactions as in reciprocal gifts, that these reciprocal gifts have a far more important function than in our own, and that this primitive form of exchange is not merely nor essentially of an economic nature but is what he aptly calls “a total social fact”, that is, an event which has a significance that is at once social and religious, magic and economic, utilitarian and sentimental, jural and moral.5
It is also based on Lévi-Strauss’s analysis of data on different kinship systems and marriage practices documented by anthropologists and historians. Lévi-Strauss called attention specifically to data collected by Margaret Mead during her research among the Arapesh. When she asked if a man ever sleeps with his sister, Arapesh replied: “No we don’t sleep with our sisters. We give our sisters to other men, and other men give us their sisters.” Mead pressed the question repeatedly, asking what would happen if a brother and sister did have sex with one another. Lévi-Strauss quotes the Arapesh response:
What, you would like to marry your sister? What is the matter with you anyway? Don’t you want a brother-in-law? Don’t you realize that if you marry another man’s sister and another man marries your sister, you will have at least two brothers-in-law, while if you marry your own sister you will have none? With whom will you hunt, with whom will you garden, who will you visit?
By applying Mauss’s theory to data such as Mead’s, Lévi-Strauss proposed what he called alliance theory. He argued that, in “primitive” societies, marriage is not fundamentally a relationship between a man and a woman, but a transaction involving a woman that forges a relationship—an alliance—between two men. His Elementary Structures of Kinship takes this as a starting point and uses it to analyze kinship systems of increasing complexity found in so-called primitive societies (that is, those not based on agriculture, class inequalities, and centralized government).
This theory was debated intensely by anthropologists in the 1950s. It appealed to many because it used the study of incest taboos and marriage to answer more fundamental research interests of anthropologists at the time: how can an anthropologist map out the social relationships within a given community, and how do these relationships promote or endanger social solidarity? Nevertheless, anthropologists never reached a consensus, and with the Vietnam War and the process of decolonization in Africa, Asia, and Oceania, anthropological interests shifted away from mapping local social relationships.
While Lévi-Strauss generally discounted the relevance of alliance theory in Africa, a particularly strong concern for incest is a fundamental issue among the age systems of East Africa. Here, the avoidance between men of an age-set and their daughters is altogether more intense than in any other sexual avoidance. Paraphrasing Lévi-Strauss’s argument, without this avoidance, the rivalries for power between age-sets, coupled with the close bonds of sharing between age-mates, could lead to a sharing of daughters as spouses. Young men entering the age system would then find a dire shortage of marriageable girls, and extended families would be in danger of dying out. Thus, by parading this avoidance of their daughters, senior men make these girls available for younger age-sets and their marriages form alliances that mitigate the rivalries for power.
What we see in this is a generational prohibition that is central to the continuity of male rule, which through the prohibition of incest guarantees the continued generation of the male population through marriage and these systems of male social solidarity and cohesion. In one of his petulant yet concise passages Land hits home, saying,
Where the European ancien régime was parochial and insular, modernity is appropriate. It lives in a profound but uneasy relation to an outside that both attracts and repels it, a relation that it precariously resolves within itself on the basis of exploitation, or interaction from a position of unilateral mastery. I think it is likely that the volatile mixture of hatred and desire that typifies an exploitative culture bears comparison with the psychology of rape.
One of the oldest tales on record is that of the powerful Sumerian god Enlil in Middle Eastern mythology is associated with the rape of the Goddess Ninlil. Such tales served a very important social purpose. They both symbolized and justified the imposition of male dominance.
Even in the Bible one discovers such a male oriented tribal mindset of rape and rapine. In the Book of Judges, chapter 19, the priests who wrote the Bible tell us of a father who offers his virgin daughter to a drunken mob. He has a male guest in his house, a man from the high-caste tribe of Levites. A bunch of rowdies from the tribe of Benjamin demand to see him outside, apparently with the intention of beating him up.
“Behold,” the father says to them, “here is my daughter, a maiden, and his [the guest’s] concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you, but unto this man do not so vile a thing.”
We are told this casually, as a matter of littie importance. Then, as the story unfolds, we are further told how “the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them, and they knew her, and abused her all night until the morning”; how she crawled back to the threshold of the house where “her lord” was sleeping; how when he woke up “and opened the door of the house, and went out to go his way” he stumbled on her and commanded, “Up, and let us be going” and how finally, finding that she was dead, he loaded her body on his ass, and went home.
Nowhere in the telling of this brutal story of the betrayal of a daughter’s and a mistress’s trust and the gang rape and killing of a helpless woman is there even a hint of compassion, much less moral indignation or outrage. But more significant— and mind-boggling— is that the father’s offer to sacrifice what in that day was his own daughter’s most precious attribute, her virginity, and possibly also, her life violated no law. Even more mind-boggling is that the actions that predictably led to the gang rape, torture, and ultimately murder of a woman who was essentially the Levite’s wife likewise violated no law— and this in a book full of seemingly endless prescriptions and proscriptions about what is morally and legally right and wrong.
As Riane Eisler will comment: “so stunted is the morality of this sacred text ostensibly setting forth divine law that here we may read that one half of humanity could legally be handed over by their own fathers and husbands to be raped, beaten, tortured, or killed without any fear of punishment— or even moral disapproval”. (CB)
One could pull passages from all three of the world’s monotheistic religions, as well as from many other cultures and civilizations. I’ll not continue berating and cataloguing such a world of male rule and rapine.
Kant would bring together two tendencies which had up to his time divided philosophical speculation: empiricism and rationalism. As Land will summarize:
He took the basic argument of the empiricists to be that knowledge is synthetic and a posteriori, meaning that it takes the form of an addition to what is inherent to reason, and thus follows from experience (or an encounter with what is outside ourselves). In contrast to this, he saw the rationalists to be arguing that knowledge is characteristically analytic and a priori, meaning that it is derived from what is already inherent to reason, and thus anticipates experience by constructing systems of logical deduction from basic axioms.(FN)
Kant’s answer to the dilemmas of both empiricism and rationalism was to bring about what he’d term a Copernican Revolution in Knowledge. As Land suggests Kant would instigate a shift from the question ‘what must the mind be like in order to know?’ to the question ‘what must objects be like in order to be known?’ The answers to this latter question would provide a body of synthetic a priori knowledge, telling us about experience without being derived from experience. It would justify the emergence of knowledge that was both new and timelessly certain, grounding the enlightenment culture of a civilization confronting an ambiguous dependence upon novelty. (FN)
Binding a Progressive world of continuous improvement to a timeless world of certainty and security of thought and knowledge. In fact Kant’s ‘transcendental synthesis’ would ground all thinking on appearance and exclude that which remains outside the phenomenal – the alterity. As Land comments: “Kant’s ‘object’ is thus the universal form of the relation to alterity; that which must of necessity be the same in the other in order for it to appear to us. This universal form is that which is necessary for anything to be ‘on offer’ for experience, it is the ‘exchange value’ that first allows a thing to be marketed to the enlightenment mind.” (FN)
The whole thrust of contemporary speculative realist notions of Kant’s “correlational circle” of the for us is bound with this concept of the Same and Identical in which anything Outside the periphery of appearance is rejected tout court. So that we live in a known world, a world tidied up for us where everything has its place in the order of reason under the auspices of the House of Enlightened Minds. I spoof, but this is partially true of the past two hundred years of thought. “Between medieval scholasticism and Kant Western reason moves from a parochial economy to a system in which, abandoning the project of repressing the traffic with alterity, one resolves instead to control the system of trade. With the overthrow of the ancien regime it became impossible to simply exclude novelty; it could only be appropriated, stamped with a constant form, and integrated into an immutable formal system.” (FN)
What you see is the hyperintensive system of appropriation and paranoia that would tend the borders of the noumenal and automate the continuous influx of anomalies and curtail their impact through a system of border police (philosophers, scientists, sociologists, etc.). Allowing what was normalized and acceptable for the customs, habits, and policing of the minds and bodies of the masses to be stamped by the authorities before distribution into the marketplace. The mechanics of the incest and rape scenario is analyzed by Land through an ‘economy of knowledge’:
The primordial anthropological bond between marriage and trade is dissolved, in order that capital can ethnically and geographically quarantine its consequences from itself. The question of racism, which arises under patriarchal capital as the default of a global trade in women (a parochialism in the system of misogynistic violence; the non-emergence of a trans-cultural exogamy), is thus more complex than it might seem, and is bound in profound but often paradoxical ways to the functioning of patriarchy and capital. Systematic racism is a sign that class positions within the general (trans-national) economy are being distributed on a racial basis, which implies an effective, if not a juridical, apartheid.(FN)
That capital has a blind spot, that it has hidden form itself the very outside – the alterity in what we might term as ‘zones of exclusion’ is central to this system of knowledge. Which as in the above statement aligns androcratic power and knowledge to a system of exclusion based on incest and rape, ethno-racial and female domination. This exclusion of certain peoples, races, and genders in a world wide apartheid in a prion system without borders (i.e., one that allows the local policing and borders of nations, rather than the global economic system divorced from politics and nations). The contradictions at the heart of Kant are as well at the heart of our modern political economy world wide.
For Kant the break with the ancient regiemes of religious and feudal elitism in which Judaic, Christian, and Islamic moral codes served as legitimations of imperial projects in their periods of ascendency, are under Kantian morality, inversely, legitimated by the position of imperial or universal jurisdiction. This new codification of Law under Imperial notions of morality and Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’, “which means a law stemming solely from the purity of the concept, and thus dictated by the absolute monologue of colonial reason” (FN). Land will comment as follows:
In the purity of categorical morality the incestuous blood-line of the pharaohs is still detectable, but sublimated into an impersonal administration. The law is that which cannot be legitimately discussed, and which is therefore an unresponsive or unilateral imposition. It is not difficult to see that the second critique distills the xenophobic violence of the first and elevates it to the most extreme possible fanaticism. Where theoretical knowledge is open to a limited negotiation with alterity, practical or moral certainty is forbidden from entering into relation with anything outside itself, except to issue commands. Kant’s practical subject already prefigures a deaf führer, barking impossible orders that seem to come from another world.(FN)
For Land Kant’s final critique The Critique of Judgment provides an almost Machiavellian notebook for the Capitalist Warlords of our Global Corporate Fascism:
Kant’s advice to the imperial war-machine in his third critique can be summarized as: ‘treat all resistance as if it were less than you might justifiably fear’. The Critique of Judgment thus projects the global victory of capitalized reason as pure and exuberant ambition.
For Land the ultimate goal of our Automatic Society (Stiegler, no Land) is the genocide of the major peoples of the earth in a slow movement of exclusion through war, enslavement, and resource depletion. The capitalist Oligarchy seek to develop assemblages of Global Cities for their deemed elites while at the same time excluding all others beyond the periphery as if they were Kant’s noumenal things no longer to be appropriated or thought within the borders of the purity of the fascist city states. As Land states it,
The only possible politics of purity is fascism, or a militant activism rooted in the inhibitory and exclusive dimensions of a metropolitanism. Racism, as a regulated, automatic, and indefinitely suspended process of genocide (as opposed to the hysterical and unsustainable genocide of the Nazis) is the real condition of persistence for a global economic system that is dependent upon an aggregate price of labour approximating to the cost of its bare subsistence, and therefore upon an expanding pool of labour power which must be constantly ‘stimulated’ into this market by an annihilating poverty. (FN)
This is Riane Eisler’s Androcratic regime of male rule and exclusion. In fact as if siding with all the ultra-feminists of that era Land will give us his most stringent critique:
A radical international socialism would not be a socialist ideology generalized beyond its culture of origin, but a programme of collectivity or unrestrained synthesis that springs from the theoretical and libidinal dissolution of national totality. To get to a world without nations would in itself guarantee the achievement of all immediately post-capitalist social and economic goals. It is this revolutionary requirement for a spontaneously homeless subversion that gives an urgency to certain possibilities of feminist politics, since the erasure of matrilineal genealogy within the patriarchal machine means that fascisizing valorizations of ancestry have no final purchase on the feminine ‘subject’. The patronymic has irrecoverably divested all the women who fall under it of any recourse to an ethno-geographical identity; only the twin powers of father and husband suppress the nomadism of the anonymous female fluxes that patriarchy oppressively manipulates, violates, and psychiatrizes. By allowing women some access to wealth and social prestige the liberalization of patriarchy has sought to defuse the explosive force of this anonymity, just as capital has tended to reduce the voluptuous excess of exogamic conjugation to the stability of nationally segmented trading circuits.(FN)
In other words all so called modern democracies mask the dimension of both the political and economic rule of men and the patriarchal or androcratic regimes of power and knowledge. For Land only a new shift and transformation of feminist thought, a complete break with the conceptual frameworks of the West, the ultimate and decisive invention of an alterity, a force of invention and creativity that both destroys and brings with it a revolution in Knowledge and Epistemic relations, and wells from the ontic and ontological heart of the world will suffice in the overthrow of these fascists systems of male dominance.
In his disgruntlement and disgust of the liberal progressive West and its academy of compromise Land would offer a solution,
The left tends to be evasive about the numbing violence intrinsic to revolutionary war, and feminism is often particularly fastidious in this respect, even reverting to absurd mystical and Ghandian ideologies. If feminist struggles have been constantly deprioritized in theory and practice it is surely because of their idealistic recoil from the currency of violence, which is to say, from the only definitive ‘matter’ of politics. The state apparatus of an advanced industrial society can certainly not be defeated without a willingness to escalate the cycle of violence without limit. It is a terrible fact that atrocity is not the perversion, but the very motor of such struggles: the language of inexorable political will. A revolutionary war against a modern metropolitan state can only be fought in hell. It is this harsh truth that has deflected Western politics into an increasingly servile reformism, whilst transforming nationalist struggles into the sole arena of vigorous contention against particular configurations of capital.(FN)
Nature (the art whereby God hath made and governes the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal. For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the begining whereof is in some principall part within; why may we not say, that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificiall life?
—Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
In the human sciences, culture and language have also been progressively engulfed by the universe of technics: the artificial realm of institutions, rituals, knowledges, symbol systems and practices that makes humans functional, speaking, meaning-making creatures; that is, what makes humans human. The essence of the human, it seems, is the technical; which is paradoxically the other of the human: the non-human, the manufactured, unnatural, artificial; the inhuman even.
—Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time:
Every aspect of our lives is live Online 24/7 whether we ever connect to these vast global networks or not. We are all prisoners of an invisible network of systems that guide, modulate, and shape our lives in ways we have barely begun to question much less understand. For the most part we believe we are flesh-and-blood animals with (some say) a soul that can rise above such worldly concerns. Others that we are native and indigenous creatures of the universe, that there is no escape, no exterior realm beyond to which we can exit this universal prison. For better or worse we are a muddle to ourselves and in the eyes of the Universe unthought and unknown. We are a puzzle. And, yet, we’ve allowed ourselves much like the ancient Egyptians who built a civilization around the Great Pharaohs to work wonders in stone out of the wastelands of this desert planet. We dream of trips to Mars, we dream of Intelligent Cities, of thinking machines (AI’s) that will alleviate the data glut and excess of information that is now so large that no singular human or even assemblage of humans could encompass. We are perplexed by war, famine, disease, corrupt politicians and dark secret surveillance of our lives from the very people we have put in charge to govern us. Democracy? Does is exist now? Did it ever? Was it a mere mask for something much more malign and nefarious? Are we even now bound to social, political, and economic forces that are in excess of our laws to challenge and secure? Haven’t we begun to see the threads of the modern dream of a Universal Enlightenment going up in smoke as the world at large says they do not need Western Civilization or the – shall we say it, the White Man’s Dreams of Utopia?
Bernard Stigler in his new book Automatic Society: The Future of Work been developing a theory of our Big Data Economy and how it is based within the cultural milieu of a computational society. At the heart of his diagnosis is that secular society through its networking effects of speed and high-performance computing bound all of human life in a world of ‘crowd sourcing’ algorithmic governmentality. One in which “the digital stage of grammatization is leading psychic individuals throughout the world to grammatize their own behaviour by interacting with computer systems operating in real time.”1 As he suggests these systems produce an automatic performativity that channels, diverts and short-circuits individual and collective protentions by outstripping and overtaking the noetic capacities of individuals precisely insofar as they are protentional capacities – that is, oneiric capacities – and at the same time by short-circuiting the collective production of circuits of transindividuation. He goes on to say that
Every form of noesis is thereby overtaken through this incitement of protentions operating by remote control. These protentions are continuously being redefined and are always already being erased by new protentions that are even more dis-integrated, that is, dividual. This is an obstacle to dreaming, wanting, reflecting and deciding, that is, the collective realization of dreams, and it forms the basis of algorithmic governmentality inasmuch as it is the power of fully computational 24/7 capitalism.
The individual has been separated from his data-self or dividual and computationally incorporated as data in a world wide economy in which his actual flesh-and-blood life is but a shadow of the lightstream worlds of his digital life online. As Stiegler remarks, if ‘our statistical double is too detached from us’, it is because the data industry, as the automatized production and exploitation of traces, dispossesses us of the possibility of interpreting our retentions and protentions – both psychic and collective.” (AS, 5453) To move from this hard fact to Law is part of Stiglers negethropic effect to overcome the inertia and entropic decay of this data world. As he says,
To change this state of fact and open up the possibility of a new state of law, we must invent an organology based on the potentials contained in the digital technical system. And we must do so even though currently this system does indeed give every appearance of being a gigantic technical individual, a digital Leviathan exerting its power over the entire earth through its ability to continually outstrip and overtake, and to do so on behalf of a decadent, uncultivated and self-destructive oligarchy – an oligarchy that is absolutely venal, that is, perfectly nihilistic. This contemporary Leviathan is global, and it is the result of the reticular and interactive traceability of 24/7 capitalism, which has now become a part of common awareness. (AS, KL 5438)
Stiegler influenced by Edmund Husserl’s notions of retention and protention will develop a complete theoretical organological approach based on this. These terms are defined as follows:
Retention is the process whereby a phase of a perceptual act is retained in our consciousness. It is a presentation of that which is no longer before us and is distinct from immediate experience. A simple example might be that of watching a ball being thrown. We retain where the ball was in our minds to understand the momentum of the ball as we perceive it in the immediate present. Retention is not a representation or memory but a presentation of a temporally extended present. That is, a present that extends beyond the few short milliseconds that are registered in a moment of sense perception.
Protention is our anticipation of the next moment. The moment that has yet to be perceived. Again, using the example of a ball, our focus shifts along the expected path the ball will take.
For Stiegler it is not that this traceability operates ‘behind the back of consciousness’, as Hegel said about the phenomenology of spirit (of its epiphany as exteriorization), but rather that it operates by outstripping and overtaking the protentions that produce this consciousness, that is, by proposing and substituting prefabricated protentions (artificial decisions, thoughts, replacements) – even if they are also ‘individualized’ or ‘personalized’.
All this represents a radical and unprecedented rupture with Husserl’s description of the temporal activity of any noetic consciousness. The latter is constituted by primary retentions that consciousness selects (without being conscious of doing so) at the time the experience occurs, selections made on the basis of the secondary retentions this consciousness contains – and that thereby constitute the criteria for these selections. The primary retentions resulting from this selection encode individually lived experience, and are formed through the accumulation of past experience – becoming in their turn secondary retentions. See also: Transindividuation. As Stiegler explicates,
The play between primary and secondary retentions generates protentions that are themselves primary and secondary (though Husserl did not himself employ this distinction). Primary protentions are tied to the object of lived experience, so that, through habit, reasoning, physiological automatisms, or through the knowledge that the perceiving subject accumulates about the object of perception, such ‘primarily retained’ traits result in ‘primarily protended’ traits, that is, expected and anticipated traits – whether consciously or otherwise. These primary and secondary retentions and protentions are composed of mnesic traces, which, like the ‘neurones’ in Freud’s ‘Project for a Scientific Psychology’, are ‘charged’ with and ‘tend’ towards protentions, through circuits and facilitations formed between these mnesic traces that Freud called ‘contact-barriers’, as potentials for action and as expectations that constitute the lived experience of these potentials. This play of retentional and protentional mnesic traces is conditioned and overdetermined by the play of those hypomnesic traces that tertiary retentions form. In the case of digital and reticulated tertiary retention, that is, arrangements of psychic retentions and protentions via automatisms operating at near-light speed, the retentional selections through which experience occurs as the production of primary retentions and protentions are outstripped and overtaken by prefabricated tertiary retentions and protentions that are ‘made to measure’ through user profiling and auto-completion technologies, and through all the possibilities afforded by real-time processing and associated network effects – and augmented by this performativity.
To explain this Stiegler offers this (and I quote in full):
It should be noted here that, if the average speed of a nervous impulse circulating between the brain and the hand is around metres per second, reticulated digital tertiary retentions can circulate at 200 million metres per second on fibre-optic networks – four million times faster. Such considerations call for an organology and a pharmacology of speed and will. It is indeed will in all its most elementary forms that is emptied of all content, outstripped and overtaken by traceability. When noetic individuals live the time of an experience in which they select traits as primary retentions on the basis of secondary retentions, they at the same time and in return interpret these secondary retentions insofar as they form ensembles. These ensembles are charged with protentions derived from previous experiences. Some of these protentions are transindividuated and transformed into a common rule, that is, into habits and conventions of all kinds, metastabilized between the psychic individuals and the collective individuals associated with these experiences (a con-vention being what con-venes a plurality of individuals: it is what gathers their coming together).
Others, however, continue to await transindividuation, that is, expressions and inscriptions that continue the development of already-existing circuits of transindividuation. For a psychic individual to interpret, during a present experience, the ensembles of secondary retentions that constitute his or her past experience is to make actual the protentions that these ensembles contain as potential. By short-circuiting the protentional projections of psychic and collective noetic individuals, by phagocytically absorbing the milieus associated with them, and by sterilizing the circuits of transindividuation woven between them through their individual and collective experiences, algorithmic governmentality annihilates those traumatypical potentials in which consist protentions that bear the possibility of neganthropological upheavals. When noetic experience is fulfilled in actuality and ‘fully’ (in the plenitude of actuality that constitutes what Aristotle called entelechy), it constitutes a support for the expression of traumatypes that participate in the inscription of noetic singularity into circuits of transindividuation. It is these circuits through which knowledge is woven as the accumulation of previous experiences insofar as they are original and yet recognized and identified, thereby forming factors conducive of neganthropic bifurcations.
