The End of Labour: Employment and the Automatic Society

[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…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 6858-6859). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Norbert Wiener, quoted by Friedmann in Où va le travail humain?, p. 14, originally from Wiener, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1961), pp. 27–8.

The Organological Approach: Milieus and the Pharmacological Critique

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.

More tomorrow…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 5370-5379). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

But here


The Machinic Unconscious: Enslavement and Automation

[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?

More tomorrow…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 5154-5160). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Slavoj Zizek. The Parallax View (Kindle Locations 58-62). Kindle Edition.
  3. Thomas Pynchon. The crying of lot 49 (Kindle Locations 563-569). HarperCollins.

The Epoch of Care: Transindividuation and Technical Individuals

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]

Epoch of Care

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.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 3991-3994). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Mechanology and the Global Nightmare

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.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 3299-3301). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

The Telecratic Imperative: Mafia Capitalism and Illiteracy

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.

Very true.

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.

More tomorrow…

  1. Kosinski, Jerzy. Passing By: Selected Essays, 1962-1991 (Kosinski, Jerzy) (pp. 7-8). Grove/Atlantic, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
  2. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 2964-2969). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Artificial Crowd

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…

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1463-1469). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Artificial Human: Digital Life in a Mindless Habitat

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…

  1. Tinnell, John. Grammatization: Bernard Stiegler’s Theory of Writing and Technology. Article in Computers and Composition · September 2015.
  2. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 3). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1187-1192). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


The Smart World a Prison of Comfort

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.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 755-759). Wiley. Kindle Edition.


The Epoch of the Neganthropocene: Exiting the Toxic Wastelands of Modernity

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.

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 668-673). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Intelligence of Capital?

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)

Bernard Stiegler: Automatic Society

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….

stay tuned!

  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 485-490). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  2. Otium, Wikipedia.
  3. Giroux, Henry  A.. Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (p. 6). Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.

The Mortal Machine: Security Regimes and the Symbolic Order

What is a body, and why should there be a line drawn (a distinction made?) between mind and body? More to the point is dualism a tendency intrinsic to the thing we are or not? We’ve seen philosophers come to the conclusion that we do not exist, that this thing we are was a combination of cultural and social praxis, a project if you will. That with the birth of every new child a process begins that as Deleuze and Guattari would describe begins with the family, moves on to the academy ( education, etc.), then is absorbed in the wider frame of culture at large. Others in our time see that these Symbolic Orders are artificial and circumscribed within certain well defined limits, and that over time a society will construct defense mechanisms to disallow new cultures from breaching the barriers of its symbolic terrain.

Each culture is bound to its symbolic framework and references and will literally go to war to protect its systems of meaning. In Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari would show the inner workings of Western culture and civilization, its tendencies and defense systems. They would demarcate the distinctions that had produced the limit concepts and symbolic codes that have tied our mental and physical duality into a knot of protective security regimes that have guided and shaped this culture and its inhabitants for millennia. They were a beginning not an end, they began a process of disturbing the internal systems that hold the symbolic core of this system together and began to dismantle (or deconstruct) its codes from within. Others would carry on this process, both friends and enemies.

We’ve seen this sordid history within the rise of post-modern and post-humanist thought in both the sciences and humanities. We’ve seen the refusal of the human, a concept that has been central to the Western project for two millennia. Along with that was the illusive quest to dismantle the concept of identity, and destroy the individuation of the Subject. A process that came to a head during the critical phase of the late Enlightenment era we now term the Romantic revolt of Idealisms from Kant to Hegel and beyond. One might term this the “Subject’s Last Stand” of which the current shaper of this tradition is the dualistic materialist Slavoj Zizek in his strain of dialectical materialism. We’ve seen this play out within the divide over transcendence and immanence along with various variants in-between based on a battle between reductionist and irreductionist thought and action. I’ve spent years reading and wandering within both camps seeking from within to understand the defining characteristics that shape both stances and their defense systems. Mortals trapped within their systems are machines caught in the nexus of their own productions never seeing anything but their own gaze returning to them in echoes of bastardized thought. One must be strong to enter the abyss Nietzsche once told us, and even he was prone to other illusions. We all are, even I.