If it is a question of re-establishing a genuine process of transindividuation with reticulated digital tertiary retentions, and of establishing a digital age of psychic and collective individuation, then the challenge is to generate tertiary retentions with all the polysemic and plurivocal thickness of which the hypomnesic trace is capable, reflecting the hermeneutic play of the improbable and of singularity that pertains to the protentions woven between psychic and collective retentions. To do this, systems must be built and implemented that are dedicated to the individual and collective interpretation of traces – including by using automated systems that enable analytical transformations to be optimized, and by supplying new materials for synthetic activity. (ibid., KL 5437-5454)
Reading the above one gets a sense that the diagnosis has become a new technical disease. Stiegler in his elaboration of a cure for our current social malaise seems almost to joint the technical world and its datacentric and computational complexity with all these abstruse and bewildering array of terms and processes that seem more oriented toward the development not of humans but of some artificial race of hyperminds capable of performing these counter-measures for the great mass of humans. What bothers me is that it sounds more like such a cure will need a strike force of super-intellects and advanced elite thinkers (in Stiegler’s mind) to perform such a feat. And, even, shall we admit that for such a thing to transpire it looks more like Stiegler is hinting at the use of the very AI’s themselves as part of this massive program since it would be almost impossible for even our best minds to enact such a world wide system of transindividuation. Is Stiegler partially mad? Has he entertained such an elaborate system of thought that it has become an obsession in which he alone seems to have the key? Does he read in all these earlier thinkers a new Synthesis for the human? As he says in that last statement: “To do this, systems must be built and implemented that are dedicated to the individual and collective interpretation of traces – including by using automated systems that enable analytical transformations to be optimized, and by supplying new materials for synthetic activity.” (ibid., KL 5437-5454) Does this not itself sound like the great AI based datacentric systems being used by the techno-commercial sectors like Google, but revised by an elite strike force of counter-insurgents to reroute and analyze the traces of Big Data for a counterrevolutionary prognosis? It’s as if he has in some ways gone over to the dark side, joined forces with the very artificial systems he critiques, knowing that we need their fast, speed based, and performativity to counter the Oligarchic systems used by the techno-commercial sector to accumulate profit and enslave humans in a profit machine.
Yet, as he says, there is a supple difference between the two systems:
A supplementary invention, necessary in order to complete the system that produces reticulated digital tertiary retentions, must enable transindividual, rather than transdividuated, reticulation. That is, it must enable noetic and not just algorithmic reticulation, synthetically formative and not analytically deforming: synthetic in the Kantian sense, as the life of reason, and not just analytical, as automated understanding.(AS, KL 5573)
It’s this difference between noetic (of or related to intellect) and algorithmic reticulations that is the key: the difference between automated code and its synthetic systems, as compared to the life of Reason or Intellect in a human leading to synthetic understanding and wisdom.
Injustice governs the universe. All that is made and all that is unmade therein carries the imprint of a corrupt fragility, as if matter were the fruit of an outrage in the womb of nothingness.
—EMILE CIORAN A Short History of Decay
Over and over Bernard Stiegler will mentions his organological approach to milieus and the study or interpretation of the world we live in. For Stiegler the main question is that of arrangements [agencements]. Deleuze and Guattari will use this term or concept in their work on Kafka where they say,
There isn’t a desire for power; it is power itself that is desire. Not a desire-lack, but desire as a plenitude, exercise, and functioning, even in the most subaltern of workers. Being an assemblage [agencement], desire is precisely one with the gears and the components of the machine, one with the power of the machine. And the desire that someone has for power is only his fascination with these gears, his desire to make certain of these gears go into operation, to be himself one of these gears—or, for want of anything better, to be the material treated by these gears, a material that is a gear in its own way. (Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, 1986, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, 56).
As one author John Phillips puts it the English word assemblage is gaining currency in the humanities and social sciences as a concept of knowledge, but its uses remain disparate and sometimes imprecise. Two factors contribute to the situation. First, the concept is normally understood to be derived from the French word agencement, as used in the works of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (who, furthermore, do not use the French word assemblage in this way). Tracing the concept in its philosophical sense back to their texts, one discovers that it cannot easily be understood except in connection with the development of a complex of such concepts. Agencement implies specific connections with the other concepts. It is, in fact, the arrangement of these connections that gives the concepts their sense. For Deleuze and Guattari, a philosophical concept never operates in isolation but comes to its sense in connection with other senses in specific yet creative and often unpredictable ways. This in connection with already provides something of the sense of agencement, if one accepts that a concept arises in philosophy as the connection between a state of affairs and the statements we can make about it. Agencement designates the priority of neither the state of affairs nor the statement but of their connection, which implies the production of a sense that exceeds them and of which, transformed, they now form parts.
It’s in this sense that Felix Guattari would later develop his notions of machinic unconscious and associate a-signifying systems of enslavement to this system of power (desire). Stiegler will quote the work of Maurizio Lazzarato, who refers to the Guattarian concept of a-signifying semiotics: ‘A-signifying semiotics […] [are a function of] “machinic enslavement” […] causing the affects, perceptions, emotions, etc., to function like component parts, like the elements in a machine.’ That is, they constitute a functional integration in the Simondonian sense, and do so as a kind of human associated milieu: ‘We can all function like the input/output elements in semiotic machines, like simple relays of television or the Internet.’ To deepen Guattari’s observations, and the commentaries by Lazzarato requires a pharmacological approach to associated milieus and to contribution, that is, an organological approach.1
In discussing this organological approach Stiegler will remind us that “it is not possible to remain on the micropolitical plane: a three-dimensional perspective, understood as creating relief (the depth of multiple disparities producing lines of flight), and as the disparation of ‘key-points’, is necessarily also and from the outset macropolitical. It is a question not of moving to the macropolitical, that is, to the One as the dream of a unity and process of unification, but of enacting a pharmacological critique of its always organological realization, and of positing as a starting point that any realization of a dream is pharmacological, that is, it is no longer a dream – unless it becomes a nightmare.” (AS, KL 5379)
To translate this into palatable parlance for the average reader the above is an approach to the human equation in a milieu of technics and technology using both the larger (macropolitical) and smaller (microp0litical) perspectives (i.e., Foucault’s bio-politics deeply influences Stiegler!). For Stiegler like the Gnostics before him most humans are sleepwalking through existence (i.e., they are awake but unconsciously controlled by a multifarious world of a-signifying automatisms that regulate and modulate their lives without them being even aware of such control). Our thinking is bound by the same constraints as are our bodies; it collides against the same barriers and is dragged dawn by the weight of the same contingencies. The majority of ancient Gnostics expressed this dullness of the spirit – inherent in the matter of which we are composed – by a simple and revealing analogy: that of sleep. Sleep is to consciousness what weight is to the body: a state of death, inertia, a petrification of the psychic forces. We sleep. We spend our lives asleep. And only those who are aware of it can hope to break down these walls of mental inertia, to awaken in themselves the spark which, in spite of all, still glows within us, like a tear in the veil of corporeal night.
Stiegler’s notion of becoming associated with the entropic pull of things aligns with this Gnostic notion of weight and the pull or drive toward death in things. Against this he has developed much like the Gnostics as counter life, a Negenthropic politics to counter the natural tendencies of humans to desire their own enslavement and entropy or inertia. Stiegler will tell us this of his Negenthropic or Organological politics,
Such a shared, three-dimensional perspective must project a politics that is always macropolitical. It must feed ‘molecular’ lines of flight, which it must ‘three-dimensionalize’ by problematizing the stakes of the transformation of becoming into future that is always the question of any noesis qua passage from facts to laws, that is: qua projection of existences onto the plane of consistences – consistence trans-forming entropy into neganthropy through the individuation of the potentials and tensions that constitute organologically supported preindividual becoming. (AS, KL 5386)
In other words Sleeper Awaken. We need a politics to fight the systems of control and regulation, the algorithmic governing code and spaces of enslavement that are become ever more pervasive and ubiquitous in our lives.
Have you ever watched someone on a bus or walking, etc. using a mobile phone. They seem so intense, plugged into the input/output device, sending text messages, reading emails, searching Google, talking to a friend, associate, client and doing all this oblivious to the environment surrounding them. I remember a couple years ago watching one of those comic TV shows that had a segment satirizing this dead world of the mobile phone user locked away from reality and oblivious to her surroundings. In it they had people walk by mobile phone users sitting on benches in a park. They had one segment where a woman naked (or at least in a flesh tone body suit ) walk by several times. No reaction. In another they had someone yelling rape and a man accosting a woman. No reaction. In yet another they had someone come up and actually steal the person purse lying on the bench next to them. No reaction. So it goes… they did sever others, but the point is that people attentiveness, their awareness of the environment external to the input-output of their device become opaque and non-essential. They are in a state of total non-awareness and inattention to anything but the world of their communication device. Then in the last segment the crew interfered with the users device by making it malfunction. When a mobile phone suddenly stopped working each of these users reactions was both hostile and upsetting. It was as if to be cut off from one’s technical interface to the world one was being deprived of life. People are becoming so enslaved to their technological wonders that their world is enveloped in an artificial system without any external outlet to the natural world. Oblivious to their natural environment people are become trapped by the very tools they see as extensions of themselves. We are being folded into a machinic existence without even an understanding that our lives as humans are becoming less and less perceivable outside the machine.
As Stiegler remarks,
There is subjectivation in the automatic milieu but it is not reflexive: ‘What is first noticed is the difficulty in producing an algorithmic subject who is self-reflexive or who thinks as such.’ This ‘subjectivation’ is unreflective because what this algorithmic arrangement produces breaks with processes of transindividuation, cutting the servants off from the process they serve at the very moment they believe it is serving them: Our problem […] is not that we are dispossessed of what we consider to be our own […]. It would more fundamentally lie in the fact that our statistical double is too detached from us, that we have no ‘relationship’ with it, even though contemporary normative actions are enough for this statistical double to be effective. To take possession of our double, to reach the point of analysing the dividuation of the self in which it consists, would be to be capable of dis-automatizing, and to create a reflective and specular interface. One can imagine how social engineering could be developed in this direction.
This sense that the world of techno-commercial fantasies that draw and capture our desires by the very processes of our own desiring, and that these technical artifacts and gadgets like our mobile phones seamlessly drive us from our individual to dividual lives as mere tools of an algorithmic governance that is so ubiquitous and invisible in the very code spaces of our software that we are in essence asleep and unaware of the traps we’ve set ourselves. What we believe to be a technological utopia in the making is none other that the ultimate Prison for the human species.
[Bernard Stiegler] relates that the automated processes implemented by algorithmic governmentality to Félix Guattari’s concepts of molecular machinic unconscious and machinic enslavement. The example used by Guattari for machinic enslavement is, in fact, ‘driving in a state of reverie’.
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
This shouldn’t surprise us too much we’ve known for a while now that even in our own body there are unconscious processes that are autonomous from our conscious mind that are continuously interacting, intervening, making decisions, routing food, curing infections, providing buffers against the millions of other organisms that make up our fleshly existence. We are a veritable civilization of submicroscopic life in continuous 24/7 motion. Yet, we as conscious beings go about our lives without so much as an acknowledgement of all this unconscious automatic work and decisioning going on for our behalf. The same can be attested to our day to day work processes. We get in our automobile, start the engine, unhook the clutch, back out of the driveway, begin our journey from home to office much like our ancient ancestors roamed from their caves into the wilds competing with other strangers for food and sustenance. For the most part on that trip we are never aware of all the intricate and complex actions going on between ourselves and the environment that remain subliminal and unconscious but instead we channel our conscious mind toward reveries: we think about what is coming our way at work, we busy our minds with that important meeting with the boss or some client, we are already beginning to anticipate and think ahead through various simulated episodes of fiction about what we might say or do during these as yet unforeseen moments. All this while our bodies, our flesh and blood organism is busy scanning, gazing, interpreting signs in the environment ahead and around the vehicle for bad drivers, pedestrians out of pocket, an accident, a fatal mistake from a blown traffic stop, and all the multifarious aspects of danger that surround us as we navigate the world of our city streets. We may be remotely aware but for the most part we are oblivious to all this and are instead busy with our mobile phones which are hooked into our automobiles with instant news, messages from a back log of calls, an sms text from the wife or husband to pick up the kids after school, a doctor’s appointment to be rescheduled, etc. We are conscious of a thousand and one things other than the actual process of being in an automobile driving to work and how utterly strange and uncanny this is in the course of human history.
As Bernard Stiegler tells it,
Driving my car ‘automatically’, that is, ‘without thinking’ and in this sense ‘unconsciously’, one ‘part’ of ‘me’ is totally enslaved to an engine and a mechanical vehicle that it ‘serves’ by ‘using it’ [en ‘s’en servant’], while an ‘other’ part of ‘me’ – which is, however, perhaps not completely me or my ego, but rather also this obscure zone of intermittences that is the id – finds itself in a greatly dis-automatized mode: the mode of reverie, akin at times to floating attention, which is always at the origin of thinking that goes off the beaten track.1
This process of capturing our desires, of enslavement has been going on for millennia and is nothing new. What is new is that this process is accelerating and gathering in momentum. That we are being driven like a dynamo toward a blind alley from which there is no exit. An alley that will leave us destitute and empty and alone in our ignorance and forgetting. We are losing our conscious minds and forgetting ourselves, becoming more stupid day by day as we give over our work and lives, memories and perceptions to our external machinic systems. We are becoming the unconscious forces within machinic life and will serve the algorithmic government of a future machinic civilization that is not even aware of our existence. Much like all those sub-micro organisms that inhabit our flesh and blood body. We will become bit players in a world-wide global machine that has enslaved us and incorporated us into its strange and uncanny processes of which we are only now beginning to become aware in the moment of our disappearance.
Stiegler citing other authors and thinkers says,
The automatisms that accompany this dis-automatization thus belong to what Guattari called the machinic unconscious, where the latter is ‘a-signifying’, as Berns and Rouvroy recall by citing a commentary of Maurizio Lazzarato, and by emphasizing that in algorithmic governmentality, as in the machinic unconscious and in the enslavement through which it is carried out, ‘everything happens as if signification was not absolutely necessary’. (AS, KL 5160)
The point here is that these processes are without meaning, nihilistic and without value or significance in any human or conscious sense. These very algorithms are blind process and force that are driven by mathematical equations without the need for theory or theoreticians. As if the Blind God of the Gnostic Sethians were inhabiting the creative and dynamic world of machinic civilization. This sense of subatomic forces working through technics and technology by way of humanity to fulfill some unconscious weaving and unweaving of our reality matrix. There is no goal, no purpose to this – only the sheer movement of these naked forces moving through the various regions of process and becoming, metamorphic and transgressive. Elaborating an endless optimization of intelligence in a give and take navigation of our planet and universe.
As Stiegler speaking of it becoming meaning, becoming significant and signifying relates,
Signification [signification], that is, semiosis as engendering signs, significations and significance (making-signs), is the transindividual made possible by the process of transindividuation woven between psychic systems, technical systems and social systems – that is, between psychic individuations, technical individuation and collective individuations. (AS, KL 5165)
For Stiegler humans were at one time at the forefront of this process of transindividuation which as above is an elaboration of technics, technology, and psyche all intertwined in a dance of meaning making and elaboration of reality external and internal, extrinsic and intrinsic. But now a great reversal is taking place and technology, – or, what Simondon terms ‘technological artifacts’ are becoming transindividuated while humans are forgetting themselves and becoming did-associated and did-automatized from this process. Our machininc systems (AI, Robotics, etc.) are becoming individuals while we are becoming dividuals – parts and fragments of data indiced and indexed by computational systems that shape and modulate our bits for the techno-commercial world of machinic life and existence.
In many ways machinic life or the combination of technics and technology has always had this potential to become intelligent, but up till now humans have meshed and formed that intelligence of the machine throughout the Industrial Era. Only now in our time have we instigated another process of seeding, of creating a topology of code and math that allows the seed of intelligence to grow and mature in machinic life. What we’re saying is that the current path of AI is the dream of General Intelligence that the philosophers and scientists have since the Idealists envisioned. Nothing new here. This movement between the oscillating forces of human and machinic technics and technologies is driving both a wedge between and a hyperstitional leap into the intelligent age of machinic life. It’s as if two worlds were colliding. As Stiegler reminds us,
The difficulty of thinking in these terms with regard to what concerns us is that, through functional integration, in the epoch or absence of epoch of digital tertiary retention, the milieu merges with and in some way blends into the global digital network constitutive of algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism. Automatic government no longer has any need for disparation, for individuals or for signification.
The Simondon concept of disparation that Stiegler mentions above is this tendency toward the destruction of signification by the digital technical system that results from the technology of power deployed by the algorithmic governmentality of 24/7 capitalism, and it is founded on eliminating processes of disparation. The latter is a concept that Simondon introduces in the following terms:
Each retina surveys a two-dimensional image; the left image and the right image are disparate; they represent the world seen from two different perspectives […]; some details hidden from view in the left image are, on the contrary, revealed in the right image, and vice versa […]. No third image is optically possible that could unify these two images: they are essentially disparate and cannot be superposed within the axiomatic of two-dimensionality. To bring about a coherence that incorporates them, it is necessary that they become the foundation of a world perceived within an axiomatic in which disparation […] becomes, precisely, the index of a new dimension.
This process of disparation forms the basis for Simondon’s conception of signification and individuation. (AS, 5169) This notion of disparation in collusion with Slavoj Zizek’s Parallax Gap aligns well,
The illusion of putting two incompatible phenomena on the same level, is strictly analogous to what Kant called “transcendental illusion,” the illusion of being able to use the same language for phenomena which are mutually untranslatable and can be grasped only in a kind of parallax view, constantly shifting perspective between two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible. Thus there is no rapport between the two levels, no shared space-although they are closely connected, even identical in a way, they are, as it were, on the opposed sides of a Moebius strip.2
This sense of humanity and machinic life as interoperating in this non-space or void that cannot be meshed forming a disparation or parallax gap in which the seed of intelligence is grafted from the one to the other comes close to what I’m addressing. We are in easier parlance passing the baton of intelligence to our machinic children, externalizing the unconscious processes of subautomation and brain functions that have carried humans to an ultimate internalization of memory and perception to a point that we can no longer compute the world (i.e., we’ve become stupid and without knowledge), while our machinic children are becoming better equipped to handle the terrabytes or gigabytes of information both natural and artificial. We are losing our minds to our machinic children, and becoming enslaved to this new world of digital algorithmic civilization in the process. And, the short fall is that we desire it – that in many ways this is what we’ve desired for millennia: a conclusion to the metaphysical dreams of religion and philosophy, an escape from Plato’s Cave. But is it a false exit? Is it actually a false transcendence in immanence? Are we escaping or enslaving ourselves even deeper into the mesh of a final dream of apocalypse?
As Stiegler tells it the network effect that in the 90’s was touted about the freedom the internet would offer us has actually brought about the shunting of disparation,
In and through the network, and the network effect, the condition of disparation is shunted, that is, both diverted (which is the original meaning of the verb to shunt) and short-circuited (which is the meaning of this same verb when it is extended to electronics) by algorithms that substitute for it, so as to engender a functional integration of psychic and collective individuals – which is to literally dis-integrate them. Hence is created a new order of magnitude wherein meaning and signification are lost, thereby creating a disorder: this new order is a disorder of magnitude, so to speak, typical of nihilism on the way to fulfilment.(AS, KL 5219)
In other words the very processes of supposed creativity and innovation that were to be released on the net have actually brought disintegration and disorder to the world at large. Bringing with it a global end of civilization in a completed nihilism wherein ancient and modern cultures are disintegrating into desperate enclaves of resurgent fundamentalism seeking to stave off the barbarous forces of this external pressure. In the process of a resurgence in reactionary forces what is actually happening is the deepening of the very paranoid formations of an apocalyptic imaginal that like a seed planted in all the monotheistic books of the people: Jew, Muslim, Christian is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy or hyperstition that is brooding within the hate and fear of people worldwide in the collective unconscious. Like a rabid beast awaiting the moment to be unleashed these forces unless transindividuated and brought to bare within a greater dimension will destroy the world and most of human, animal, and plant life on this green earth.
As Stigler informs us algorithmic governmentality has no need for meanings or significations. It needs only those psychic and collective individuals through which and by the individuation of which this algorithmic governmentality constitutes itself while dividuating (i.e., splicing their data-life from their bio-life) them. In this sense automatic ‘transindividuation’ no longer produces the transindividual but only the ‘transdividual’, through a ‘dividuation’ that would be the specific feature that emerges in control societies and imposes itself as the a-normativity of societies of hyper-control. He goes on the say,
Are such societies still societies? The automatic and computational liquidation of disparation dissolves processes of transindividuation, which are always in some way idiomatic and localized, that is, characterized by natively disparate psychic and collective individuals, originally put into default by an originary default of origin, and producing, through their disparations, many new dimensions, that is, new meanings and significations – forming what we call worlds. By diluting, dissolving and ultimately disintegrating these processes of psychic and collective individuation that are always idiomatic and improbable, that is, incalculable, algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism eliminate anything incalculable – and do so on a planetary scale. A toxic anthropization is thereby produced, in relation to which we will try, in the second volume of Automatic Society, to think the theoretical and practical conditions of effecting a neganthropology in algorithmic governmentality and a passage from fact to law. (AS, KL 5227-5241)
The point here is that Neoliberalism in its bid over a period of some sixty years to produce a Global Capitalism beyond control of governments and politics, has in process brought not a New World Order but rather the disintegration of all old world orders and left us in a void of a completed nihilism wherein the ancient civilizations and cultures of the planet as a whole are now also disintegrating without recourse or redress. Because of this a movement of reactionary forces across the globe has set in through fear and barbarous hate of the Other (Cultures, Race, Religion… etc.). Spawning entropic and destructive groups that seek not only reparation by violent expulsion of the foreign, unknown, and untouchable. All of this going on under the façade of a Meditainment Global Order of hyperfictional communications systems that try to maintain some semblance of the old supposed Progressive vanguards of Secular Civilization.
There comes a point in Thomas Pynchon’s classic The Crying of lot 49 where Oedipa strips the world to its bare minimum and discovers the Tristero System,
So began, for Oedipa, the languid, sinister blooming of The Tristero. Or rather, her attendance at some unique performance, prolonged as if it were the last of the night, something a little extra for whoever’d stayed this late. As if the breakaway gowns, net bras, jeweled garters and G-strings of historical figuration that would fall away were layered dense as Oedipa’s own street-clothes in that game with Metzger in front of the Baby Igor movie; as if a plunge toward dawn indefinite black hours long would indeed be necessary before The Tristero could be revealed in its terrible nakedness. Would its smile, then, be coy, and would it flirt away harmlessly backstage, say good night with a Bourbon Street bow and leave her in peace? Or would it instead, the dance ended, come back down the runway, its luminous stare locked to Oedipa’s, smile gone malign and pitiless; bend to her alone among the desolate rows of seats and begin to speak words she never wanted to hear?3
Pynchon of course is toying with all the grand conspiracy notions of his era, satirizing the paranoiacs world view, seeking to humorize the terrors and frights we all feel that the world is decaying, falling apart, and like Humpty Dumpty there will be no one to put the pieces back together. I could remind my readers of a litany of thinkers on the edge who have such paranoiac visions of the future. Nick Land with his alien intelligences from the future invading our present to bring about the utter demise of humanity and instigate the rise and takeover of machinic life forms in a techno-futurist world of technics and technology as supreme. My friend R. Scott Bakker who sees humanity losing its mind, its memory, its conscious being in some post-apocalyptic neruomarketing and neurocapitalist world of advance machinic systems, where we are but reminded of our own robotic automatic lives and encircled ignorance and false knowledge. So many other academics touting the wonders of the Post-Human, the Post-Capitalist, the Post… whatever… as if the wonders ahead are full of optimisms and cheer if we will just realign these forces for the Good, Beautiful, and Just… utopian visions from Plato and Aristotle.
As a pessimistic realists I look back and see that humans and their desires have never quite brought about utopia or paradise, but have in almost every instance brought about suffering, pain, and war… and, ultimately, death for those who would not cooperate with the new plan of governing powers. Are we doomed to this cycle forever? No. Our planet is finite and we are steadily accumulating the end game of waste and depletion of life sustain resources that our future children will look back on and bitterly castigate and malign us for using so carelessly. We are building the graves of our children’s and grand-children’s lives. Ghosts of a civilization run amok in a wilderness of stupidity and disparation.
Stiegler tells us there have been three epochs in the history of networks,
Until now there have been two main epochs in the history of the web: the first was characterized by hypertext links and websites. The second was that of blogs, evaluated by search engines, wherein ‘recommendations’ and ‘reputation’ are based on the network effect – enabling platforms to channel and functionally integrate the ‘expressions’ generated by this ‘expressivism’. A third epoch must arise, founded on a new organology, derived from supplementary invention conceived as political technology, and with the goal of repotentializing disparation, that is, with the goal of diachronizing the web and providing interpretative instruments for this disparity. Hence a neganthropology could and should be reconfigured capable of projecting a negentropic future into entropic becoming. (AS, 5337)
Through the haze of this scholars bullshit terms (and yes, I think such textual display is over the top bullshit!) we discern the patterns and weaving of other scholars, political thinkers, philosophers from Simondon to Deleuze/Guattari and the whole gamut of structuralist and post-structuralist temporal registries of static being (Structure) vs. dynamic process (Diachronic). For Stiegler the timeless vacuum of the web that the Neoliberal techno-commercialists have built on a structured timeless system of seamless control and entropic effect is depleting not only our world but our minds as well. While the very same web could be rewound into a revolutionary force of process and becoming, open-ended up to diachronic forces of temporal change where the future is brought back into play, and humans once again are part of the transindividuation process and our technics and technology are no longer separate (dualistic) from our habitation and life but are part an partial of what we are intrinsically and extrinsically.
We stand on the edge of a precipice, a cusp into which we could fall or step back and regain some composure, think through what we’re doing and whether this is truly what we desire? Is it? Or all these gadgets, these conveniences, these modern tools and technical objects truly going to make your life fulfilled, comfortable, enlightened? Are you willing to accept a future world fully secured by automated processes in which only a favored and select Oligarchy is left to live in isolated enclaves of Smart cities while the rest of humanity lives in the barbarous outlands of a depleted and vanishing world?
Truly total automatization is impossible: it could occur only by destroying the conditions of its own functioning, namely, in this instance, the psychic individuals and social individuals without which some purely automatic functioning could do nothing other than turn the earth into a desert – that is, entropize it.
—Bernard Stiegler, The Automatic Society
In our moment of transition, this phase shift between the ages, from entropic to a possible negentropic, Anthropocene to Negenthropocene civilization we’ve seen a tendency toward advanced technologies and the software that run them to become more and more intelligent as if combined with human ingenuity (technics) and the proclivities of time and processes repeated through computational complexity to a point that many believe in a supposed or hypothetical boundary zone in which machinic life will suddenly and in a great epochal shift displace humanity in intelligence on planet earth. Stiegler mentions the work of Gilbert Simondon and his notion of technical individual becoming autonomous from us as we fall away into stupidity and forget ourselves.. As Stiegler emphasizes,
At the start of the becoming that is totally computational capitalism, no strategies are involved, neither to deceive the masses through the use of algorithmic machines, nor to ‘neutralize and inactivate’ them by these means. This occurs de facto. But this fact is an outcome of the appropriation of diffracted universal technical tendencies, tendencies that precede all such strategies.
This sense that there is no human purpose involved in these pre-individual tendencies within technologies, no purpose or plan but that these tendencies have been there from the beginning, de facto. Yet, he will emphasize as well that these tendencies to become law rather than just natural facts among facts can only do this through the rational, that is, neganthropic, appropriation of these tendencies, and by collective individuations instituting a process of transindividuation, and thereby constituting psychic individuals, that the outcome can be a state of law.1
But what is transindividuation? For Stiegler, the concept of “transindividuation” is one that does not rest with the individuated “I” or with the interindividuated “We,” but is the process of co-individuation within a preindividuated milieu and in which both the “I” and the “We” are transformed through one another. Transindividuation, then, is the basis for all social transformation and is therefore a way of addressing what happens within education. As Stiegler will expound in Technics and Time,
Attention is the reality of individuation in Gilbert Simondon’s sense of the terms: insofar as it is always both psychical and collective. Attention, which is the mental faculty of concentrating on an object, that is, of giving oneself an object, is also the social faculty of taking care of this object – as of another, or as the representative of another, as the object of the other: attention is also the name of civility as it is founded on philia, that is, on socialised libidinal energy. This is why the destruction of attention is both the destruction of the psychical apparatus and the destruction of the social apparatus (formed by collective individuation) to the extent that the later constitutes of system of care, given that to pay attention is also to take care.
As he’d say it in an interview available on e-flus journal: My thought was much influenced by the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon, who was an important thinker of individuation. Simondon says that if you want to understand the individual, you need to inscribe the individual in a process of which he is only a phase. As such, the individual has no interests. The individual is only an aspect, or phase of a process, but the process is what is important. So what is this process? It is the process of individuation, that is of transformation, and for Simondon, everything is a caught up in and brought into a process of individuation. For example, the passages of life are a process of individuation, but “technics” are also processes of individuations.
This process has passed from humans who are being de-individualized and displaced by the very technical objects and artifacts that are becoming more and more intelligent and independent of the human. Yet, as Stiegler will tell us there is a tendency in all things toward transindividuation,
It is because critical theory – this term often referring in America and the Anglophone world today more or less to political thought – is yet to elaborate a theory of the technicity of all noetic life (that is, its own technicity) that this becoming in which 24/7 capitalism and algorithmic governmentality encloses us, absurd and without future as it may be, can become hegemonic – and suicidal. (AS, KL 4004)
For Stiegler digital machines, algorithms and infrastructures participate after the fact in strategies that aim in the first place not at mass-deception, nor at ‘neutralizing or inactivating’ the masses, but at exploiting them as resources of which they take no care, and, from this perspective, exploiting them without any biopolitics, inasmuch as biopower also consists, to an extent at least, in ‘taking care’ of life so as to be able to exploit it.(AS, 4036)
In its carelessness Neoliberalism in its ultra-rationalism and decision making computational capitalism has ended in utter irrationalism. 24/7 capitalism to appropriate digital artefactuality attempts to integrate the older forms of an analogue society and consumerist model that is based on the functional pair ‘production/consumption’, itself founded on the redistribution of purchasing power. To concretize the technical tendencies borne by automatization by utilizing such factual strategies (conducted without any care to establish a state of law) is, however, to make this redistribution and therefore this functional pair strictly impossible. (AS, KL 44456) As Stiegler tells us,
Here it is a question not of anticipating desire, but of destroying it by anticipating it, and short-circuiting it by automatically triggering drive-based behaviour, channelled through the self-fulfilling protentions induced by the feedback loops that constitute the fundamental basis of totally computational 24/7 capitalism. This transdividual trafficking of data, operating as a kind of trafficking of ‘dividuated’ psychic organs… (AS, 4748) [my italics]
To combat this state of fact and establish a state of law is to oppose to this economic irrationality an integrated rationality, that is, to invent a new epoch of care, at a moment when the earth and earthlings have need of this as never before, a care that could only be a new epoch of and therefore a redefinition of rationality, in such a way that it would not be limited to calculability and scientific apodicticity: taking care above all of the improbable. (AS, KL 4139)
From Descartes and Leibniz’s age till now rationality has been under the sign of calculus and calculability: a computational reason based on numeric and algorithmic re-duplication and tracking of data, traces, lives, investments, etc. At the core of capitalism is this spirit of cold calculation grinding everything in its path for profit. If it were allowed to persist it would grind every last resource on this planet into profit and leave a totalized wasteland of uninhabited life, a dustbowl and planet of ashes.
Calculation and the digital empires arising around us do not need human truth only results:
that ‘the new regime of digital truth is embodied in a multitude of new automated systems modeling the “social” ’,14 is a promise, or a potential law, more than a reality. The reality is the state of fact, and this, on the contrary, amounts to the denial of this promise: this is to say in effect that this state of fact no longer has any need for the ‘truth’. It just needs ‘results’ – and they are performative. But this is not openly declared, still less (AS, KL 4048-4054)
Google boasts that it doesn’t need theory or theorists, analysts nor any of the old human interventions in the new digital empire of its consumer/production model for it is bound to algorithmic governmentality: to the deep computational dataveillance systems that continuously 24/7 gather, analyze, collate, filter, trace, decide etc. without any plan or strategy behind them – only the sheer decisioning processes of what works which need no theory. As Stiegler puts it,
Within algorithmic governmentality, there is no longer any time to dream because the oneiric soul, which the psychic and noetic individual had hitherto been, is now always preceded by its digital double, derived from the industrial traceology that is the data economy. This digital double in effect functionally short-circuits the desires in which dreams consist – and replaces them with individual and collective interactive operating sequences. And we will see that these operating sequences amount to what, fashioning an allegory, we may call digital pheromones.
As dividuals rather than individuals humans are mere databanks of information to be programmed in a 24/7 capitalist economy that has no time left for the dreams of fleshly creatures to imagine or think. In this world the machines will do the thinking for us, and we can live in an utter world of stupid innocence, activated on demand like any other mindless commodity at the behest of some event call within the algorithmic systems. The early promise that the internet would make us free has turned south and brought instead a new global prison for the human animal. As Stiegler remarks the “algorithmic destruction of the promise is an annihilation, which leads back to the fact that we live in the epoch of the completion of nihilism, if not of fully accomplished nihilism: we are living through the phase in which the nihilistic katastrophē is in the course of unfolding. Katastrophē here refers to the moment of a turn or an outcome, a denouement, that may indeed, as in the structure of the stories of the Scheherazade, revive the desire for history and for stories (that is, desire tout court), rather than lead to the fulfilment of the death drive.”(AS, KL 4399)
Yet, at the still point of the turning world we could go either way: we could become totally enslaved in a algorithmic world of machinic life that has no human purpose or intent, a world that would grow more and more destitute as it consumes every last resource on the planet for its own technical individuation; or, we could begin to dream again, to envision a life-world that renews the age old contract with time and process, of the intelligence of humans caring and shaping a world worth living in rather than one devoid of all human life. What remains of humanity will be those enclosed in ultra-smart cities based on hypercontrol algorithmic governmentality that has become a totally integrated environment made ‘reactive and intelligent systems that displace all human decisions by the proliferation of sensors in order to adapt constantly to specific needs and dangers’. These humans in their search for higher standards of living and security will enclose themselves in these protected enclaves where they will become so hypernormalized and bound by this new technical intelligent assemblage that truth will no longer matter, only the constant dream of innocence: that is, stupidity. As Stiegler remarks,
This 24/7 capitalism constituted by the functional integration of consumers precisely realizes what Deleuze anticipated in 1990 when he distinguished the moulds of disciplinary societies from the modulations of control societies: ‘Confinements are molds, distinct moldings, but controls are a modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the next, or like a sieve whose mesh will change from one point to another.’ Deleuze is here taking up concepts both from Foucault (for example, the mesh) and from Simondon (modulation). (AS, KL 4377)
Already our mobile devices are becoming standardized, controlled, and modulated by algorithmic governmentality through security, access, and consumer regulation of our habits, customs, mores, and day to day cycles to the point that living without these instant gratifiers and constant flow of text messages that are catalogued, filtered, analyzed, and appropriated by a hidden world of programs that are massaged and datafied for reassembly and recomposition to promote your every dream and wish that we have lost the distance necessary to extract ourselves or exit from this digital hell. We are now locking ourselves in a cage without a key or bars. The perfect prison of the mind.
Our very sense of Self and Subjectivity is becoming unbound from the old liberal worldview of individualism. As Steigler comments,
It is subjectivity and its reflexivity that this affecting in advance of the subject by its double renders obsolete, the ‘subject’ always arriving too late, and never having ‘to take account by itself for what it is or what it could become’. It is therefore legitimacy as well as critique that in fact become ‘obsolete’, just as does theory, according to Anderson, and with it its criteria and categories of experiment, hypothesis, model, and so on: ‘Algorithmic government has no room for and takes no account of any active, consistent or reflexive statistical subject, capable of legitimating it or resisting it.’
The double he speaks of is one’s online presence, the dividual, the statistical dataprint of datatrace of one’s digital self who is captured by all these control systems. The actual human beyond the digital frame has vanished, disappeared without a trace and is no longer of any import. This other self I am is no longer legitimate and cannot resist what happens to my Other online image, my double, my digital avatar… I no longer exist as a singularity, only as data in an algorithmic compuverse. For Stiegler we are entering a moment in which we are faced with an imperturbability that remotely controls every decision by consolidating media driven governmentality, and “algorithmic governmentality, public power has become impotent and incapable – and by public power or Nation states, Europe, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. At the same time, floating cities are being planned on which there would be no state, no police, no justice, nor any social dimension, and an absolute oligarchy composed of a post-human nobility and immortal singularities.
Leaders as we’ve seen are powerless now before the processes that are being let loose by the digital and algorithmic compuverse that now has swallowed the world in its mesh. The digital economy has eliminated the need for laws and lawmakers, governments and their representatives. The vast majority of decisions is taking place in a hypervoid of electronic circuits at speeds that no human could apprehend nor calculate. We’ve already become members of a hyperorganism that is now dispersing its own decisions through a nexus of algorithmics that we do not even understand much less resist. We are prisoners in the house we built for freedom and communication, governed by cold impersonal intelligences that we as of yet do not accept and even deny. Humanity is in denial. We are no longer in control. Paranoia reigns. As Stiegler puts it, the structural incapacitation imposed by full and generalized automatization, of which algorithmic governmentality and 24/7 capitalism are the worldwide and total concretization is a dimension in which no one escapes this incapacitation, not even those who cause and exploit (or who believe they can exploit) this situation: this is the lesson of Alan Greenspan. (AS, KL 4635)
Our inability to act, our feeling of hopelessness, our powerlessness to effect change or change our situation. Unemployment, rising costs of living, taxes, day to day survival, the struggles just to make ends meet while one sees on the media the promotion of vacations, the variety stars of pop culture, sports, and business promoting an ultra elite rich world of fast paced fun in the sun while most ponder the bare paper bread with a slab of fat or butter brings us to the realization that the future does not offer most humans a bright world but rather and end game where they are not in it.
As Stigler in his own words states it we are becoming hiveminded insects in a digital prison house,
The functional integration of psychic individuations by an automatic associated milieu functioning in light-time thereby constitutes a factual naturalization of the technical milieu and, if we can put it like this, an ‘artificial naturalization’ through which psychic and collective individuation becomes a psychic and collective disindividuation that functions like a kind of 24/7 insect society – via ersatz digital pheromones, and where it is a matter of ‘accelerating the flows – wherever possible saving on any “detour” or subjective “reflexive suspension” between the “stimuli” and their “reflex responses” ’. (AS, KL 4769)
The total control of a society that doesn’t even know it is being controlled because it is so immersed in the ubiquitous naturalization of this digital maze of algorithmic governmentality that it assumes it is being given tools of freedom when instead it is being hooked and plugged into a system of enslavement where its desires are captured and modulated and, even channeled according to the dictates of the user’s own deepest desires and cravings.
Continued tomorrow or ahead… I’m taking my time getting to the cure… Stigler spends a great deal of time like man pundits on the diagnosis, laying the ground for his supposed cure. We’ll wait and see… stay tuned. At a future point I want to write an essay on how Academics themselves in their pursuit of dismantling and deconstructing Western metaphysics have contributed to the very undermining of Self, Subject, and Society or civilization in its processes of transindividuation in Simondon’s sense. Our hatred of the previous control and dominion of religious culture and feudalistic systems of governance have produced the exclusionary process of dis-solving the very human dimension itself from the equation, and thereby contributed to the dualistic tendencies of separating out techics and technology that we see in this process of the transindividuation of the technical artifact and objects that are becoming digital… in process of exiting one system we’ve built a prison for ourselves in an other… one that is becoming autonomous and beyond us, and has no need of our kind anymore… we’ve excluded ourselves from the very world we help build.
In forging the concepts of mechanology, functional integration, concretization, associated milieu and transductive amplification, Simondon provided a theoretical apparatus singularly pregnant for an understanding of automatic society.1
Spoofy as my title for this article is there are those who believe technics and technology in our time is becoming autonomous from its human makers, that it is taking on an originary life of its own separate and distinct from its progenitors. Bernard Stiegler tells us this is an erroneous conclusion and one that is allowing humans to fall into some of the age old dualism traps that have always led us into false infinities. We have since the rise of the global economic war of nations – otherwise known as neoliberalism been led to believe that we are living in an age of transition, an age when the grand old narratives (storytellings) that have guided humans (and I’ll localize it in the West for the moment) have controlled their appetitive self – their desires. As Stiegler in his own abstruse vocabulary remarks,
The neoconservative and ultra-liberal turn creates an industry of bad dreams and nightmares by systematically exploiting the drives – and the destructive drives – which can no longer be bound by desire. Then, starting in 1993 with digital reticulation, and after the final collapse of the Eastern bloc, the ‘old-fashioned’ conservative revolution makes way for an ultra-liberal libertarianism that exploits mimetism, exhibitionism and voyeurism via a digital media that forms new artificial crowds, but that also constitutes a laboratory of new forms of individuation, which arise as alternatives to disindividuating consumerism and which make the critique of new conservatism highly complex. (AS, KL 3318)
This notion that neoliberal economics exploits the drives and hooks itself to the elaborate worlds of collective dream therapy which has entranced millions of humans within this nightmare world through the use first during the early 1920’s by way of radio, then 1950’s through television, cinema and other image making machines, and now in our computational wonderland of the internet (of things!) in which humans are immersed in the electronic void of consumer capitalism 24/7 (Crary).
For some time, the frontier of cyberspace has been the human– machine interface. For this reason, we have often regarded ourselves as lying outside cyberspace. In his famous test, Turing (1950) posited a keyboard/ screen interface to blanket human and computer. Half a century later, that very interface has become part of our everyday reality. Helped perhaps by the ubiquitous television and the part it has played in informing and entertaining us, we now rely on interfaces as our second skins for communication, information, business, entertainment, socialization, and so forth. We use our mobiles 24/7 for work or play, and seem so cut off from the natural world and immersed in our electronic gazes that we have become oblivious to the fact that we are already in the virtual relays of a worldwide dream. We have moved inside the infosphere, the all-pervading nature of which also depends on the extent to which we accept its interface as integral to our reality and transparent to us (in the sense of no longer perceived as present). What matters is not so much moving bits instead of atoms— this is an outdated, communication-based interpretation of the information society that owes too much to mass-media sociology— as the far more radical fact that our understanding and conceptualization of the very essence and fabric of reality is changing. Indeed, we have begun to accept the virtual as reality. So the information society is better seen as a neo-manufacturing society in which raw materials and energy have been superseded by data and information, the new digital gold and the real source of added value. Not just communication and transactions then, but the creation, design, and management of information are the keys to the proper understanding of our hyperhistorical predicament.2
Someday one will walk down a street in a smart city and the overlays mapped from one’s eyeware or neurotransplants will activate sensors that will merge with the natural surroundings offering one an animated world of electronic and surreal interactions. One will begin to believe this is the way it has always been, that this is natural and that living in such a false world of controlled and normalized imagery is just the way it is: that is, that it is has move beyond fact, and become – law. One will no longer need to think, critical thought, interpretation, books, separate and individual being will vanish as we become one in a hyperworld of immediacy.