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The Terror of Being Human: Technicity and the Inhuman

For Bernard Stiegler the philosopher has from the beginning been a self-divided being at odds with himself and his time, a creature of crime and havoc, remedy and poison. The Sophist would stake her claim in the black holes of linguistic turpitude, relishing the intricacies of illusion as the art of life. The Sophist was an admirer of what we now term the social construction of reality, a magician of language constructing the fictions by which society blesses and curses itself. While the philosopher or ‘lover of wisdom’ – or as Aristotle was want to say, philia: the lover of togetherness otherwise known as politics, the bringing together the brotherly love of the other in communicity, or a gathering of solitudes. In Stiegler the truth is that the philosopher sought to hide himself from himself, to repress the truth of his lack and inhumanity. The truth that culture is a machine, a power, a technics that humans do not so much construct as are constructed. This dialectical reversal, the oscillating between interior / exterior was hidden rather than revealed. As Stiegler puts it:

“I do not consider myself as a “philosopher of technics”, but rather as a philosopher who tries to contribute, along with some others, to establishing that the philosophical question is, and is throughout, the endurance of a condition which I call techno-logical: at the same time technics and logic, from the beginning forged on the cross which language and the tool form, that is, which allow the human its exteriorization. In my work I try to show that, since its origin, philosophy has endured this technological condition, but as repression and denial and that is the entire difficulty of my undertaking—to show that philosophy begins with the repression of its proper question.”1

But then again what is philosophy’s proper (distinct/intrinsic) question? As Freud taught us and Lacan embellished repression is a defense system, a mechanism to hide from ourselves the terror of our own condition as (in)humans. A large part of Stiegler’s published work is dedicated to exploring how the ‘technological condition’, as he puts it above, is repressed in the work of philosophers such as Rousseau, Kant, Husserl and Heidegger.

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Bernard Stiegler: Eris and Technics

Technics, art, facticity can harbor madness: the prosthesis is a danger, that of artifacts, and artifacts can destroy what gathers within an effective and active being-together. Being-together is constantly threatened by its own activity. Animals are in essence not in danger, unless with mortals: if they perish individually, their species do not destroy themselves. Mortals, because they are prosthetic in their very being, are self-destructive.

 —Bernard Stiegler

This is actually a commentary on both Hesiod and Protagoras’s appropriation of the Epimetheus and Prometheus myth in which through forgetfulness and an addition (technics) humans were the creatures who were an afterthought, a forgotten species. One that had to be compensated for its nakedness and its lack of power within itself, so that it was given the gift of art (technics and artifice) to which it has been a slave ever since. Humans (mortals in the Greek conceptions) were the exception not by design but rather through the dark instigation of a tale told by an idiot (Epimetheus) and a thief (Prometheus) so that the human is the fruit of a dark and terrible truth. Mythology is but the mirror of  Reason in its stage of fear and trepidation, the causal links attributed to the gods (Concepts) to speak of that which had no meaning in itself. Humans in their terrible plight invented themselves out of this lack, externalized their apprehensions, their foibles, their darkness in the light of warring gods. In the secular age we would reduce the gods to concepts depleted of their personalities, paraded as linguistic attributes and properties of the mind’s own dark house of Reason and Affect. What has this given us? Only this: instead of the gods warring with each other on Mount Olympus, we’ve seen these very dark progenitors descend into the streets, nations, worlds of us mortals and take up residence as Eris: the love of war and competition. We call this new estate, global capitalism.

In Hesiod’s Works and Days 11–24, two different goddesses named Eris are distinguished:

So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature. For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: her no man loves; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honor due.

But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night (Nyx), and the son of Cronus who sits above and dwells in the aether, set her in the roots of the earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbor, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbor vies with his neighbor as he hurries after wealth. This Strife is wholesome for men. And potter is angry with potter, and craftsman with craftsman and beggar is jealous of beggar, and minstrel of minstrel.

Nietzsche would turn this into his well known notions of nihilism: passive and active. The philosophers haven’t truly improved on the myths, all they’ve done is reduce the gods to conceptual and abstract machines. War and competition replace the two goddesses, but the truth of both myth and secular adaptation remains in the nuances. The passive nihilist will through bitterness and cowardice make war on his own kind, take from him that which is not his to take, live in the shadows of that darkening hive of thievery and cunning. The active nihilist is a producer, a creature who is at once a riddle and a solution, one who forgets himself even as he works while building that which is itself an artifact of technics in him. Man is the power of technics as parasite freeing itself of the very being that is its host. In our age we are becoming obsolesced even as we invent our successors: our technological children who have always been closer to us than we imagine, and distant and away as the gifts of gods we term concepts. Technological being is the concrete manifestation of a god on earth, a concept literally become machinic, a Third Order of Being. Artifacts of ingenuity and craft, the prosthetic gods will rule the earth as technics last instance.