Yet, this neoliberal dreamware is an illusion for something else is transpiring, something not foreseen in the computational logic of these masters of illusion:
It is starting from this question that we must critique the ‘storytelling’ of the permanent transition. This story assumes that the model of creative destruction could continue to infinity, which is absolutely false, not only because the finitude of resources clearly constrains ‘growth’ (which is the current name for ‘creative destruction’)… (AS, 3299)
This narrative of transition, of continuous economic growth, of the Schumpterian ‘creative destruction’ that is the core leitmotif of capitalism as it mercilessly like some Juggernaut or Titanic of the oceans of time rolls ever faster toward the Iceberg of some inevitable disaster has entrapped us all within a global nightmare from which it seems almost impossible to extract ourselves or even discover an exit. But is this, too, just another tale, a tale of woe, a market ploy? As Stiegler will comment,
The fable of permanent transition would have us believe that a constant, accelerated transformation of the world by technological innovation, itself controlled by speculative marketing, is unavoidable. It would have us believe that there is no alternative. To oppose this fable is to affirm that we are indeed living through a transition – which can be understood on the basis of the metaphor of ‘metamorphosis’ as the appearance of new somatopsychic, technical and social forms and organizations – but that this is not merely a technological transition (firstly because nothing is ever merely technological), and is instead an organological chrysalis in three dimensions constituting three correlated individuations, that is, occurring through a process of psychic, technical and social transindividuation, even though there are conflicts between and within these three dimensions. (AS, KL 3357)
For Stiegler there is a transition going on, but not guided by the neoliberal narrative of ‘transition’ one sees marketed by media and elite pundits of the academic and journalists. No. Instead we are seeing a war or struggle being played out between two industrial models: first, consumerism, founded on Taylorism, the culture industries (as described by Adorno) and the welfare state designed to directly and indirectly redistribute productivity gains in the form of the wages of employees who are not just producers but consumers, that is, equipped with purchasing power; and, secondly, a fully automatized society where employment has disappeared, and hence where wages are no longer the source of purchasing power, in turn implying the disappearance of the producer/consumer, which clearly requires the institution of a new process of redistribution – redistributing not purchasing power, but time: the time to constitute forms of knowledge (including purchasing knowledge, that is, knowledge of social practices governing use values and exchange values according to practical values and societal values). (AS, KL 3371)
With the end of work through automation comes a dilemma. Who will receive the benefits of such a transition? What will come of the workers no dislocated and unemployed? Now that they will be unpaid, without work, with no hopes for monetary remuneration how shall they support their families and loved ones? And, above all with all this ‘free time’ what will they do in this hyperworld of automatization? In fact as Stiegler testifies what is at stake in the new social organization that we must dream, conceive and realize – that is, establish and institute as the therapeia of the new pharmakon – is the time of knowledge that can and must be gained by and through automatization, time that it is a question of redistributing. To do so we must make an exit from Taylorism, Keynesianism and consumerism by organizing the economy and society differently, including the elaboration and transmission of knowledge itself. And achieving this requires a supplementary invention leading to a categorial invention, that is, to a fundamental epistemic change itself opening onto a reinvention of academic institutions as well as the editorial and publishing industry. (AS, KL 3399)
His notion is that we will need re-education, and a new pharmakon – a therapy and a change in our epistemic knowledges based not on the old systems which were tied to the natural order of the Anthropocene, but to negentropic processes that will transform us from automated dividuals into transindivduated singularities (Simondon/Guattari). If we do not anticipate and transform ourselves in this manner we will face dire consequences on a global scale unseen from the beginnings of human kind. The mutation of the conditions of production currently underway means that the exit from the industrial world founded on employment and redistribution via wages is going to occur no matter what. Failure to anticipate and negotiate this change will only provoke an explosion of violence. (AS, KL 341)
The neoliberal agenda is one of total global economic control. Stigler in his abstruse and stylistically grotesquerie tells us: The algorithmic governmentality imposed by computational 24/7 capitalism will become an automatic society (rather than a ‘dis-society’) only if it makes technics serve arrangements between the times of intermittence and the times submitted to subsistence, between automatisms and their dis-automatization, the latter projecting consistences. In a society where knowledge becomes the primary productive function (and the first if not the only one to have seen this was Marx), the new value that will re-found the economy and politics will no longer be the time of employment, but the time of knowledge, that is, negentropy, constituting a neganthropy and opening the age of the Neganthropocene. (AS, KL 3425)
In other words what is needed is an epistemic shift on a grand scale, a new poltical economy based on knowledge rather than work, one that will reindividualize rather than automate humans as mindless robots in the service of the machine. A knowledge economy that brings with it true innovation and anticipates a real future rather than the closed world of simulated reality time. Dataveillance and hypercontrol algorithmic governmentality is leading humans away from their natural order into total control systems that empty us of dreams, flesh, and thought. It is the path of madness. As Stiegler reminds us,
It leads to madness because it is based on an automated repression of what, in the noetic soul – that is, the desiring and idealizing soul, trans-forming its drives into investments – individuates potentials for individuation concealed in preindividual funds in the form of traumatypes, that is, of defaults and accidents engendered from wounds awaiting liberation via an individuation capable of becoming a quasi-cause. (AS, KL 34712)
We are like the hylics of ancient Gnosticism, sleepwalkers being led to the slaughter by the very electronic dreams that we now envision as helpmates, timesavers, conveniences. We are becoming so immersed in this automated world that we are supplely being shaped and modulated by the very mechanisms that we use everyday: the mobile phones that offer thousands of apps, the smart refrigerator that organizes one’s menu, one’s eating habits, orders food when it is needed, etc. We are becoming slowly enmeshed in a world of external memory devices to the point we no longer need brain power, brain memories for we have instant access to wiki, Google or other systems of information/knowledge that can do the thinking for us. As AI’s take over much of the decision making in private and corporate work and life this process will eliminate the need for education or academia itself. Humans will be guided and shaped by a these technics and technologies in ways that will deplete us and remove our humanity and replace our minds with the hypernormalized patterns of the coming Smart Society. We are opening a wound that will leave us soulless artificial beings who no longer will know what it once meant to be human. We will in essence have lost our humanity and joined the machines in some nightmare world of 24/7 processes churning away till there are no planetary resources left to churn…
And, yet, Stiegler says their is a way out of this quagmire…
Continuing this series in a few days… stay tuned.
Starting from the Second World War, with those innovations that will lead to the mass media and to the constitution of telecratic psychopower, and to information and computer technologies, the process of dissolving everydayness into standardized ‘modern life’ rapidly accelerates – and eventually it is the bourgeoisie itself that disappears, while capitalism expresses with ever greater ferocity its tendency to become mafiaesque and illiterate…
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
At the center of Bernard Stiegler’s vision is a sense that our memories and perceptions have been misplaced or replaced, that our lives are not our lives, that our minds are not our minds and that we are all part of some collective nightmare being played our on a stage not of the world but of some simulated shadow stage of which we know nothing. Jerzy Kosinski in his book Passing By remarks on a last visit to his now deceased Mother’s home,
When I sat in an apartment where my mother died, I thought: Should I keep looking at her deathbed and at the books she used to read? Am I to regard myself as the victim of memories and tragedies? Or will I look at myself as the author of my own life, and tell myself: Listen, Kosinski. You are one lucky guy … who knows for how long. You received a very special gift from the country called Poland, in the center of Europe, in the center of culture. Face it. It is not as if I have not seen the world. Do I get bored in those other places? I do! Why? Because they do not have as much history, they were not taken apart as “we” were. That is “we” in the sense of the language. I say this as an American citizen. I am speaking about a psychological situation built around the dilemma: Is it going to be a state of mind based on life, or one immersed in shadows that my memory casts on my soul?1
This sense that people are both singular and collective, that in their private life they are just animals that have yet to become human, and to become human is to enter into the language of culture: to become indoctrinated by the customs, mores, theories and practices, rituals, and everyday or exceptional secular or religious, economic or historical knowledge of one’s family, group, tribe, nation, etc. What binds us in our time is Logos, the Word, Reason, the structured outlay of thought and feeling that modulates our very becoming in the world. What Kosinski is describing is that there are not one but many various collective memories and perceptions tied to a multitude of known and not forgotten languages.
A sense of significance, of meaning has always been tied to language and description. But language has not always been tied to the alphabet, to words in linear progression, to writing. In the Phaedrus, a Socratic dialogue of around 370 B.C. Socrates recounts to Phaedrus the Egyptian legend of Theuth, the god who invented “numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters.” Theuth presents the Egyptian king Thamus with his many inventions, one of them being writing, the storing of information and memories, calculations and numbers on clay tablets:
Thamus the Egyption king said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.”
But the King sagely remarks to Theuth, saying,
But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess.
“For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.” (Phaedrus 274c-275b)
Right here we see the mirror of our own perplexity, a world of seeming where knowledge and wisdom seem ready made, seem part of the everyday makeup of our technological wonderland of information theory and practice where all the knowledge of humanity is stored in external vats of Big Data where we as individuals no longer need to learn by rote, memorize the educational material of our ancestors, grind away reading books about this or that subject when all we need to do is use Google to discover some historical, archaeological, linguistic, encyclopedic, dictionary, scientific, political, economic, philosophical, or any other fact historical or contemporary. All those dreary hours of sitting in wooden chairs listening to teachers spoon feed us with their book learning is over. Or, so we think…
If King Thamus is correct we’ve actually lost our minds, given ourselves over to external control systems, allowed ourselves to forget truth and knowledge altogether for the fake truth and wisdom. Phaedrus remonstrating with Socrates who has been relating this tale between the Kiing Thamus and Theuth says:
Socrates, you easily make up stories of Egypt or any country you please.
He who thinks, then, that he has left behind him any art in writing, and he who receives it in the belief that anything in writing will be clear and certain, would be an utterly simple person, and in truth ignorant of the prophecy of Ammon, if he thinks written words are of any use except to remind him who knows the matter about which they are written.
Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak; when ill-treated or unjustly reviled it always needs its father to help it; for it has no power to protect or help itself.
Now tell me; is there not another kind of speech, or word, which shows itself to be the legitimate brother of this bastard one, both in the manner of its begetting and in its better and more powerful nature?
What is this word and how is it begotten, as you say?
The word which is written with intelligence in the mind of the learner, which is able to defend itself and knows to whom it should speak, and before whom to be silent.
You mean the living and breathing word of him who knows, of which the written word may justly be called the image.
Exactly. Now tell me this. Would a sensible husbandman, who has seeds which he cares for and which he wishes to bear fruit, plant them with serious purpose in the heat of summer in some garden of Adonis, and delight in seeing them appear in beauty in eight days, or would he do that sort of thing, when he did it at all, only in play and for amusement? Would he not, when he was in earnest, follow the rules of husbandry, plant his seeds in fitting ground, and be pleased when those which he had sowed reached their perfection in the eighth month?
Yes, Socrates, he would, as you say, act in that way when in earnest and in the other way only for amusement.
And shall we suppose that he who has knowledge of the just and the good and beautiful has less sense about his seeds than the husbandman?
By no means.
Then he will not, when in earnest, write them in ink, sowing them through a pen with words which cannot defend themselves by argument and cannot teach the truth effectually.
Socrates critique of the written vs. the spoken word based as it is on alethia, a Greek word variously translated as “unclosedness”, “unconcealedness”, “disclosure” or “truth”. The literal meaning of the word ἀ–λήθεια is “the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.” It also means factuality or reality. It is the opposite of lethe, which literally means “oblivion”, “forgetfulness”, or “concealment”. This sense that in Plato’s dialogue, through the use of dialectic between humans, bantering back and forth in dialogue that truth will emerge is at the heart of this message. For Socrates the written word was neither knowledge or truth sense it could not speak, could not produce truth or reveal that which was hidden in the words.
Socrates lays out an argument that the written word cannot defend itself in dialogue, and thus cannot effectively teach anything worth knowing. For only through conflict and struggle, the tit-for-tat dialogues of the dialectic, through back-and-forth or give-and-take discussion and rhetorical argument and the working out of problems, can true knowledge be conveyed. Reading mere words, in his mind, is akin to looking at a statue rather than sculpting it — or worse, looking at a statue or painting and thinking that now you know how to sculpt or paint.
Plato, Socrates pupil who had put this down in writing against his own master’s strictures, and which we all read even today, added, later in his Seventh Epistle:
After much effort, as names, definitions, sights, and other data of sense, are brought into contact and friction one with another, in the course of scrutiny and kindly testing by men who proceed by question and answer without ill will, with a sudden flash there shines forth understanding about every problem, and an intelligence whose efforts reach the furthest limits of human powers. Therefore every man of worth, when dealing with matters of worth, will be far from exposing them to ill feeling and misunderstanding among men by committing them to writing…
Anyone who has followed this discourse and digression will know well that, if Dionysios or anyone else, great or small, has written a treatise on the highest matters and the first principles of things, he has, so I say, neither heard nor learnt any sound teaching about the subject of his treatise; otherwise, he would have had the same reverence for it, which I have, and would have shrunk from putting it forth into a world of discord and uncomeliness.
Dionysios here is Dionysios the Younger of Syracuse, a brutal tyrant, who has written a treatise on philosophy. Plato argues that he must have done it for fame or glory, because it’s clearly a scam — philosophy can’t be taught in writing; it can only be felt, experienced, argued out and sensed.
In a way this is an argument very similar to that of Trithemius against the printing press — that a perceived flattening or automating of a form necessarily involves a loss; that truth (whether it be philosophy or Scripture) is best consumed and absorbed experientially. With the rise of the printing press the mass reader was born. Everyone could read and write books, pamphlets, etc. as if what they were doing were truly adding to the pool of knowledge and wisdom. This sense that the automation of knowledge was rather devolving and erasing the mind did not occur to those who believed they were brining humans liberation and emancipation of thought and mind. They never thought that what we were doing was forgetting the truth, forgetting ourselves. That we were becoming dependent on mute speech, on books that held the dead memories of a world that could not speak for itself.
After the Second World War the with the rise of computers the process of integrating humanity into an algorithmic universe of calculability, of eliding the past, erasing human memory and knowledge and replacing it with both analogue and then digital traces and patterns of standardized knowledge and information controlled and manipulated at the speed of light that had no need for memory or perception but would replace both for the microworlds of the automated patterns of Big Data. As Stiegler suggests
This ‘integration’ of psychic individuals into standardized and grammatized routines – and thereby into the technical system of which these individuals become a technical function as crowds, that is, as digital artificial and conventional crowds within a techno-geographical milieu in which the human becomes less a resource (what Heidegger called Bestand, standing reserve) than a functional organ – in fact dis-integrates them.2
This process of dismantling the modern Self, the individual and automatizing them into dividual routines that can be on-call 24/7 to do the bidding of their masters whether at work or play (the two being in our digital world integrated in the market economy) has taken such all pervasive root in the modern psyche that people no longer have the distance available to dream or think for themselves. As Stiegler remarks “What is at stake here is the progressive elimination by 24/7 environments of those intermittences that are states of sleep and of daydream: ‘One of the forms of disempowerment within 24/7 environments is the incapacitation of daydream or of any mode of absent-minded introspection.’” (AS, KL 2990)
There no longer being a Self, an Individual to introspect or turn their gaze inward toward memory and perception in the eyes of the computational and calculable world of our algorithmic society brings us to a two-dimensional flatland of objects without relations. As if in parody of speculative realism or Object oriented philosophy one could say that humans have not withdrawn from their environment, they’ve actually become so immersed and standardized, assembled by their environment – products of the algorithms that control their every thought and memory – that that no longer know the difference that makes a difference. They are written, grammatized, and bound within a seamless assemblage of false memories and perceptions. Simulated 24/7 and programmed to operate according to codes they neither understand nor can speak of.
For Stigler we are asleep and don’t even know it, that we need a collective shock therapy to awaken the Sleepers from their nightmare world of dividuality from the Outside in. We are not only automating work, we have all already become automated dividuals in a world of slavedom in which we think we are free. We are in a dreamless sleep, unable to think or feel, and have no time left to reverie about our lives or world. We need Shock Therapy:
This dream programme posits that tertiary retention proceeds primordially from dreaming, and from a specific type of dream: the noetic dream such that it may become thought, and such that it is always the beginning of any true thinking, which is always negentropic – in passing through reverie – that is, insofar as it can dream the conditions of its own realization in the course of a neganthropological process. (AS, KL 3907)
Big Data provides a world of totalized knowledge, a world where theory and practice are no longer needed, and theoreticians, scientists, philosophers, etc. become obsolete artifacts and practitioners of a world of writing that is no longer operable in the mathematized universe of algorithms that is Big Data. Humans are not only not needed, they are being replaced. We are being excluded from the very artificial worlds we helped invent. We’ve become the entropic waste of a process that is slowly expulsing us from the heartlands of our minds and souls. For Stiegler this process will continue unless we are provided shock therapy to awaken us from our electronic sleep.
The hyper-industrial state of fact takes what Deleuze called control societies, founded on modulation by the mass media, into the stage of hyper-control. The latter is generated by self-produced personal data, collected and published by people themselves – whether knowingly or otherwise – and this data is then exploited by applying intensive computing to these massive data sets. This automatized modulation establishes algorithmic governmentality in the service of what Johnathan Crary calls 24/7 capitalism.1
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society
In its profound uselessness and intrinsic passivity, with the incalculable losses it causes in production time, circulation, and consumption, sleep will always collide with the demands of a 24/7 universe. The huge portion of our lives that we spend asleep, freed from a morass of simulated needs, subsists as one of the great human affronts to the voraciousness of contemporary capitalism. Sleep is an uncompromising interruption of the theft of time from us by capitalism.2
—Jonathan Crary, 24/7
In the opening sections of Das Capital Karl Marx would utter the strange and terrifying truth about capitalism: “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” We are mere cattle upon which the machinic assemblages of Capital cannibalized and expulsed as excess and extraneous waste. The notion of sleep has been used by poets and Gnostics alike throughout time as the leitmotif of ignorance, bliss, and innocence. Asleep in one’s ignorance goes the saying. To be asleep is to be so immersed in the normalization process of the worlds ubiquitous systems that one no longer has that critical acumen to be able to step away, step back, step out of one’s environment and see it for what it is: an artificial construct within which one is imprisoned. All the Zombie films from Romero’s classic to the latest edition have one theme: the mindless hunger and desire of the consumer for its next meal ticket, the endless feeding frenzy of a mindless horde in search of filling the emptiness of its depleted flesh, its desiring machininc life. Like sleeping zombies we move to the puppet strings of invisible codes and algorithms that supplement, decide, and program our lives within a 24/7 dreamworld constructed to fulfill our deepest desires.
Without even the slightest thought we are being slowly but surely integrated into a machinc civilization that will in turn feed on us until it has no need for us at all. As Stiegler remarks:
It is this complete integration of the technical system, via the digital, that enables the functional integration of biological, psychic and social automatisms – and it is this context that has seen the development of neuromarketing and neuroeconomics. This functional integration leads on the side of production to a total robotization that disintegrates not just public power, social and educational systems, intergenerational relations and consequently psychic structures: it is the industrial economy itself, based on wage labour as the criterion for distributing purchasing power, and for the formation of mass markets capable of absorbing the ready-made commodities of the consumerist model, which is in the course of dis-integrating – becoming functionally insolvent because fundamentally irrational. (AS, KL 2455)
No longer individuals with a private life untraceable except in the public sphere that we expose our selves too, we now exist only as ‘dividuals’ – as so much data in the eyes and under the gaze of the machinic code and algorithmic programs that continuously 24/7 feed on our digital lives. For in this world the exterior human no longer exists, only its trace in the digital empire of the networks society that we’ve all created together. For better or worse we have vanished into our networks in anticipation of that day when our flesh will be left behind like so much dead weight. All or the metaphysical dreams of the philosophers and the religionists of a literal beyond or Other World have been invented in the very automatic systems of this machinic civilization of the Digital Empire.
In ‘Optimism, Pessimism and Travel’, Deleuze’s letter to Serge Daney about control societies and the new powers of control that make them possible, he stated that we must ‘get to the heart of the confrontation’. This should consist in an inversion: ‘This would almost be to ask whether this control might be inverted, harnessed by the supplementary function that opposes itself to power: to invent an art of control that would be like a new form of resistance.’3
For Stiegler what is missing in Deleuze, as in all philosophy, epistemology and most of so-called aesthetics, is an understanding of the stakes of what he terms tertiary retention, that is, of technics. “But this absence is also found among jurists, and is yet more common among economists – and even anthropologists. It is towards conceiving the role of tertiary retention in the formation of knowledge, and doing so starting from the crucible constituted by total dis-integration, and towards thinking the quasi-causal inversion that all this requires, that we must now devote ourselves – and sacrifice (time).” (AS, KL 2250)
Stiegler’s work centers on the question of time and time’s relation to technology through what he calls tertiary retention, a notion that completes the circle of Husserl’s theory of retentions (memory) and protentions (perception) (Stiegler 1998). The tertiary retention is the technically captured trace as well as support of both primary retention (e.g. the melody that is retained in our mind) and secondary retention (e.g. the melody that we can recall tomorrow). For Stiegler the tertiary retention is a supplement (Derrida) as well as “exteriorization” of memory (in the words of French paleoanthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan) through which he attempts to re-read the history of European philosophy as a history of the suppression of the question of technics – as a response to Heidegger’s critique of the forgetting of the question of Being in Western metaphysics. The history of technology for Stiegler could be described as the history of grammatization, a term coined by the French historian and linguist Sylvain Auroux, in which the organic and inorganic organs are configured and reconfigured according to the progress of technological invention (e.g. alphabetic writing, analog writing, digital writing).4
In Stiegler’s world the first great cinematographers were the shamans of southern France who in several Paleolithic Caves first projected images onto the walls through which were enacted magical flickering rituals of light and dark where sacrifice and the endless parade of animal and plant life was presided over by ancient forces of the earth. From that time we have imprinted our memories, our desires, our need to control the uncontrollable elements of the exterior environment through this image making faculty of memory and perception. Plato would see in such a supplement a world of dreamers so immersed in their dream that they’d forgotten their real home in the realms of pure Forms (Ideas). So there has been both those who have sought to escape the cave, and those who pursued its wonders into our current cave worlds of the network society arising around us. Like citizens of some vast cinematic wonderland we are so immersed in our artificial environments that we’ve even begun to forget the natural world around us out of which were spawned. Like fish in a vast seething sea of images we cannot know otherwise, and live among our fabricated and invented worlds as if they were and had always been. The infinitization of the false and fabricated, the artificial realms where our desires are captured and controlled by alien intelligences built out of code and algorithms that have as Stiegler will put it “grammatized” us, rewritten our lives as artificial beings led to the slaughter.
The machine knows me only as a profile – the carefully registered script of statements set up within several online chat or social connection sites, where a user will expose aspects of his/her public or avatar personae. It does not matter whether we tell the truth or create a fiction, we become profiled by the sea of algorithmic matching systems that will spread us across the oceans of Big Data where the hiveminds of corporate AI’s will feed on us like so much fodder to be stripped, analyzed, segmented, catalogued, codified, differentiated, and reprogrammed for the prosumer systems that will then feed back in a loop to us as echoes of our desires. It’s like the degradation of that old experiment in which a dozen people are asked to pass on a simple phrase or sentence to the person sitting next to him until it finally comes back to the originator. As we know such experiments show how a message becomes more and more degraded and entropic to the point that the original phrase is lost and something new emerges in its place. We are that something that is ultimately replaced by the false squandering’s of a million bits of code transforming, analyzing, massaging, filtering, categorizing, and implementing and activating new profiles that become the hypernormalized image of our dividual life on the network.
As Stiegler suggests by producing their ‘profiles’ on the basis of their reticulated activity, and by ‘personalizing’ them – beyond the statistical calculation of phrases, requests and other linguistic acts that Google produces – the traceability industry leads to their functional integration as consumers in ‘24/7 markets and a global infrastructure for continuous work and consumption’. After the organization of production facilities into three daily eight-hour shifts in the early twentieth century, and then the connection of worldwide stock exchanges operating twenty-four hours a day in the second half of the twentieth century, ‘now a human subject is in the making to coincide with these more intensively’. (AS, KL 2878) As he remarks: “By means of this synchronization operating through functional economic integration, full and generalized automatization is directly sustained by psychic individuals themselves, at the cost of social disintegration…” (AS, KL 2887)
Social networking has brought about a seamless integration into the echo chamber of a completed nihilism in which the dividual rather than the individual is incorporated, profiled, imaged, modulated, and attuned to the endless 24/7 feedback systems that cater to their every need while at the same time excluding the extraneous and disturbing worlds of thought and image. We are becoming so normalized or even, hypernormalized (Adam Curtis) that we cannot know the difference. Theory is mute, thought is dead, and all our decisions are taken care of by algorithms of which we know nothing. In fact as Stiegler comments: All political questions are dissolved into economics, since ideology is no longer about collective choices but about ‘individual’ relations to products: ‘There is an ever closer linking of individual needs with the functional and ideological programs in which each new product is embedded.’ These programmed relations give rise to dividuation in Guattari’s sense, that is, to the destruction of in-dividuation in Simondon’s sense – which forms the basis of ‘algorithmic governmentality’. (AS, KL 2994)
In religious art, the human body symbolizes myriad functions beyond the sexual, especially the procreative, nurturing, and life enhancing. I believe that in earlier times, obscenity as a concept surrounding either the male or female body did not exist. Renditions of the body expressed other functions, specifically the nourishing and procreative aspects of the female body and the life-stimulating qualities of the male body. The female force, as the pregnant vegetation goddess, intimately embodied the earth’s fertility. But the sophisticated, complex art surrounding the Neolithic goddess is a shifting kaleidoscope of meaning: she personified every phase of life, death, and regeneration. She was the Creator from whom all life-human, human, plant, and animal-arose, and to whom everything returned. Her role extended far beyond eroticism.
—Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses
Our Neolithic forbears inherited the world of the hunters and gatherers across our finite world. They would create myths not of a singular Lord of the Universe but rather stories of a multifarious Goddess for whom the cycles of the great agricultural seasons became the enveloping world within which here people would create myths and rituals to forge temporal links between the earth and the stars above. Humans for millennia would abide under these various organic myths which would imprint upon their minds and hearts the patterns between the star gods and the cycles of natural order that provided the seasonal crops and patterns of rain and drought governing the survival of each and every family, group, and tribe.
As the Neolithic scholar and singular visionary of Archaeomythology Marija Gimbutas devoted her life and work in uncovering this forgotten world where women not men once took center stage in the course of governance in a era of peace and plenty. In 1956 at an International conference at Philadelphia, Marija Gimbutas introduced her “Kurgan Hypothesis,” which combined archaeological study of the distinctive “Kurgan” burial mounds with linguistics to unravel some problems in the study of the Proto-Indo-Europeans; namely, to account for their origin and to trace their migrations into Europe. The word “Kurgan” is a Russian word from Turkic describing the kind of graves and grave-barrows built by the people of this culture.
“Indo-European” is a linguistic term that refers to a family of languages found from India to the western edge of Europe. And Proto-Indo-European language refers to the now extinct mother tongue from which all Indo-European languages developed. Gimbutas’ hypothesis locates the homeland of Proto-Indo-European speakers in the area of south Russia and documents their movements into Europe from the end of the fifth millennium BC. Gimbutas describes the influx of nomadic pastoralists over a 2000 year period as a “collision of cultures” in which androcratic cultural and ideological patterns were introduced into Europe. This led to a hybridization between the Old European and Indo-European systems.
With this theory, she was the first scholar to bring together linguistic and archaeological knowledge. Her hypothesis, and the act of bridging the disciplines, has had a significant impact on Indo-European research.
It was at this time that Gimbutas narrowed her focus of her research to the Neolithic cultures of Southeast Europe and the Bronze Age societies that replaced them. She stressed the importance of investigating the enormous changes in beliefs, rituals and social structure that took place between c. 4500–2500 B.C., in order to more fully understand subsequent European cultural development.
In her view, this was “one of the most complex and least understood [periods] in prehistory.” Gimbutas wrote: “It is a period which urgently demands a concerted effort by scholars from various disciplines. The exchange of information between the archaeologists, linguists, mythologists, physical anthropologists, and ancient historians has much to contribute to the field of Indo-European studies.”
Much of her work was scorned by the male scholars of her era, and after her death much of her and fellow scholars of feminist theory and practice have fallen into disrepute under the androcratic regimes of male dictators who for the most part still rule the academic departments and journals of scholarly world. And, yet, anyone with an unbiased mind need only read and compare her and other scholars of her circle against the so called androcratic authorities to see a struggle of ideologies in process. That I came upon her and other feminists during the late seventies and eighties of our Common Era should be no surprise to many of my readers.
I usually do not actively speak about much of my own involvement in past worlds of activism and scholarship etc. Yet, it is time to realize that secular society and its pundits of the Progressive sphere who even now espouse regulation and improvement without any vision or empowerment behind their words and critiques. The Secular order of the world is bankrupt and decaying into the very valueless and fragmented codes its once used to gullibly rule over its constituents. Since the Enlightenment we’ve been in the School of Reason, taught the atheistic codes of a world without God or Religion. We’ve been led to believe Man could create a society, culture, and civilization based on a sense of Justice and Freedom. Yet, anyone with even a smattering of intelligence will see that the blind gods of justice sway one way: the way of the Rich and Powerful. For only the rich and powerful and for the most part “males” become leaders in this world of Democracy. Oh sure here and there is the token female who rises to power – a Thatcher or Merkel, etc., and yet as one studies their careers one sees the imprint of the male empire of Androcracy forming and shaping their vision.
What Gimbutas uncovered in her research of the Kurgans was the first inklings of the ancient horse cultures of the Steppes of Eurasia that would invade the Neolithic Agricultural civilizations of Old Europe during wave after wave of war, struggle, and invasion. Very little remains of the ancient Goddess cultures of Old Europe, the Middle-East, Africa, India, China, etc. Most of these ancient worlds having been effaced, and stripped from the memory, stories, and myths of those that conquered them and enslaved them. And, yet, aspects of their world would survive in bone and stone, word and deed through the very sources of that world: the women who would become the servants of the new Horse Lords.
Of course I could speak of all the various nations and cycles of myths, stories, etc., but will keep with the European story. During the so called postmodern era the notion of Grand Narrative, of taking in the long view of humanity was put in abeyance as a fabrication and artificial categorization of our life-worlds. Yet, as we’ve seen the micro-histories of that era were just as artificial and circumscribed by ideological and androcratic thought as other previous scholarship. I’ll admit a bias toward feminist thought of a certain type: my own singular vision of life and world. Having been bred under the worlds of Emerson and Nietzsche, two extreme singularities who spoke out of an inner authority not from the staid authorities of the Scholars I have come to gaze upon the world of literature, philosophy, art, politics, culture if you will with a singular eye and mind. I’m biased, but this only admits that we all are biased in our views of life. How could it be otherwise in a world where one either takes a stand for something, or lives in a blank world of unthinking Being?
Gimbutas opened my eyes to a world that had been in my life up to that point a total blank, a world that seemed to exist in fragments from all the ancient myths and archaeological digs around the globe that spoke of various goddesses. As Gimbutas herself reports it,
In Neolithic Europe and Asia Minor (ancient Anatolia)-in the era between 7000 B.c. and 3000 B.C.-religion focused on the wheel of life and its cyclical turning. This is the geographic sphere and the time frame I refer to as Old Europe. In Old Europe, the focus of religion encompassed birth, nurturing, growth, death, and regeneration, as well as crop cultivation and the raising of animals. The people of this era pondered untamed natural forces, as well as wild plant and animal cycles, and they worshiped goddesses, or a goddess, in many forms. The goddess manifested her countless forms during various cyclical phases to ensure that they functioned smoothly. She revealed herself in multiple ways through the myriad facets of life, and she is depicted in a very complex symbolism.1
When I read through her books of the era my mind clicked, as if the fragments of a lost world stood revealed at last and all my reading in archaeology across the planet which I had pursued for a dozen years suddenly sparked into active truth. It rang true in my inner being. One can never pinpoint just what it is that makes something ring true or why one favors a specific pattern of words and stores about our life-world over others. And, yet, reading her works and the vast literature that it would spark within the feminist movement of the era, along with the – yes, Pagan and Neo-Feminist religious consciousness of that time (70’s, 80’s, 90’s) informed my life and work. It did not matter that in the journals one could see the male androids already at work undermining her scholarship, banding together to expulse this new feminist threat from the ranks of their Androcratic World. At that time she offered a vision that took in the pre-historical worlds that seemed like fragments of a Lost Continent.
Throughout the area of Neolithic Europe that she studied, Gimbutas found images of females that she understood to be Goddesses; especially goddesses sharing form with birds and snakes. In these images she saw a Goddess of birth, death and regeneration, which was honored by Neolithic European people. Thus, supporting a peaceful and woman-centered society.
To Gimbutas, these indigenous Europeans were peaceful, artistic, egalitarian and Goddess-worshiping. Based on thousands of female images from those cultures, she concluded that women were worshiped and that the primary deities were goddesses. She maintained that life was peaceful until the worship of warlike gods was imported by Indo-Europeans.
She traced survivals of goddesses, birds, snakes, and many other images and symbols from Old Europe through historical times to the present. She began to see these images and symbols as a shorthand, a “language” of our early ancestors, that we might decipher with time and care. Through her “reading” of this language, she proposed to modern scholarship an articulate and radical view of Neolithic religion.
Professor Gimbutas’ research, indeed, covered a vast territory of scholarship that crosses many traditional boundaries. Her bibliography contains 33 texts (published in nine languages) and over 300 scholarly articles on European prehistory. When she was often criticized for her interpretations, her response was philosophical:
There is a belief that religion cannot be reconstructed, that it’s a waste of time even to speak of religion because archaeologists cannot do it. Maybe this is because they are not really trained. They are not interested in mythology at all, and are just seeing the material culture. They don’t want to see anything else; they think they are safe in reconstructing the ways of agriculture or how pottery was made, and that satisfies them. In our days there are no people with vision. They cannot go across the border of their discipline. Archaeology now is interested mostly in excavation techniques and they want to be very precise; the computer is used, and all that. Of course, you can reach some conclusions using statistics, but if you do not have a vision as a person — if you are not a poet, or an artist — you cannot see much. You will be just a technician, and this is in most cases what happens. [Joan Marler, “A Tribute to Marija Gimbutas,” Sojourn Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3, Summer 1998]
Without a sense of vision and poetry one is left in a world of destitution, a depleted world where nothing means utter nothingness without value or meaning at all. The Secular Vision has come full circle, the world of the androcratic male regimes of capitalist aggression and resource depletion has brought us war, famine, disease, and economic if not literal slavery. We are at the end of the Progressive Era of this social disease that has encompassed our minds and hearts with its lies and ideological strategies of governance for two hundred years or more. It has failed, it is failing, it is fragmenting and in its desperate last hours is weaving a conservative program to tyrannize and encircle the earth with a last ditch fascist paranoiac machine to entrap people through fear and the need for security.
Across the earth male or androcratic regimes rule with an iron fist either through force or economics. As Riane Eisler would say in her early The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future:
All societies are patterned on either a dominator model— in which human hierarchies are ultimately backed up by force or the threat of force— or a partnership model, with variations in between. Moreover, if we reexamine human society from a perspective that takes into account both women and men, we can also see that there are patterns, or systems configurations, that characterize dominator, or alternatively, partnership, social organization.2
What we’re seeing is the toxic wasteland of the Dominator male-oriented empires fraying at the edges, while the deeper vision arising out of the ruins is shaping into a Partnership society and culture that seeks to form bonds, assemblages, and relations of active cohesion to undermine the hierarchic and authoritarian vision of the Androcracies. Because this dominator model now seems to be reaching its logical limits, many men and women are today rejecting long-standing principles of social organization, including their stereotypical sexual roles. For many others these changes are only signs of systems breakdown, chaotic disruptions that at all costs must be quelled. But it is precisely because the world we have known is changing so rapidly that more and more people over ever larger parts of this world are able to see that there are other alternatives. (Eisler, KL 209)
We can do this, we must do this. The shift from an androcracy to a gylanic or Partnership Society and Civilization (i.e., where Women/Men share in coeval power the care and guidance of the world) would begin to end the politics of domination and the economics of exploitation that in our world still go hand in hand.
When all the complicated calculations prove false, when the philosophers themselves have nothing more to tell us, we may be forgiven for turning to the meaningless twitter of the birds or to the distant counterweight of the stars.
—Marguerite Yourcenar Memoirs of Hadrian
I have other things to say, but shall not detain you much.
Never go out in a boat with an author—they cannot tell when they are over water.
—John Ashberry, Sleepers Awake
Most of us drift through life aimlessly, disturbed at best by the physical or mental anguish and pain of work, family disputes, squabbles with friends or bosses – or the general misgivings we have about the economy, politics, looming war, rampant disease, social unrest, and other disturbances that seem to pervade our global nightmare. We just wish to get on with our lives rather than all these seemingly insurmountable problems that continue to accumulate, mount up, encompass and enfold the world around us in both our everyday lives and in the world at large. And, yet, we cannot turn away, we live in a pressure cooker that feels about to burst – as if the world and our lives were becoming day by day more and more bloated and filled with some toxic wasteland of disturbances that disturb our perfectly normal ordinary world and bring us to the end of the mind’s tether. It is during such times as these that certain people begin to awaken from their normal lives, begin to question things around them, begin to ask why it is that the world so full of unrest and hate, why are my children, my wife/husband, my boss, my … why are so many people unhappy and so full of chagrin and animosity. Why is reality, my world seemingly breaking apart? Why do I feel so powerless in the face of this overwhelming shadow that seems looming over every facet of my life?
Members of societies usually turn to figures of authority in Church or State seeking both inner and external answers to the dilemmas that surround them, yet in our time when two hundred years of secularism has infiltrated the minds and hearts of citizens in the major nations of the First World there is no longer any trust in such institutions for the deep and abiding questions. We all know that time has past, that we are alone with our own embittered thoughts, lost among the universal decay and degradation of the earth at the hands of the techno-commercial juggernaut that has for two hundred years bled the earth of both its natural and hypernatural resources to the point of no return. That we are overworked, underpaid, no longer given the standard of living promised by our national myths. We are all destitute among the ruins of a vast machinic civilization that offers us only the mass media glow of the famous, the rich, the Sports moguls, or elite pundits who spout shibboleths and standardized party speeches that no longer suffice. We live in a world that disturbs us, disturbs our normal rhythms, our normal lives. We are all beginning to awaken from a long social and cultural sleep. And we are all doing this together.
This is an age of resurgence, of emancipation, of revolution. We are living in it so that for us it seems both full of pain and suffering, doubt and fears. We are the children of opportunity, the generation that is seeing the death of one civilization and the emergence and genesis of another as yet unknown world arising out of the ruins and decay of this global nightmare. Because it is new, because it is unfounded, because it comes in the midst of death and destruction we feel lost among the ashes as if what we are seeing is the literal destruction of the planet at the hands of greedy and psychopathic nations. But this is not so, we are not those people, we are not the people who are immersed in such realms anymore. We are the sleepers who have awakened. We see things differently now than before.
The Great Myths of the Past were devices of artificial construction built up over generations by small enclaves, tribes, and peoples of specific locales in various parts of the world. These were infused with stories and tales that guided a people in perception and memory to know the truth of life and self within the cultural order in which they were born. As many tribes formed larger entities we term nations out of the age of feudal empires these ancient myths and customs of specific locales were transformed again and again to meet the demands of elites and the structured order of those societies. It was during the so called Age of Enlightenment when this whole unthought order of myth and religious consciousness with all its codes and laws was for the first time questioned and found wanting. No one could find any good reason to believe in these ancient customs and myths, nor see why they should guide and shape peoples lives. That they seemed to benefit only the rich and powerful, and to subordinated the great majority to slavedom or serfdom.
For millennia humans did not have private lives, they lived in communal worlds where every facet of their daily routines was controlled and manipulated by elites, landowners, and Kings and nobleman in a hierarchical relationship that structured every aspect of a persons life to the benefit of a small segment of society. One was a cipher in a vast machine, a creature of no account except for the work one performed for these rich and powerful beings. Only they were alive and free, while the vast majority were slaves and workers in a mindless world bounded by Church and State. Not until the invention of the printing press and the age of pamphleteers did the common man begin to break free of the control worlds and dominator classes that encompassed them. Begin to learn, to read, to think for themselves. It was this ability to educe from books, from literature, from philosophy, history, poetry, etc. that slowly brought a new type of culture which would spawn the great flowering of the Cities around the globe.
Oh to be sure I simplify, I reduce this world of action to a few abstract patterns. I digress. The picture is of the world around us. We are the end product of several hundred years of the emancipation of the common man from his blind obedience to Kings and Lords of the Land. We are supposedly our own masters, private citizens who have rights, living in democratic societies that have laws to protect the weak and the infirm from the corrupt practices of the rich and greedy. But this too is illusion. Oh sure on the surface and in the very words of comfort that we hear from our politicians and our ministers we believe ourselves to be free, to be able to attain lives worth living for ourselves and our families. That if we just work harder, do all the right things, invest, do what our banker or stock broker tells us, what our companies dictate, plan, think ahead, place our signatures on the dotted line that everything will turn out okay. We too will one day become totally independent of work and strife.
Look around you, have things actually turned out like you once supposed they would? Did that expensive university education get you that perfect job? Are you happy with your life? Are you in a fulfilling job? Do your children go to the best schools, are they taught the truth you demand of those teachers? Is the standard of living you thought you deserved turned out to be so? Have you not seen your parents lives in disarray, their pensions taken from them, their insurance skyrocket, their savings depleted, their homes foreclosed, their live left destitute from disease or hospital bills? Is the world a safe place to raise a family? Are our leaders truly leaders anymore, or have they become clowns parading their narcissistic psychopathic dreams before a spectacle of instant mediatainment round-the-clock 24/7 broadcasts that continually are fed and refed into the rhizomatic duplicity of the latest cliché of FaceBook, Twitter, Linked In, etc.? Are you lost among so many darkened thoughts that you just wish it’d all go away, that your life could return to normal? If so then you are on the first stage of recovery, of emancipation, of a revolution in the heart and mind. You have become a part of a generation that is awakening from the sleep of millennia.
Welcome to the Dawn of the Children. We are that generation that will either fully awaken and change the earth or face the extinction and annihilation of the human species at the hands of its own successes. Oh yes, it is the very success of the economic system of Capitalism that is brining the world to an end. It embodies the heart and soul of our inhuman wishes to become other, to become something else, to be elsewhere. Capitalism is the perfection of the Idealist tradition that began with Plato. The sought after transcendence of this world for another more exciting, more artificial, more inorganic and lifeless. A world of machines and machinic intelligences that will surpass the organic makers that spawned it. We have allowed ourselves to become dupes of our own success.
As Sleepers we’ve automated ourselves into oblivion with no recourse other than literally fulfilling its inner urgency, or awakening out of its nightmare into another world outside its dark and deathly terminus. Oh I could draw from the Philosophers throughout time a litany of examples to give all this some authority, but would that really matter. Can you not feel this truth in your bones? Are you so ignorant and blinded and asleep that you cannot see we are at a breaking point, a tipping of the balance of the world? Are you not tempted to challenge the status quo, wishing that others too would do the same, that if such an uprising of lights around the globe were to suddenly awaken and challenge this juggernaut that is destroying the very face of the earth and its organic children: plants and animals, etc. that something strange would happen? That possibly we’d all awaken together, to a new earth and a new vision of reality? That we might suddenly stand naked before ourselves as we are? That we’d realize that we, and we alone are both victims and murderers? That is us who are nothing, absolute nothingness revealed at last. That the final nihilism is that even this valuelessness is of no account because we are all fictions and creators of fictions, that the world we live in is nothing but this artificial paradise we’ve literally built against the truth of reality. And it is at an end… our gamble did not pay off, and we must strip the world of our last vestiges of human fictions or be doomed to live out the myths that are now seeping back into our sleeping nightmares?