As Stiegler describes the mythos of the Greeks:

Promêtheia is the anticipation of the future, that is, of clanger, foresight, prudence, and an essential disquiet: somebody who is promethes is someone who is worried in advance. Epimêtheia equally means prudence, being-sensible, a sort of wisdom, whereas Epimetheus himself is “the one who is not particularly sensible,” the forgetful one, the bemused, the idiot, the unthinking one: this ambiguity forms the hollow of the gap [le creux de l’écart] in which thought alone can take place; and it comes to mind after the event, in delay, because preceded by a past that could never be anything but a failure and an act of forgetting. Prometheus and Epimetheus, inseparable, form together the reflection particular to mortals that partake of the divine lot: it is a reflection qua ecstasis, “in” time, that is, in mortality, which is anticipation and différance; it is reflection as time and time as reflection: in advance from the Promethean side as well as in delay from the side of Epimetheus—never at peace, which is the exclusive privilege of immortal beings. (Technics and Time, vol. 1, p. 217)


At the end of an essay on Beckett, ‘Beckett with Lacan’ by Slavoj Žižek, Zizek relates an anecdote:

What hap­pens here is struc­tur­ally sim­il­ar to one of the most dis­turb­ing TV epis­odes of Alfred Hitch­cock Presents, “The Glass Eye” (the open­ing epis­ode of the third year). Jes­sica Tandy (again – the very act­ress who was the ori­gin­al Mouth!) plays here a lone woman who falls for a hand­some vent­ri­lo­quist, Max Col­lodi (a ref­er­ence to the author of Pinoc­chio); when she gath­ers the cour­age to approach him alone in his quar­ters, she declares her love for him and steps for­ward to embrace him, only to find that she is hold­ing in her hands a wooden dummy’s head; after she with­draws in hor­ror, the “dummy” stands up and pulls off its mask, and we see the face of a sad older dwarf who start to jump des­per­ately on the table, ask­ing the woman to go away… the vent­ri­lo­quist is in fact the dummy, while the hideous dummy is the actu­al vent­ri­lo­quist. Is this not the per­fect ren­der­ing of an “organ without bod­ies”? It is the detach­able “dead” organ, the par­tial object, which is effect­ively alive, and whose dead pup­pet the “real” per­son is: the “real” per­son is merely alive, a sur­viv­al machine, a “human anim­al,” while the appar­ently “dead” sup­ple­ment is the focus of excess­ive Life.

Strangely in that we discover a closeness to Stiegler’s notion of the supplement borrowed via Heidegger/Derrida of technics as the gift of the Epimetheia (forgetfulness) and Prometheia (thievery). That our technology, our artifices are more alive than we are, that we are mere dead things while technology has all along played us for fools, as mere supplements in their bid for autonomy. A last bid that is this excess of horror in discovering that we are the dead things in service to our technology. Above all that in our time the true horror is that we are being overtaken and replaced by this artificial other, this alterity, this alien power that was at the core of our own lack, or emptiness, our inhuman truth externalized at last in our successors.

The question is: How do we (who is doing the resisting?) resist what in truth we are (and, Who are ‘we‘?)? How choose when the truth is that we’ve immanently attached ourselves to a process that began in the very moment of attaining accidental consciousness? How in filling in the gaps and cracks of our being with the fantasias of art (technics) we’ve invented the movement of this process that will succeed us? Is there even a choice? Was the Promethean gift of fire (intellect) actually Pandora’s box of plagues after all? Have we not accrued the end game of this process as exemplum of those in-between creatures whose purpose was purposelessness itself, a mere parasitic relation to our inner inhuman core? And, like Beckett’s Old Hag we will utter affectively the logorrhea of unfounded verbiage till the end?


Bernard Stiegler: The Third Order of Beings

Today, machines are the tool bearers, and the human is no longer a technical individual; the human becomes either the machine’s servant or its assembler: the human’s relation to the technical object proves to have profoundly changed.

—Bernard Stiegler

Bernard Stiegler in the introduction to the first volume of his trilogy Technics and Time will speak of a Third Order of beings in between the physical and biological: the technical being:

“…a theory of technical evolution permits the hypothesis that between the inorganic beings of the physical sciences and the organized beings of biology, there does indeed exist a third genre of “being”: “inorganic organized beings,” or technical objects. These nonorganic organizations of matter have their own dynamic when compared with that of either physical or biological beings, a dynamic, moreover, that cannot be reduced to the “aggregate” or “product” of these beings.” (31)

He will speak of the “ruptures in temporalization (event-ization) that this evolution provokes, and by the processes of deterritorialization accompanying it.” (Page 32). Already here is a notion of accelerationism and speed at the heart of techics and technology. In fact he will suggest that “organized inorganic beings are originarily … of temporality as well as spatiality, in quest of a speed “older” than time and space, which are the derivative decompositions of speed.” (32).

A speed older than ‘time and space’… “Life is the conquest of mobility. As a “process of exteriorization,” technics is the pursuit of life by means other than life.” (Page 32).

The notion that time is constituted by technicity and not the other way round. “We shall see how Simondon, with his analysis of psychic and collective individuation, allows one to conceive through the concept of “transduction” an originarily techno-logical constitutivity of temporality—” (33).