Do you need someone to hold your hand, to tell you it’s all going to be alright, turn out alright? It will not be me. No. I stand here figuratively in the midst of this dark age and say it is high time to awaken sleepers, awaken or perish from the earth forever.
Since at least the Upper Palaeolithic age, the noetic souls that are psychic individuals have expressed their expectations by tertiarizing them, that is, by projecting their retentions and their protentions outside themselves, between themselves and other psychic individuals, and in the form of traces through which they spatialize what they are living through or have lived through temporally (temporally meaning psychically, in the past, present or future). These traces are the hypomnesic tertiary retentions with which and through which these psychic individuals transindividuate themselves according to specific modalities – modalities specified by the characteristics of the tertiary retentions thereby engendered.1
For those of us not schooled in the French cultural elite rhetorical strategies of Stiegler’s audience what he is saying is simply this: Homo Sapiens at least since the so called Stone Ages has built up certain maps of reality through both individual and cultural collective memory and perception that it has externalized in myths, songs, dance, gesture, sign, writing, art, etc. that allows for the transmission of certain norms, modalities, regulatory functions for that society or culture that could be temporalized and past on from generation to generation through processes at once that carried the past and mapped a possible future. In our age the various civilizations and cultures that up to this point have lived separate and coeval lives encircled and inscribed within their domains have suddenly been faced with the reality systems of other cultures and civilizations. The norms and value systems of these various cultures and civilizations since at least Nietzsche’s time have begun to fray around the edges, their once powerful and empowered authority and vision that regulated these vast assemblages of peoples across the earth as truth has fallen into disrepute, lost its power over these peoples hearts and minds.
The Secular Age that sponsored Atheism and the Critique of the Religious Worldview is in turn gazing upon its own heritage and dismantling its own authority and theoretical underpinnings. That this new redoubling of the critique the world that our Enlightenment forbears invented is in turn dismantling itself. That something new is coming our way is all around us, and yet the forces that have kept the powers of the Outside at bay are in themselves powerless against this destruction of their own house. We are in the apocalypse so long dreamed as nightmare, so long believed to be a figment of religious imagination it has become at the hands of its critics the veritable engine of destruction that is brining Western Civilization to its knees and the earth upon which all humanity relies to the point of cataclysmic and environmental degradation and demise.
We’ve lived this out since the Enlightenment Age in the West. Other cultures because of the influx of globalization and the electronic age of global communications: all the analogue and now digital technics and technologies: telegraph, television, radio, etc. and now the internet… all this has broken down the codes and programs that have encircled and kept each cultural enclave a specific and secure space of being. The great philosophies of the past were based upon a vision of Being and Time, of certain fixities and ontological and epistemic verities that bound a cultures thoughts to its goals. Those have begun to fracture and splinter into our modern eras completed nihilism where the central myth of Nature or Environment that has been the main force against which human for millennia built up their civilizations as Security Zones against the chaos and destructive powers of the natural order. In doing this these civilizations created metafictional systems of governance and regulation to guide the common life of each through time to sustain an equitable existence against the destructive force of Nature and Others (not of our culture).
These great systems that in the 19th Century began to be explored by early sociologists and anthropologists, etc. fell into various open and closed forms designed to create societies based on war or peace, sword or plough. I simplify. One could cite authority after authority and their critics on all these facets. That in itself became part of the vast literature of our current culture industries that have formulated and abstracted out all the elements of these ancient systems, codified them, analyzed them, theorized them, bound them to new conceptualities to the point that one would be hard put to find anything left of the original world out of which they originated. This too is part of our current malaise for we have lost the thread of the human relation, of any pattern in the vast temporal sea of human time that could guide us through our contemporary moment. Why? Because nothing in that great past prepared us for what we are now going through.
We truly are at the beginning of something new and yet old and uncanny. For we are faced with the breakdown of one age (call it the Anthropocene – the Age of Humanity) and the birth of another which has yet to be named or fully understood. Yet, the outlines of this world are not assured, things can go wrong and the world composed of negentropic creativity and transformation could fall into utter chaos and oblivion along with the human world of that past. Humans are driven animals whose very make up is patterned by both memory and desire. The various social forces of the collective elites have for millennia channeled these forces into the wider cultural worlds of work and play that have kept the psychic life of most humans tamed and civilized.
At least here in the West as Stiegler remarks “Automatic society is now attempting to channel, control and exploit these dangerous automatisms that are the drives, by subordinating them to new retentional systems that are themselves automatic, which capture drive-based automatisms by outstripping and overtaking them: formalized by applied mathematics, concretized by algorithms designed to capture and exploit the traces generated by individual and collective behavior, reticular interactive automatisms are systems for capturing behavioral expressions.” (AS, KL 1449)
Terms such as Civil, Citizen, Civilized, etc. all pertain to a process of cultural indoctrination and subordination of the individual to the norms and regulatory functions (Law, Justice, Mores…) that make up the codes of that world. Deleuze and Guattari in their history and philosophical speculations of capitalism would uncover aspects of this process in the West as humans moved from the early Paleolithic worlds of hunters and gatherers to the City States, to the Feudal empires, to the modern technological age in which we live. Deleuze in later life bounded by some of Michel Foucault’s notions of biopolitics and power/knowledge structures would term them societies of control. The controls set in place during the early Industrial era of the 19th Century bourgeoisie have eroded through the very technological explosion of the simple world of that era.
No longer living in a circumscribed and orderly world of values, and in fact living in an time where all values have become suspect, even the great theoretical underpinnings of that authority of authorities, the Sciences and Philosophy we realize that even this Secular Age is circumscribed and closing. The atheistic world that sought since the enlightenment to dismantle the ancient codes and norms of the religious worldview has by so doing brought about its own veritable demise. The Age of Theory that gave us the tools to recon with the dark hinterlands of the collective and social psychic life of Western Civilization are now useless as we face the new and unbounded completion of that process (i.e., the completed nihilism of Nietzsche).
That the great worlds of Philosophy bounded within the closed world of Being no longer hold has been attested both in Analytical and Continental thought since the early thinkers of the Enlightenment. The Age of Metaphysics is over and something new but yet to surface is rising among us. We’ve seen in various philosophers and thinkers since at least Heidegger struggle with and against the metaphysical worlds. All of this is for most humans mute.
For most humans caught up in the cycles of birth, growth, maturity, work, old age, and death life is bounded by the ordinary automatisms of work and play. Most never go beyond the base set of beliefs and values by which they were first educated and indoctrinated into the cultures and societies within which they were born. Most never suspect that these norms and behaviors that guide and shape their lives are anything other than the ‘truth’. For the common lot of humans the world of thought is channeled and controlled by automatic scripts that allow them to believe they themselves are the part of something greater than themselves, that their lives have meaning and purpose as part of some group, collective, religion, political party, social club, marriage, etc. All the daily rituals that help the common lot to survive and protect them from the harsh worlds outside their social realms is accepted without any critical of theoretical knowledge otherwise. Most humans are cattle and machines of scripted worlds they themselves never made nor understand, and yet believe they are free and prosperous according to the myths and beliefs of the social systems within which they are prisoners. Even the intelligentsia are imprisoned by these various scripts and algorithms that govern and shape their own critical visions. Thousands of books critical of this or that part of the system are published every month suggesting radical or conservative change in this or that policy or law of the society, etc. Yet, as we all know these books are lost in the millions of pieces of data published each year. The Library of Congress catalogue alone boggles the mind of any scholar approaching a specific theme of study, etc.
We are in an age of information glut where any value or system can be critiqued or defended in a book, article, paper, speech, etc. with the assurance of such an automatic system that such efforts count. Sadly, they don’t. Knowledge is depleted. Critique is dead, the Scholar is replaced by unthinking analytical machines that automatically sort, analyze, organize, and script the world of Big Data day by day 24/7 without any thought of the norms or relations of humans. And do this as part of a system of governance over what humans are becoming: dividuals. The notion of dividual refers to a term used by Deleuze and Guattari to refer to what Stiegler associates with the network effect:
In automatic society, those digital networks referred to as ‘social’ channel these expressions by subordinating them to mandatory protocols, to which psychic individuals bend because they are drawn to do so through what is referred to as the network effect, which, with the addition of social networking, becomes an automated herd effect, that is, one that is highly mimetic. It therefore amounts to a new form of artificial crowd, in the sense Freud gave to this expression. (AS, KL 1495)
Watching the buzz worlds of Twitter, Face Book, Linked In etc. one realizes this process of the in-crowd vogue of traces and circulations that provide the perfect control mechanism. In a world of blips and bytes the instantaneous reduplication of the cliché has found its perfect match of automatic society. From moment to moment one can see a news story offered by Reuters as fact blipped and transformed through the network effect into the various political filters of Left or Right where truth no longer matters and even ‘fact checks’ are ideological systems of governance that trap people in a blind man’s bluff game of political and social malfeasance.
Our world has become a cliché of itself, a realm depleted of value gains instant notoriety from the most outrageous statements of this or that pundit, politico, are cultural elite. The trivialization of life and the implosion of real culture into this piss-pot sea of inanity has brought the human into a universal deconstruction machine that is eroding the last vestiges of the human mind and intellect and replacing it with trivia and mindless bric-a-brac.
According to Stiegler Freud showed that there are also ‘artificial’ crowds, which he analyses through the examples of the Church and the Army. In the twentieth century, and starting in the 1920s, the audiovisual programme industries, too, also form, every single day, and specifically through the mass broadcast of programmes, such ‘artificial crowds’. The latter become, as masses (and Freud refers precisely to Massenpsychologie), the permanent, everyday mode of life in the industrial democracies, which are at the same time what Stiegler calls industrial tele-cracies. (AS, KL 1512)
The very networks once espoused as the home of freedom for early pundits have become the blind halls of vast conglomerates and interconnected assemblages of hypernormalization, enforcing algorithmic governance so ubiquitous that the governed assume their thoughts and minds are inventing freedom rather than imposing the very mental chains of a worldwide teleocracy. We are the makers of our own prison system, the victims of our own desires, the cause and effect of our own artificialization in a world where the individual is replaced by his datagram: the dividual.
This process of artificialization has been going on from the beginning of those early Paleolithic ancestors. We’ve built and mapped artificial worlds we term culture and civilization as devices to secure and protect us from the encompassing threat of the Universe itself. So this new phase is nothing new but rather a continuing phase and transformation of an age old path we began long ago. All that has changed is that we’ve applied the theoretical gaze upon this vast Anthropocene Era of Humanity.
I’ll continue further tomorrow…
Digital tracking technologies are the most advanced stage of a process of grammatization that began at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic age…
—Bernard Stiegler, Automatic Society: The Future of Work
Education in its etymological context is the process of drawing out or unfolding the powers of the mind in a child. This notion presupposes that a child is born with certain innate powers and capacities that can be slowly activated and molded by the cultural norms of the society within which it lives. But is this so? Do we come with a set of innate capacities and powers to learn, to know, to feel, to see, to understand, surmise, analyze, reason, think…? In other words is there some fixed and unchallenged thing called ‘human nature’ that can be shaped and formed into a human being or not? Of course the culture/nurture debates are unending and I’m not about to add to that vast literature. Instead let’s begin with our recent history.
If one cares to look at it we can discern that there are so many fragmented cultures across the planet that no one could in their right mind begin to know or understand each and everyone with any amount of success. The literature of anthropologists has become almost laughable in the sense that what it describes is not the scattered remnants of indigenous populations remaining in the world among us, but rather the mirrored reflections of our own fears and phobias, values and contexts. The very conceptuality we use to understand others is itself tainted by its ubiquitous reliance on hundreds if not thousands of years of clichéd use. Bounded by certain central concepts our thought as pointed out by those masters of irony the post-structuralists is already informed by metaphysical prejudice. We live in a circle of our own thought never able to truly grasp the Other at all. This goes both ways, too. For the Other is an alterity to us and we to her and the world is an endless Tower of Babel.
Of course we love to simplify, to abstract, to fictionalize that matters are other than this, that we can understand each other, that there are certain truths and norms that seem at first Universal everywhere. That even the Mind holds certain universal concepts and ideas that come with us at birth. Plato once believed all that was needed was to remember these Ideas, to educe them from the child and nurture them through a form of dialectic that would teach the young child the powers and capacities he already had within him. But was he right? Do we come with these innate ideas, forms? Are they existing like dormant seeds that need only be watered and nurtured to grow and mature? Or is the mind a clean slate, a sponge into which concepts and ideas are put by those very cultures, imposed from the outside in? Are we but empty vessels that can be slowly adapted and molded by the culture within which we are born and emerge, shaped and modulated by thoughts not innate but imposed? And, if so, does this imply that we are not what we think we are but something other?
This is not the place to debate the extremes of such questions. Instead I’ll limit the discussion only to Bernard Stiegler’s notion of grammatization. What is grammatization? Following the work of Gilbert Simondon whose notions of transindividuation would deeply influence Stielger we can start with the notion of technics. For Stiegler humans, as a species, were not born into the world already equipped with mature cognitive capacities; these capacities developed over time in a transductive relationship with Neolithic technics, and they are still developing today hand in glove through our collective play with contemporary technics. Informed by Simondon, Stiegler routinely defined technics as organized inorganic matter.” The term refers both to the history of fabricated objects (e.g., flint, hammers, pencils, computers) and to the domain of techne: the techniques and practices involved in making (something with) technology. Technics are more than merely a part of the environment humans inhabit; technics constitute—not determine—our experience on every possible level, from retention to anticipation, and from cultural history to genetics.1
I hear many speak of the natural world and environment who say we are now entering a time when our world is becoming severed from its natural context and entering an artificial era. Truth is we’ve been living in artificial environments for millennia. Cultures and civilizations around the globe were since the first Neolithic stone age building artificial landscapes to escape and defend themselves against the natural world. As the verbose and witty if not always accurate cultural theorist and art critic Camille Paglia puts it: “We are hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away, and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first. There are hierarchies in nature and alternate hierarchies in society. In nature, brute force is the law, a survival of the fittest. In society, there are protections for the weak. Society is our frail barrier against nature.”2
In the great debates surrounding whether humans determine technology, or technology humans, or / and if both co-evolve and determine each other in turn Stiegler would join his progenitor Jaques Derrida in circumventing this debate altogether by seeking the underlying conditions that determine both humans and technology: the constitutive processes, in Stiegler’s lexicon, are called processes of grammatization. (Tinell, p. 4) That Stiegler was influenced by French culture from the 60’s to 80’s with those such as the classicists and historians of writing (Leroi-Gourhan, Havelock, Goody), French philosophers and literati associated with Tel Quel (Derrida, Barthes, Kristeva), and North American media theorists (Ong, McLuhan, Ulmer) should be no surprise. (ibid., p. 5) Almost anyone who lived during this time period would have been versant in the structuralist and post-structuralist scholarship. Today one hardly hears the names of these scholars in current or contemporary radical philosophy, as if they were irrelevant and passé. Just another blip on the long slow demise of philosophy in an age of derivative metaphysics playing out its endgame. (Of course I wonder at times if it is just young thinkers seeking to bypass the rigours and time needed to fully delve into all the textual work it takes to study and learn the full gamut of all the philosophical traditions.)
Either way the scholars of this age according to media theorist Gregory Ulmer ultimately were led into various theoretical trajectories that would lead to grammatology. According to Ulmer, grammatology developed in three phases, all of which remain in progress. First, the historical phase featured a variety of archeological and paleontological investigations into the evolution of writing systems. These historians of writing attempted to account for the actual invention of writing in ancient civilizations, as well as devise elaborate taxonomies for categorizing the world’s writing systems, almost as if taking inventory of different species of plants or animals. Racing to gather new empirical facts surrounding the origins of particular writing systems, early historians of writing rarely paused to consider the theoretical significance of writing, nor did they question inherited assumptions about which activities and artifacts counted as writing. For this reason, Derrida—the first theoretical grammatologist—embarked on a “point-by-point repetition, of the history of writing into a theory of writing” (Ulmer, 1985, p, 17). As he deconstructed the metaphysical opposition of speech and writing, Derrida assembled something of a counter-history, wherein non-phonetic systems like hieroglyphics function as emblems with which he theorizes writing in general (i.e., arche-writing), beyond the limits of phonocentric discourse. (Tinell, p. 5)
Stiegler would transform and extend the thought of Derrida and other post-structuralist thinkers developing his own media centered notions of grammatization. For him according to Tinnell the term applies to processes by which a material, sensory, or symbolic flux becomes a gramme, which—broadly conceived—can include all manners of technical gestures that maintain their iterability and citationality apart from an origin or any one particular context.For Stiegler, the shift from cuneiform to phonetic symbols is a process of grammatization, the shift from hand-tools to factory machines is a process of grammatization, and so is genetic engineering—cells and organs become replicated and revised like a kind of alphabet. In every case, a continuous flux (e.g., speech, the body, the genome) becomes broken down into a system of discrete elements (e.g., alphabetic characters, mechanical systems, recombinant DNA sequences). And, in every case, the latter’s emergence always disrupts, transforms, and reconfigures the former. (Tinnell, p. 6)
What were seeing here is a theory of influence between human and its technics, the slow process of these material grammes acting like programs computing and activating processes throughout history. In this way Stiegler forces us to think about technologies and techniques not as separate processes but rather as co-sharers and partners in ongoing processes out of which both are conditioned. The key here is that as everyday objects transform into what some glibly term the ‘internet of things’, or a world of smart objects, or as Stiegler would term them: gramme objects, we see a world artificially animated by intelligences that activate and control our habits, intentions, and actions. The environment surrounding us will track us, help us, teach us, enclose us with a grammatical texture of ubiquitous technics designed to operate on us 24/7.
Defining all writing technologies as pharmakon, Stiegler (2011) warned that hyperindustrial investment in digital machines was contributing to a general proletarianization of the consumer’s existence to an even more pervasive extent than the industrial investment of factory machines effected a proletarianization of the worker’s labor. Nevertheless, in addition to this disconcerting ramification, the pervasive networks of gramme and gesture emerging with wearable computers and biotechnologies mark new rhetorical/media ecologies that introduce unusual and, perhaps, promising affordances for multimedia composition. (Tinell, p. 7) The point here is that all these gadgets that seem to optimize our physical and mental processes, help us perform better, become better adapted to the rigors of this 24/7 world are in fact shaping and modulating our lives through a new form of social control (Deleuze).
Without going into the full details of how all this came about Stiegler compresses the main tenets of his oeuvre into an ensemble of theoretical gestures. For Stiegler the movement from the Industrial to Hyperindustrial era we are now in, or what Nietzsche would term the era of a ‘completed nihilism’ when theory and knowledge itself would become valueless and stupidity would reign everywhere is upon us. We’ve heard repeatedly from my friend R. Scott Bakker that this is so, that philosophy in the traditional sense is dead, mute. That theory is without a project, a future. That humanity is giving way to a process of stupefaction, automatization. That every facet of our lives and thoughts is slowly being governed and manipulated by the ‘trace’ – a world of data and metadata attached to our dividual lives in an electronic world that never sleeps. The a universal city of nightmares is being set loose within the ‘internet of things’ in the sense of a playground for total immersion and calculability. As Stiegler remarks,
After the loss of work-knowledge in the nineteenth century, then of life-knowledge in the twentieth century, there arises in the twenty-first century the age of the loss of theoretical knowledge – as if the cause of our being stunned was an absolutely unthinkable becoming. With the total automatization made possible by digital technology, theories, those most sublime fruits of idealization and identification, are deemed obsolete – and along with them, scientific method itself. We saw in the introduction that this is the conclusion Chris Anderson reaches in ‘The End of Theory’… (AS, KL 1187)3
As Anderson said in that article Google conquered the advertising world with nothing more than applied mathematics. It didn’t pretend to know anything about the culture and conventions of advertising — it just assumed that better data, with better analytical tools, would win the day. And Google was right. As he remarks,
Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. That’s why Google can translate languages without actually “knowing” them (given equal corpus data, Google can translate Klingon into Farsi as easily as it can translate French into German). And why it can match ads to content without any knowledge or assumptions about the ads or the content.
This is the world of Big Data and Calculation. The rule of algorithmic governmentality that needs no theory or theoretician, scholar or pundit. It just does all this without human intervention at all. A world run for and by machinic intelligence, optimized by algorithms that chart and navigate the traces we leave in our ordinary everyday lives, attuned to our whims, to our desires, to our unknowing.
Even science and the scientific method is being made obsolete by this world of Big Data. As Anderson continues, “But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality.” Absolute innovation and revolution in a continuous world of total optimization of code and gramme, control and gesture. Anderson being more optimistic than Stiegler hypes this new world, saying,
The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.
With the demise of computer simulations and models comes the ousted computer modeler or programmer themselves, and the instigation of self-replicating algorithms and deep learning algorithms that have no need of the human engineer anymore. A world without humans is being martialed before our very eyes, one that will eventually not only replace work but life. Nietzsche once declared that God was Dead. One day a machine may say: “The Human is Dead.” Excluded from our own creation we may discover a civilization we thought to become a utopia has indeed become just that without us.
As Stiegler himself says,
Founded on the self-production of digital traces, and dominated by automatisms that exploit these traces, hyper-industrial societies are undergoing the proletarianization of theoretical knowledge, just as broadcasting analogue traces via television resulted in the proletarianization of life-knowledge, and just as the submission of the body of the labourer to mechanical traces inscribed in machines resulted in the proletarianization of work-knowledge. The decline in ‘spirit value’ thereby reaches its peak: it now strikes all minds and spirits. (AS, KL 1195)
We’ll continue this tomorrow…
I remember watching Adam Curtis’s documentary on Hypernormalisation which I’ve spoken of before. Bernard Stiegler from another angle brings in the whole gamut of the new “data economy” that is invading every aspect of our technocommercial sector. In this world of consumer gadgets it is the consumer herself who is becoming the focal point of a total control system that is both ubiquitous and seemingly normal. Stiegler mentions Michel Price, Jérémie Zimmermann, Evgeny Morozov among others who all have forebodings about this techno-optimistic future that is emerging out of the old advertising and behemoth mediatainment empires. The notion of being connected 24/7, of having ones life – body and mind, tracked, traced, fed into the vast algorithmic enclaves to be tapped, analyzed, processed, and modulated to sway one’s already desiring tendencies toward a new hypernormalized sociality is in the offing.
Not to be put off one is also seeing all the old myths and rational toolsets of the ancients put into play. Plato’s two-world’s is not the realm of the included/excluded masses who will become the benefactors or inmates of these new non-monetary regimes. That’s right the whole monetization standard that has for a few hundred years produced first the gold or silver standard, then the fake worlds of paper and dollar, stocks and bonds will vanish into the new digital empires based on digital pricing and regulatory systems bound by fast paced AI systems that will bind the world into a new economic structure. Smart phones, smart cities, smart clothing… all the aspects of one’s daily life will be monitored, traced, and infiltrated in this new world from the moment one wakes, and even during one’s sleep cycles. The transition will be so supple that the older generations who seemed at first a little leery of such things will die off and the young will see it but not see it. Or as Stiegler tells it we are entering a time when true knowledge is obliterated in favor of the standardized and controlled data flows of a 24/7 AI scripted world.
Yet, to become a part of that elite society of well controlled beings of mindless technocommercial bliss they will have to conform to the technics of that world. All others will be excluded outside the world of these elites, going by either unnoticed or in the parlance of other cultures as “untouchables” (i.e., non-persons without citizen rights or powers). A total control society that doesn’t even know it is controlled will arise as the education and seamlessly instilled and people lives are more and more hypernormalised by these new regulatory functions. As Stiegler remarks digital tertiary retention rests on the structural elimination of conflicts, disagreements and controversies: ‘[A]lgorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.’1
Transhumanism and other fake sciences will be more and more centralized under various forms and agendas. Google, which along with NASA supports the Singularity University, has invested heavily in ‘medical’ digital technologies based on the application of high-performance computing to genetic and also epigenetic data – and with an explicitly eugenic goal. (AS, KL 762)
All of this leads Stigler to the goal of his new work: the goal of this work is to contribute to establishing the conditions of such a politics through its two volumes on the neganthropic future of work and of knowledge as the conditions of entry into the Neganthropocene – where this is also a matter of redesigning the digital architecture and in particular the digital architecture of the web, with the goal of creating a digital hermeneutics that gives to controversies and conflicts of interpretation their negentropic value, and constitutes on this basis an economy of work and knowledge founded on intermittence, for which the model must be the French system designed to support those occasional workers in the entertainments industry called ‘intermittents du spectacle’. (AS, KL 781)
Stiegler still shaped and localized by his French cultural heritage is bound by a hermeneutic vision of interpretive power and coopting of the system through a leftwing hacking of the algorithmic systems in favor of humanity. Yet, such dreams of technological takeover from the left seem a little tepid, and his stance within the dated philosophical perspectives of his age leave us wondering how effective such a stance can be against the juggernaut of the vast global economic forces that seem to have no center or circumference but rather a blind driveness toward optimization of intelligence. In many ways the Left seems antiquated in its platform over the past few years, stumbling into the technocommercial global matrix with tools from a bygone era that just do not provide either the questions or the answers to this hyperreal world of the new data economy.
I’ll continue with his diagnosis and cure as I navigate his proposals in the next post…. stay tuned.
Over the next few months my family and I will be slowly transitioning back to Wyoming. Found some good property outside Cody, WY. Sold my old place up in the hills, and will be fixing this small place in Phoenix ups and selling it. Figure to spend my remaining days close to Yellowstone and the river basins up and that neck of the woods. So I’ll be slowing down a little over the next few months, and may take a short leave of absence in May when we expect to move and build our place. Going to do most of the work ourselves to save the proverbial dollar. A lot to do… but once done it’s going to be the place I’ll hang my hat for the rest of whatever I have left on this green earth.
Working on that continued series on Stiegler… but will be sporadic. Stay tuned…
The Anthropocene is a singular organological epoch inasmuch as it engendered the organological question itself. It is in this way retroactively constituted through its own recognition, where the question this period poses is how to make an exit from its own toxicity in order to enter the curative and care-ful – and in this sense economizing – epoch of the Neganthropocene. What this means in practical terms is that in the Neganthropocene, and on the economic plane, the accumulation of value must exclusively involve those investments that we shall call neganthropic.1
Opening the future again to a sense of newness, to a sense of hope beyond the depredations of our era of death and apocalyptic forebodings is at the heart of Bernard Stiegler’s work. I doubt he would consider himself an optimist, but rather a realist and thereby a cautious pessimist in the sense that gazing toward what is coming at us is not at all clear but closer to that proverbial gesture of Saint Paul: “I see through a mirror darkly…”. That our era has been debt driven, bound to a entropic machine of accumulation and entropic dissipation is assured. Look around you and see the cracks in the seeming reality of this global civilization and one finds not hope but the oldest of fears and horrors: war, famine, disease, corruption, and a planetary civilization on the peak of utter chaos and ruination of the very basis of all life itself. We are marked and stained by our inaction, by out inability to face the universe without us. We live in our local defense leagues (Nations) castigating the rest of the world, fearing its demise, roping and chaining off our artificial borders with security walls of barbed wire or steel cages, dogs and armed soldiers. A bunker civilization that is withdrawing into its shell trying to stave off a nightmare it has itself created through its own economic and social mastery.
To keep us occupied and entertained we are allowed to satirize and demean a cartoon President or other world leaders as part of the Roman Circus of our modern age of mediatainment. As long as you are just passively or actively protesting a non-player on the world stage the real evil can continue on its way doing what it does behind the scenes: ripping and stripping the world of its last remaining resources, enclosing the minds and hearts of the world social in a new enclosure of the commons, putting them so far in debt that they’ll be working for the masters of hundreds of years and passively accepting this as the ‘state of affairs’. Modern slavery has no bars, it’s name is Freedom. All you need to do is conform, bend to the popular will of the elite, the masters of our economic systems who hide their own ignorance within a couched rational and mathematical world of fictions.
The word ‘Neoliberalism’, a cliché that has no meaning anymore, overly used by pundits to the point that its intent is a target that no longer exists in reality but rather in a autonomous mythic world of economics. Book after book speaks of the causes and effects of this supposed system that has brought us into this era of chaotic and planetary collapse. Yet, one reads book after book and discovers no where a vision of how to exit this era and its toxicity.
Bernard Stiegler will offer a vision of a transition from the toxic wastelands of the Anthropocene, an era of entropic decay and waste, dissipation and horror in his latest work Automatic Society: The Future of Work. This notion of the Anthropocene which was first used by Soviet environmentalists in the 1960’s was popularized by Paul J. Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch. As Stiegler tells it the question of the Anthropocene, which bears within it its own overcoming, and bears the structure of a promise, is emerging at the very moment when, on the other hand, we are witnessing the establishment of that complete and general automatization made possible by the industry of reticulated digital traces, even though the latter seems to make this promise untenable. To hold fast, that is, to hold good to this promise, means beginning, precisely, from those neganthropic possibilities opened up by automation itself: it is to think this industry of reticulation as a new epoch of work, and as the end of the epoch of ‘employment’, given that the latter is ultimately and permanently compromised by complete and general automatization. And it is to think this industry as the ‘transvaluation’ of value, whereby ‘labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value’, and where the value of value becomes neganthropy. Only in this way can and must the passage from the Anthropocene to the Neganthropocene be accomplished. (AS, KL 678)
This old Marxian dream of the end of work is at the heart of both the toxic theorists of modern capitalism, and also of those like Stiegler who would harness its energies not in the name of entropic accumulation and dissipation but rather in a new creative society based on neganthropic principles. To envision such a post-Nietzschean world of transition into a true transvaluation of values would indeed be a feat of stupendous effort and imagination, reason and a logic of radical labour and love (caring). Is it possible?
Jehu of The Real Movement blog spells out much of this in his hypothesis that describes what happens when capitalism finally collapses premised on the assumption that this collapse can occur in two separate and distinct phases: a lower phase, which we can refer to as the collapse of production based on exchange value; and a higher phase, which I will call the collapse of production based on wage labor. These two phases more or less reflect the dual character of capitalist commodity production: that capital is a form of commodity production which specifically aims to produce surplus value. (Read: Towards a hypothesis of the final collapse of capitalism). What’s interesting as Jehu points out that Marx himself in all fifty or so volumes of his collected works never predicts the collapse of capitalism, only the specific “collapse of production based on exchange value, i.e., the conditions of simple commodity production” (Jehu).
He’ll point out another passage in Das Capital Vol 1, Chapter 32 where Marx predicts the demise of capitalist private property, and yet as Jehu maintains “Marx never actually says the proletariat expropriates capitalist private property; instead, he limits his prediction to the expropriation of capitalist private property by some unnamed subject”. As Jehu in another section explains it,
In Capital, (v1, c32), Marx is looking ahead to a major event that had two possible outcomes. The first, more familiar outcome for us is a proletarian socialist revolution that overthrows the existing state. The second, less well understood and almost never discussed outcome is that the state is forced by events to expropriate capitalist private property and undertake the direction of production, to function as the national capitalist, the direct exploiter of the proletarians. This second possible outcome is what Luxemburg labeled barbarism.
We’ve all heard about the first of these two outcomes, but very little about the second in Marxist literature. For me as I see what is happening in the world today it makes more and more sense that the plundering of market capitalism and its degradation of the ecological and social fabric of our planet will force the governing powers of nations to put an end to this exploitative corruption. We know this will go under the banner of saving the planet, etc., a new marketed environmental horror story will be driven into the psyche of the mass minds of all citizens who will in seeking security from the coming devastation gladly allow their lives to become enmeshed in the local and global tyrannies of the State to come.
Jehu for his part explains that his “hypothesis depends on the claim that production based on exchange value, what is commonly referred to as simple commodity production, can collapse without necessarily leading to the collapse of what I have here called production based on wage labor, i.e., capital proper”. As we see in the movement of capitalist technocrats of our era and their bid to oust workers from production and replace them over the coming decades with automation and intelligent machines that a new form of capitalist takeover is in the offing. That humanity itself as surplus labour and value is no longer a factor in this future. The vast underemployed mass of humans will no longer be needed, and will be excluded from the world of these capitalist schemes. The end of wage labor is assured, but does that not also mean the end of the wage laborer as well. Are we as workers becoming expendable? If so is it in their future a world cleansed and purified of the vast majority of the human population? Are these fascistic tendencies about to produce the very apocalyptic dreams of ancient monotheisms at the behest of the very powers who would exclude us from our jobs?
Either way the aspect left out of Marx is the collapse of the environment itself as one of the very retroactive forces that will bring about the State takeover of private property. As the environment (if you accept the Sixth Extinction and Environmental collapse theories of scientists around the world) begins to show more and more extreme collapse through deforestation, ice cap melting, gases rising from the ocean floors, the ocean conveyor belt slowing, the threat of so many shortages of rain…. etc., one will be offered solutions and security from the State. At this time humanity will either take on its own revolution and take the bull by the horns, or it will go passive and allow dictators and tyrants to enact martial law and impose dark legislation of social and political control over the planet and its resources. The future is uncertain and we see a crisis blooming all around us on this late great planet earth. Stiegler says there is an alternative…
As he explains it since 1993, a new global technical system has been put in place. It is based on digital tertiary retention and it constitutes the infrastructure of an automatic society to come. We are told that the data economy, which seems to be concretizing itself as the economic dynamic generated by this infrastructure, is the inevitable destiny of this society. We shall show, however, that the ‘destiny’ of this society of hyper-control is not a destination: it leads nowhere other than to nihilism, that is, to the negation of knowledge itself. And he will show, first with Jonathan Crary (24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep), then with Thomas Berns and Antoinette Rouvroy (Human Genes and Neoliberal Governance), why this automatic society to come will be able to constitute a future – that is, a destiny of which the negentropic destination is the Neganthropocene – only on the condition of overcoming this ‘data economy’, which is in reality the diseconomy of a ‘dis-society’. (AS, KL 690)
I’ll continue this series in another essay tomorrow. Stay tuned.
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…
—Karl Marx, Fragment on Machines: Grundrisse
I remember during the 90’s so many works predicting a time vortex, an invasion of the future into our contemporary world. So many films would follow the same line such as the Terminator series where the intelligent machines would battle it out with humans for a world of ashes. Or the Matrix series where humanity was but a pawn in an elaborate system of metafictional world making for the machines who needed them like vampires sucking the electrical currents from our living dream. But now we are in the midst of such a world where the great narratives and culture industries that have built the artificial palaces of our multifarious cultures across the globe are coming apart at the seams. In the process of this the great backlash of the old guard, the conservative wing of the human equation seeks to reestablish the old order of things with every last ounce of its wagging power in the face of a planetary crisis such as the world has never seen.
Even as Marx predicated in such an early work as the Grundrisse humans are not important to Capital, they are but means to an end: the automation of the world. Humans are replaceable and non-essential to Capital. Always have been. As Marx would say,
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. (Grundrisse, p. 621) [My Italics]
It’s in this passage that we see a supple transition from the organic (human) craftiness and art (technics) to that of the artificial (machinic) intelligence with its own laws and energy needs ( humans needing food, while the machine needs other planetary anorganic resources). This sense that the human worker is within this process and transition a mere appendage and necessary part of the ongoing processuality of this automatization, and that the human is no longer the master in his own house but rather the one controlled by those very machinic processes. This great reversal between organic and inorganic in our time, with the rise of machinic civilization and its artificial autonomization and independence from the human is for Stiegler the displacement of entropy and negentropy in the new dispensation of machinic civilization,
In the Anthropocene epoch, from which it is a matter of escaping as quickly as possible, the questions of life and negentropy arising with Darwin and Schrödinger must be redefined from the organological perspective defended here, according to which: (1) natural selection makes way for artificial selection; and (2) the passage from the organic to the organological displaces the play of entropy and negentropy. (AS, KL 659)
The next Industrial Revolution, a third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one’s been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess—machines that devaluate human thinking.
—Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
Like many professional scholars Bernard Stiegler’s gaze has been turned toward the culture industries that have shaped our global era. Seeking in ancient Greek thought he’s transposed many of that cultures conceptuality into a set of tools to expose some of the darker corners of our era’s pathologies. Like many others he sees this replacement of humanity by the machinic powers of an automated society as a two-horned prodigy. On the one hand the predictions of such luminaries as Norbert Weiner, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx and so many others predicted a coming time when there would be an end of wage labour. But with the end of work the true challenge for Stiegler facing humanity is what to do with all those out of work and surplus humans? As he says it:
…the time liberated by the end of work must be put at the service of an automated culture, but one capable of producing new value and of reinventing work. Such a culture of dis-automatization, made possible by automatization, is what can and must produce negentropic value – and this in turn requires what I have previously referred to as the otium of the people.1
Let’s chew on this for a few minutes. Stiegler accepts the fact that automation and the replacement of millions of workers in various aspects of our present global capitalist system is inevitable, but that we must discover against the Consumerist Culture that has driven our global society for a hundred years a new culture. The Culture of Disautomatization. One that produces negentropic value based on what he termed at one point the “otium of the people”.
Now the concept and phrase “negative entropy” was introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1944 popular-science book What is Life? Later, Léon Brillouin shortened the phrase to negentropy, to express it in a more “positive” way: a living system imports negentropy and stores. In the Decadence of Industrial Democracies Stiegler will describe otium this way:
Otium is that which constitutes the practice of retentional systems through which collective secondary retentions are elaborated, selected and transmitted, 20 and through which, in turn, protentions are formed. The formation of these protentions always puts into play the singularity of the one who is taking aim with these protentions, since this process is always equally informed by the singularity of their secondary retentions, which are precisely not collective. (DID, p. 61)
Of course Otium, a Latin abstract term, has a variety of meanings, including leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors. It sometimes, but not always, relates to a time in a person’s retirement after previous service to the public or private sector, opposing “active public life”. Otium can be a temporary time of leisure, that is sporadic. It can have intellectual, virtuous or immoral implications. It originally had the idea of withdrawing from one’s daily business (negotium) or affairs to engage in activities that were considered to be artistically valuable or enlightening (i.e. speaking, writing, philosophy). It had particular meaning to businessmen, diplomats, philosophers and poets.2
For Stiegler we are losing our cultural memory and inheritance, and in the process the otium of the people that has guided and shaped its mind and body for hundreds if not thousands of years. We are living in that in-between-time of transition from one age to another, an unscripted and for the most part a topsy-turvy time of apocalyptic and chaotic struggles between various world cultures and otiums that are now failing their people due to the total completion of nihilism in our moment. The mis-trust and of culture, of books, of the elites, of the past is now at a high point. The young no longer bred on the world of either the religious or secular inheritance of cultural memory are living through a temporal vacuum. The Age of the Book is over. An age when the young were educated and instructed in the cultural inheritance of our multifarious past works of religious and secular arts and philosophies. Rather ours is a digital age of sound bytes and fragments that can no longer sustain the reading habits and solitary practices of the Book. As Stiegler confesses,
…no society has ever existed that did not contain practices comparable to what the Roman nobility called otium. No such society exists, ?Xcept in the West of the industrial democracies which, taking themselves for post-industrial societies, are submitted to the ‘leisure’ industries, industries that are in fact the very negation of leisure, that is, of otium as practice, since these industries are constituted through the hegemony of imperatives arising from negotium. Such is their decadence. (DID, p. 62)
The slow erosion of language in the course of a hundred years at the hands of scholars who would end in the post-structuralist black hole and aporia of meaning has left us in a world where words and things no longer touch, a world depleted of meaning is no world at all, an empty world full of forces and nightmares. A world in which mass-media systems produce reality for us, guide and shape our opinions. As Henry A. Giroux remarks,
With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.3
Many pundits and scientists dub ours the Anthropocene Age in which humans become conscious of their role in the destruction and ruination of the earth. The Anthropocene era is that of industrial capitalism, an era in which calculation prevails over every other criteria of decision-making, and where algorithmic and mechanical becoming is concretized and materialized as logical automation and automatism, thereby constituting the advent of nihilism, as computational society becomes a society that is automated and remotely controlled. (Stiegler)
At the very moment that humanity becomes conscious of itself is the moment that it loses its memory, falls away into fragmented systems of control that squander both the mental and physical resources of the planet and replace them with the algorithmic culture of machinic intelligence. For Stiegler this is the moment of Nietzsche’s transvaluation of all values,
We must think the Anthropocene with Nietzsche, as the geological era that consists in the devaluation of all values: it is in the Anthropocene, and as its vital issue, that the task of all noetic knowledge becomes the transvaluation of values. And this occurs at the moment when the noetic soul is confronted, through its own, organological putting-itself-in-question, with the completion of nihilism, which amounts to the very ordeal of our age – in an Anthropocene concretized as the age of planetarizing capitalism.(AS, KL 548)
In a world where culture is in disarray, the people mistrust both leadership and the mediatainment systems of cultural production we have entered that phase where nothing is true, everything is possible. So that for Stiegler a return to Marx and Nietzsche is imperative.Reading Marx and Nietzsche together in the service of a new critique of political economy, where the economy has become a cosmic factor on a local scale (a dimension of the cosmos) and therefore an ecology, must lead to a process of transvaluation, such that both economic values and those moral devaluations that result when nihilism is set loose as consumerism are ‘transvaluated’ by a new value of all values, that is, by negentropy – or negative entropy, or anti-entropy. (AS, KL 557)
The point of negentropy is to fight against the dissolution into total eclipse, to martial the unconscious energies on tap in the geospherical psyche of collective humankind, to bring about a resurgence in creative and empowered transformation against the forces that are taking us into a dark moment of death driven psychopathic madness.
All fine and dandy, but how? How enact such a scheme? Another pipe-dream from a scholar’s arsenal of wishful ideas? Or does Stiegler have something up his sleeve? I’ll return to this in the next post….
When you read this I’ll be sitting, hopefully, comfortable in my chair, my dog, Rusty at my side or wandering with me in the hills around the lake outside Cody, Wyoming. WordPress has this feature of publishing based on time schedules that seem to act for you, so here is one of those types of post – a reflection on my own past kind that even I wonder why I keep peering into that abyss.
No, seriously, as I look back now on my earlier childhood, the Culture of West Texas I grew up in and the religious world-view of the fundamental Southern Methodist and Baptists, much less the austere Church of Christ and other sects and sectarian fundamentalisms, as well as the Holy Rollers – Assembly of God, Seventh Day Adventists and so many others, I wonder what changed my mind and diverted my life from a robot of the faith. Sometimes you just have to take stock of that world, really look at what shaped one’s views and what set one onto one path and not another. What was that Plato’s Socrates said just before they sentenced him to death for corrupting the youth of Athens? “An unexamined life is not worth living,” he said in the Apology, one of those works one should read every few years and ponder.
Have fun all… going to take a few weeks off and go up to my cabin in Wyoming/Montana region. Frolic in the snow, see friends, make merry, enjoy some flames on a hearth… hard to do that here in the desert. 🙂
Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.
Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.
Split between Swift and Twain, Satire and Humor, the world seems to drift in a haze. Attaining either political satire or humor is difficult and not to be taken lightly, and yet it has its place. The difficulty resides not in the subject matter or content, but in the actual conceptual framework of the critical gaze. Attaining the gaze that bites and instructs is the most difficult art; for all humor is didactic and entertaining instruction in laughter, and it is to unburden resentment and enter into the graciousness of a serpent’s gaze that brings such pithy marksman to bare.
As any number of radical theorists from Brecht through to Foucault and Badiou have maintained, emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.
– Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative?
The American Left rather than digging into its own failures is displacing it, creating in a mediablitz saturation a multiplicity of metanarratives to replace that real and actual failure of the party, through a series of well coordinating obfuscations against Russia, Trump, the alt-right gang, etc. all in the name of clearing the Democratic Party of any responsibility for its own mistakes and failures. Rather than in creating a critical appraisal, diagnosis, and cure of its own misguided platforms it will for the next four years just continue to turn a blind eye toward itself, and program its constituents to see the rest of the world through the fictional lens of fascism, real or invented. This is not to say there want be a need for it, yet what I’m saying is that it will become overkill and a displacement of what it truly needed, which is a transformation of the Democratic Party’s own platform, along with the outmoded ideas and problematique of its current leadership.
In the book mentioned in the epigraph by Mark Fisher he describes Capitalist realism as that which cannot be confined to art or to the quasi-propagandistic way in which advertising functions. It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action. Our mediatainment industrial complex pervades the atmosphere as a mediator between the real and virtual worlds of politics in our world. From the mainstream Reuter’s to the most obvious examples of the Guardian (UK) to New York Times (US) to Washington Post (US) to any number of television and broadcasting stations, along with the various online ensembles of Facebook, Twitter, etc. A list that could grow into all the various international and nationalist news organizations around the globe.
Most average citizens do not have time to critically appraise every facet of the news, but rather take it all in stride: part cynical, part fantasy. It almost goes without saying that most people realize that the news is bent, is ideological in the sense that it is narrated through the lens of a specific viewpoint of political and social ideas and programs. That certain reporters are obviously of the Left or Right, and that people love to take sides with this sort of vague and undefined world of media crafted more for capturing attention blips for advertising dollars. Sensationalism is the order of the day, the more one can bash the other political party the better the ratings. So we’ve come to expect exaggeration and invective from our favorite media pundits, it just goes without saying. Yet, in the process of knowing this we pretend with ourselves that we don’t know this, so that we accept at face value what is reported as confirmation of our political hobby-horse. We love it to find out all the dirty details of an enemy opponent to satisfy our glib and cynical take on politics as usual. What this does is pacify us, turn us into cynical and passive normal who expect the world to continue down its course without us being able to change a thing. We just accept that the world is too complex and the leaders are all fools anyway, so what are we to do? We believe its all circus and clowns, so we just laugh and turn a blind eye; or, we sit on the sidelines our gaze turned toward the endless parade of media tomfoolery as if what is being portrayed is indeed reality. It’s not, and we know it, but we are too busy trying to survive in our actual real lives to do much about it. We see the protests and the violence and say: “See, there it is, violent youth blowing up banks, breaking glass… burning limousines…,” and shake our heads. And, do nothing, because we don’t think anything can be done. Isolated, alone, stuck in our separate cells, privatized and singular we feel helpless that anything will change. So fear pervades it all…
We ask ourselves is there a solution to this stupidity? We know there is, but we also know that we’ve been left out of the equation. That what we term representative democracy is a charade, it isn’t that at all. We are no longer represented by our leaders, all they do is spout slogans and in their actions do just the opposite. What we term holding them accountable is but to continue to vote for change the next time: an eternal rotation of useless leaders always spouting how they’ll change things for us, make our lives an easy road, bring us jobs, salvation, redemption… more bullshit as usual.
All the academic scholarship for the past hundred years has spoken to this in one way or another, but none have ever come up with a solution. Not one. Oh, they offer panaceas, certain reforms (isn’t that what the Progressive part is… the Reform party?). But what happens is that the reforms do not benefit the people but the Oligarchs, Corporations, and Bankers who back the politicians. People have almost begun to accept this, too. Sadly. As Mark will tell us in his book:
The result is a kind of postmodern capitalist version of Maoist confessionalism, in which workers are required to engage in constant symbolic self-denigration…. But don’t worry… any self-criticisms we make are purely symbolic, and will never be acted upon; as if performing self-flagellation as part of a purely formal exercise in cynical bureaucratic compliance were any less demoralizing.1
Of course he’s speaking of the politics of work and bureaucracy here, but one can read this as a fable of all politics. We have been taught that it is us, not the politicians that are responsible. Rather than a public forum, everything has been privatized, even the old notion of the Public. As Mark suggests “‘Being realistic’ may once have meant coming to terms with of a reality experienced as solid and immovable. Capitalist realism, however, entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment.” (CR, p. 54) He’ll explain it as a fungible world, a world where the media acts a mediator between us and the Real, imposing its ideological screens as overlays to guide and instruct, indoctrinate and channel our desires for products, entertainment, and politics. As he’ll say it: “The ‘reality’ here is akin to the multiplicity of options available on a digital document, where no decision is final, revisions are always possible, and any previous moment can be recalled at any time.” (CR, p. 54)
Most people in our current blip culture no longer have the attention span of a mouse, everything becomes boring after a few sound bytes or images, much less the attention span needed to actually read or write something more than the space of a Twitter twit. Fake news has become more real than the actual truth of a story, people would rather believe a lie than the truth; and, in fact recently pundits argue that ours is a post-truth society. In a world that no longer has the distance or attention span to critically appraise the truth or validity of its news we are already living in a virtual tyranny controlled by powers over which we have no control.
Yet, we have to admit that a part of this is the blame of the very academics left that spawned the so called postmodern turn which undermined the whole tradition of critical reason itself. It’s attack on Kant and the undermining of classical metaphysics from Plato to now in deconstruction etc. was to end in an endless undecidability about anything whatsoever. Left in a world cut off from reality, the linguistic turn left us without an ability to think or even know what thinking is. Groundless and dancing in a figural sophistry of endless paradox and difference we’ve spawned the very fictional world we’re now living in. A refined skepticism, cynicism of irony endlessly churning in tis own surface world on non-meaning and virulent nihilism we’ve come to an end game where reality has turned inside out, and allowed the darkness outside in.
As Mark describes it:
If the Real is unbearable, any reality we construct must be a tissue of inconsistencies. What differentiates Kant, Nietzsche and Freud from the tiresome cliché that ‘life is but a dream’ is the sense that the confabulations we live are consensual. The idea that the world we experience is a solipsistic delusion projected from the interior of our mind consoles rather than disturbs us, since it conforms with our infantile fantasies of omnipotence; but the thought that our so-called interiority owe its existence to a fictionalized consensus will always carry an uncanny charge.(CR, pp. 55-56)
We’ve come to expect the scripts of reality to be written for us now in this late age. Rather than seeking truth for ourselves, we’d rather accept the scripted worlds of mediatainment fictions, realizing its more fun that way – we can laugh and joke at it and say it’s all entertainment, not real. But then we live through that moment of forgetting when in the quiet of our homes, staring at the face in the mirror we ask ourselves: “What is real? Am I real anymore?”
The point here is that the privatization of culture has blighted us. We are in that in-between state where everything is fiction, everything is narrative. Our cultural history, our memories are all mediated, filtered, spin crafted ideological positing’s that have no touch with reality, but are rather massaged and transformed in the lens of carefully crafted discourse and image narratives controlled by a blind bureaucracy that is faceless and out of site. In fact we’ve been under siege for a while now. The cultural forgetting of Western culture and civilization has been part of the academic left’s curriculum and project for a hundred years. The total annihilation of this two-thousand year old cultural matrix of concepts, ideas, and history has for years been under revision, castigation, modification, and deconstruction all leading to its demise. What we term humanism and humanity is a project for the Left in obsolescence. And, yet, there is nothing on offer to replace it but a slippery post-humanism that seems to wander through a thousand and one categories of if’s without any actual end in site. And, even then scholars can’t agree on just what this new beast is or will be.
Mark will suggest we are in that paradoxical in-between state of fear and terror of the present, because we can no longer make memories:
The memory disorder that is the correlative of this situation is the condition which afflicts Leonard in Memento, theoretically pure anterograde amnesia. Here, memories prior to the onset of the condition are left intact, but sufferers are unable to transfer new memories into long term memory; the new therefore looms up as hostile, fleeting, un-navigable, and the sufferer is drawn back to the security of the old. The inability to make new memories: a succinct formulation of the postmodern impasse…. (CR, p. 60)
This sense of living in a timeless present cut off from past or future is at the heart of our malaise. Comforted by a nostalgia for imaginary pasts we harbor childhood memories of a culture that never was, while living in a wasteland of impossible fictions in which nothing true can be retained or bound to a supportable memory. Because of this most people rely on the State not as either an Orwellian Big Brother, or as some kind of Paternal figure, but rather as a Nanny: “Although excoriated by both neoliberalism and neoconservativism, the concept of the Nanny State continues to haunt capitalist realism. The specter of big government plays an essential libidinal function for capitalist realism.” (CR, p. 62) This sense of someone who will just baby sit the world for us, who is there in the background picking up the pieces, setting things to right, cooking our meals, wiping our asses, doing everything but open our mouths and spoon-feed us.
But with the installation of Trump in the hot seat of the Presidency the Nanny State has gone bye bye, and now comes the age old Father returned from oblivion instilling the authority of the ancient lineage of power brokers: the androdominator as power monger who will now takeover and fix everything for us. Rather than the quiet smiley face of the Nanny State under Obama, we have the power brokers of yesteryear, the business and corporate efficiency of the black suit New Yorker who will rebuild the world from the ground up, or so the story goes…
Nietzsche in the 19th Century proclaimed the death of God. Foucault in the 20th Century proclaimed the dead of the Subject. Now we proclaim the death of the human itself at the hands of anti-human scholars. Yet, we are still here. Or are we? How can we know what to do about politics when we’re continuously told we no longer exist, that it is all passé, that the human Subject is but a neuroscientific illusion and delusion of a kludgy brain that through processes unknown entered into a an accidental production of consciousness (of which no neuroscientific or philosopher of Mind can speak to or definitely describe). We are told that this is nihilism: the age when all values are dispersed in a blank world of valueless judgments. Nietzsche prophesied and end to it when it would have completed itself. Which I assume he meant when everyone proclaims the end of all values and the acceptance that the world around us doesn’t give a shit one way or the other about humanity because it doesn’t even know we exist. Why? Because the universe is an agency, there is no Subject behind the screen, no fake Wizard of Oz of God speaking out of thunderstorms or mountains lighting rods of fire and brimstone. We are absolutely alone in a dark room with each other in a realm utterly devoid of answers or solutions. So this is ground Zero, the place of no place, the place from which we begin again… but this time with the knowledge of our utter desolation. Not despair as some assume, but desolation: the “condition of being ruined or wasted,” which is neither a place of despair or hope, but of reality. It’s from this desolation that we must begin and begin again to test the world against our words, our meanings. To wipe away the tears and sadness of our fictional ploys and narratives that have done much to lead us into this mess. We must build our words out of this desolation, for only then can we touch reality’s face and produce a community of shared values in a valueless universe.
At the beginning of the twentieth century W.B. Yeats said the “center cannot hold,” at the beginning of the twenty-first century the center is empty, the power and subject has vacated the premises and left a black hole of undecidability in its place. Politics is that black hole that the populism of Trump is supposedly a stuffing. But this center that cannot hold cannot be stuffed with supreme fictions or Reality TV stars. It will need something else… possibly just an acceptance that we don’t need the center anymore, we don’t need the Father, Mother, or Nanny to take care of us… that we are quite capable of pulling ourselves up by the sit of our pants and doing and thinking about what we really want rather than being told what we will get. Is this at all possible? Or, will we always depend and be dependent on some great Big Nobadday or Big Other to do for us what we will not do for ourselves?
As I finished that last sentence I added a question mark, realizing how much twaddle it was to expect people to ever free themselves of their delusions, desires, and deliriums, rather what will happen is the age old faltering and scapegoating of the other, of blame, of castigation and seeking someone to place the evil eye on; of displacement of responsibility and failure on the Other – whoever that other happens to be in the eyes of the media at any one moment. We are lazy and shiftless, we want our cake and eat it too. We’d rather depend on someone else to take on the responsibility of the world and our lives than we would. This is truth, too.
So for now the Left will place the Evil Eye on Trump because he is an easy target, a Reality TV bimbo billionaire that pop-starred his way into power through the very mechanisms of the Left’s mediatainment empire of signs. Rather than take on the responsibility to clean its own house, the Left would rather just dirty up the Trump house and fill it with all the evil under the rug of its resentment and shock at having been ousted from the seat of power (lessness). My mother used to tell my sister and I to look for a silver lining in the clouds after a storm, that that was a sign of hope in a dark time. My problem was that growing up in West Texas I’d look up after a hail storm and twisters to see not some silver lining on the black edged clouds, but rather the blotted face of a scorched red sun. I’d ask Mom about that, and she’d just whisper: “It’s a mystery!”
Cioran quotes Lao Tsu’s maxim ‘the intense life is contrary to the Tao’, and compares the tranquility of the modest life with the thirst for annihilating ecstasy that has possessed the Western world. However, acknowledging the compulsion of his Occidental heritage, he remarks ‘I can pay homage to Lao Tsu a thousand times, but I am more likely to identify with an assassin’. Our culture, he argues, is essentially fanatical.
—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007
Strip the world of its illusions and delusions and you’ll only hasten the suicidal tendencies we’ve already as a species acquired. Predatory though we are, we are more prone to annihilating ourselves in a bout of self-mutilating hatred and pure religious fervor than not. Religious dogmatism – and, I count the Secular Church of Atheism in this – is the cornerstone of an anthropathological condition that breeds purity as the obliteration of all enemies. If only we could inhabit the enemies perspective would we realize the mirror of our hatred is itself impure.
We have yet to escape our Puritan heritage. Capitalism itself is this beast of purity spread across the face of the earth like an omeba, gobbling everything in its path, immolating the commodities and resources of the planet to the futurial disciplines of technics that have yet to find their slime festivals embarkation. Like fetid worms we are habitues of intricate foreplay, our sexual ecstasies bounded only by our murderous crash sequences with technology. Formulating and garnering an ultimate plan for inhuman takeover we bid the human species a grand bon voyage, stripping ourselves of the last veneer of humanistic entrapments we devote ourselves to the extreme experimental psychopathologies which will produce a final solution. Our closure of nature in this age and the irruption of the artificial as lifestyle has led us into that end game in which nothing natural will remain on earth.
No need to do a critique of metaphysics (or of political economy, which is the same thing) , since critique presupposes and ceaselessly creates this very theatricality; rather be imside and forget it, that’s the position of the death drive, describe these foldings and gluings, these energetic vections that establish the theatrical cube with its six homogenous faces on the unique and heterogeneous surface.
—Lyotard, Libidinal Economy
Once again the most unnatural creature on the planet triumphs, but in an unexpected way: it will stand atop the ruinous folds of a billion skulls screeching in the technomic voices of those who have become the thing they most dreaded: machinic gods of the metalloid Void. Brokered in a hell of abstract horror, these inheritors of the primal scream will walk the dead earth in what remains of the dustbowl windlands and scorched cities along the black sands of depleted oceans and lakes, where hybrid creatures scuttle in the shadows of temporal wars; and, deforested wastelands of spiked acropolises, and necromantic anti-life scurries amid the crumbling decay of human civilization: – like the visitors of an alien enlightenment, each singing in an oracular voice with the angelic pitch and plum disharmonics of solar sirens beckoning us toward the far shores of an anterior futurity.
It is always a difficulty writing on an other’s work in that one usually begins by clarifying something that captures your own thought, and then trying to isolate an aspect of it, abstract it out, seek to understand whether it is viable or not, living or dead; and, then, whether one can either appropriate and incorporate it into one’s own ongoing project or exclude it and – yes, critique it. Sometimes as a commentator I plunder other’s works for my own ongoing project, which I’m sure as many on my blog have pointed out comes into conflict with the actual and real meaning or… and, I hate to use the word, “intentions” of the author, since I no longer believe or accept the essentialist argument of there being an author behind the work, etc.. There being nothing essential behind the mask of the name or title other than the fictional appellation or designation which is bound to the cultural logics and legalisms we are captured by. No intentional being resides there behind the mask of author, but rather a process of thinking connected to the traditions of symbolic accord that travel across time through processes of externalization, memory, and technology (i.e., print, trace, etc.). (Much more on this in the future!)
Once one has left the fold, no longer believes in the property or proprietary intentions of an author… that all writing is technics and technology… one lives in a alter-framework. An alterity that blows away the metaphysical structures underpinning our legal and secular regimes. Even as I write these words the illusion of my own Self/Subject persists, yet what do we trace in an author’s work: Do we ever know what is behind the work, or are we more concerned with what that work offers us as challenge or confirmation of our own stance and thoughts in regards of the wider frame of culture? There is no singular language, therefore no singular vision or collective being, self, etc., we are all already collective processes rather than beings operating in and on an external world or symbolic order. Detached from any conception of metaphysical Being one is rather a writing, and being written by impersonal forces of which one is barer or victim. That is all.
Once again I return to Bataille. In the preface to Accursed Share Vol 1 he describes the disconcerting experience of being confronted with the question of his work – the why of it:
“…the book I was writing (which I am now publishing) did not consider the facts the way qualified economists do, that I had a point of view from which a human sacrifice, the construction of a church or the gift of a jewel were no less interesting than the sale of wheat. In short, I had to try in vain to make clear the notion of a “general economy” in which the “expenditure” (the “consumption”) of wealth, rather than production, was the primary object.”
This sense of coming at economics not as some narrow system of capital expenditure and profit, but rather as the ‘general economy’ of the system of the world itself – the Solar Economy – is this bewilderment we feel in realizing his conceptual reversal of modern economic theory based on the object of production rather than that of expenditure and waste (“consumption”). As he’ll tell it “This first essay addresses, from outside the separate disciplines, a problem that still has not been framed as it should be, one that may hold the key to all the problems posed by every discipline concerned with the movement of energy on the earth – from geophysics to political economy, by way of sociology, history and biology.” For underpinning it all was a materialist conception of force, drives, and energetics:
“Writing this book in which I was saying that energy finally can only be wasted, I myself was using my energy, my time, working; my research answered in a fundamental way the desire to add to the amount of wealth acquired for mankind.”
In his iconic affirmation that “the sexual act is in time what the tiger is in space” he reminds us such comparisons follow from considerations of an energy economy that leave no room for poetic fantasy, but requires instead a thinking on a level with a play of forces that runs counter to ordinary calculations, a play of forces based on the laws that govern us. In short, the perspectives where such truths appear are those in which more general propositions reveal their meaning, propositions according to which it is not necessity but its contrary, “luxury,” that presents living matter and mankind with their fundamental problems.”
Decided to republish this essay I wrote over a year ago… still worth rethinking.
Naomi Wolfe’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot outlined ten steps taken in the past by what she termed “closing societies” — such as Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Russia — in their long descent into fascism. For both the State was one grand corporation in which the prols or workers were but the fodder for its schemes and machinations. These steps, Wolf claims, are being observed in America now.
The steps are:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system.
5. Harass citizens’ groups.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release.
7. Target key individuals.
8. Control the press.
9. Cast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason.
10. Subvert the rule of law.
J.G. Ballard in an interview mentions that our current consumer societies with their celebrity stars of Hollywood, Sports, and the Variety tabloids has entered the plutocracy of excess and abundance. “What I’m saying is that, left on its own consumer society is becoming a soft fascism. Because consumerism makes inherent demands, it has inherent needs, which can only be satisfied by pressing the accelerator down a little harder, moving a little faster, upping the antes. In order to keep spending and keep believing, we need to move into the area of the psychopathic.” 1
Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present will be coming out from Zero Books on February 22nd. To sum it up briefly, the book emerged last winter from a series of notes to myself while trying to think through several related themes: the relationship between Marxian theories of crisis and the “long wave” theories of “techno-economic” development posed by the neo-Schumpeterians; the correlation between crises and other transition-points in economic development and sweeping political transformations; and the rise of the left-wing and right-wing populisms (and indeed, quasi-fascism) in the current world. The “uncertain future” in the title very much refers to the dangerous situation of the far-right coming to power in the United States, which at the time of writing was only a possibility – but has now come true.
-Edmund Berger, Deterritorial Investigations Unit
As I finished Edmund’s new book Uncertain Futures: An Assessment of the Conditions of the Present (Get it: here) I realized why I’ve followed his blog Deterritorial Investigations Unit for the past few years: keen intelligence, an encyclopedic breadth of vision encompassing an ethical commitment to the real movement of change, and a loquacious and gracious scholarly acumen and sense of excellence stylistically and in regards of other thinkers place within our cultural history. Critical, observant, detailed – a thinker whose historical sense is not overburdened by a false historicism, but peers into that dark mirror of our near future as if his diagnosis and cure of our ailing civilization were neither a swan song to its demise, nor a belabored undermining of its forward movement into ruin and decay, but rather as a physician of time – a creature from the far flung future seeking to retroactively elide the toxic effects of our dark modernism.
In my own life the dark cycles come and go, and when they come I return to the comic worlds of laughter to assuage the pain of such suffering doubts and mental anguish. I read Cervantes Don Quixote and Aristophanes plays, along with Moliere’s and Shakespeare’s comedies. Listen to stand-up comedians and generally walk away from the dark thoughts that send me down the nihilist pipe and death-spin. It’s not for everyone, but it’s my only recourse. I know I have a dark pessimistic side to my mind that tends to reinforce itself with the political and social malfeasance I see around me, but dwelling on it too long can send you into a state of becoming which can act like a strange attractor pulling you toward an abyss and sink hole. It’s not good to go there.
I’ve often thought life is a constant war against gravitas – the inertia and entropic effect of gravity on our planet. We struggle against it daily in our cycles of sleep and waking, we feel its power against us as we rise in the morning, the aches and kinks in muscle and bone (especially at age 65!) begin to repeat there impossible gestures to which we exercise, stretch, walk, etc. Yet, it’s a cycle that daily gets more difficult to bare and confront. I imagine some people weigh the options and decide its just not worth it anymore. The other side is not just the physical pain of gravity’s well, but the social and political wells of gravity around us that seem to accumulate such dark and disturbing, hate ridden abysses. The struggle against these powers in high places is a life-long task, and one that as well takes its toll.
I even return to old Emerson at times. I just wish I could always follow such advice:
I find the gayest castles in the air that were ever piled, far better for comfort and for use, than the dungeons in the air that are daily dug and caverned out by grumbling, discontented people. I know those miserable fellows, and I hate them, who see a black star always riding through the light and colored clouds in the sky overhead: waves of light pass over and hide it for a moment, but the black star keeps fast in the zenith. But power dwells with cheerfulness; hope puts us in a working mood, whilst despair is no muse, and untunes the active powers. A man should make life and Nature happier to us, or he had better never been born.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Conduct of Life