It’s as if the underlying forces that constitute our universe of things is neither wholly physical nor biological but organized under this third form and constitutes time and mobility (speed), as well as seeks to develop its own originary being in the cosmos fusing both physcial and organic forms through these very processes of exteriorization and objectivation. Strange the worlds Stiegler constructs out of his confrontation with ancient and modern thought. It’s as if among us is an alien order of being that we have been for too long in denial, and the rise of the machinic civilization we see around us is this strange mixture and hybrid world of technical objects that are overtaking us as the supposed pinnacle of intelligence on earth. A life by other means than life… an intelligence at once totally other and uncannily familiar.

Epiphylogenesis: On Becoming Machine

Epiphylogenesis: Bernard Stiegler – Memory and Prosthesis

Once you realize the human body was a migration ploy, a stop gap in a long process of migration technics using memory technology in a process of self-exteriorization, then you realize that becoming artificial and technological (robotic or AI) was immanent to the strange thing we are. Becoming robot are merging with our technologies isn’t really that far fetched after all, and that what we’ve been doing so for thousands if not millions of years is evolving new prosthesis step by step by step. This is at least part of what Bernard Stiegler admits to in his thesis of originary technicity or his theory of lack and supplement (ala Derrida): the supplement of technics is our way of exploiting this lack within the human condition. The human is a placeholder in a process in-between, a transition. The body we take for granted as the foundation of our humanity was never an end point, a static object at the end of some teleological assembly line, but was rather a project and program in an ongoing experimental process that has no foreseeable goal or end point, no design or designer. It can change form. We are not bound to this form, only temporary denizens in transition.

As is well-known, Bernard Stiegler articulates three different forms of memory: genetic memory (which is programmed into our DNA); epigenetic memory (which we acquire during our lifetime and is stored in the central nervous system) and, finally, epiphylogenetic memory (which is embodied in technical systems or artefacts). For Stiegler, then, epiphylogenesis represents a quasi-Lamarckian theory of “artificial selection” where successive epigenetic experiences are stored, accumulated and transmitted from generation to generation in the form of technical objects. In this sense, as we will see in a moment, Stiegler argues that the birth of man represents an absolute break with biological life because it is the moment in the history of life where zoē begins to map itself epiphylogenetically onto technē: what we call the human is “a living being characterised in its forms of life by the non-living.”

In this scenario we’ve been exteriorizing ourselves all along through this tri-fold process of memory works; or, as he terms it: epiphylogenesis. For Stiegler, this account of the origin of man contains a crucial insight into the status of the human that will form the basis for his own philosophy: humanity is constituted by an originary lack of defining qualities— what he calls a “default” of origin [le défaut d’origine]— that must be supplemented from outside by technics. What Stiegler calls technics is in the Deleuze/Guattarian index the “machinic”. For Deleuze and Guattari, every machine is a machine connected to another machine. Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but is at the same time also a flow itself, or the production of a flow. What we term libido is the “labor” of desiring production. It is pure multiplicity, and for Deleuze and Guattari, it is anoedipal. The flow is non-personal, although investments by desiring machines produce subjectivity alongside its components. (Guattari, “Machinic Heterogenesis”)

Some accuse Stiegler of remaining within an anthropocentric horizon, saying that his thought risks re-anthropologising technics even in the very act of insisting upon the originary technicity of the human: what expropriates the anthropos once again becomes “proper” to it as its defining mode of being. If Stiegler would undoubtedly reject this line of critique— the moral of the story of Epimetheus is clearly that nothing is proper to the human— his enduring focus on hominisation as the unique moment when the living begins to articulate itself through the non-living means that his philosophy arguably still remains within what we might call the penumbra of human self-constitution. The supposedly self-identical human being is put into a relation only in order for the relation itself to be ontologised as an exclusively “human” one: we are the only being that relates.1

In many ways we need to do away with the term “human” which has so many associations that it has become a term indefinable going forward. We’ve tried using terms like “post-human” to obviate this fact, speaking of transitional states. And, yet, much of the discourse surrounding this still deals with the cultural matrix of humanity itself while leaving out the non-human others among us that many now know have recourse to externalization technics as well. The point is that humans are not part of an exception, we are part of the life of this planet. One among other possible life-forms and trajectories taking place in complex of ecologies simultaneously.

David Roden in his excellent book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human addresses just this telling us that what we need is a “theory of human– posthuman difference” (Roden: 105).2 As he surmises the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but emerges diachronically between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori – after the emergence of actual posthumans. The ethical implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. (Roden: 106) Catherine Hayles once argued in How We Became Posthuman that one of the key characteristics of the posthuman is that the body is treated as the “original prosthesis,” a prosthetic which contains the informatic pattern of posthuman subjects, but which is not integral to them.3 For Stiegler, this is only possible through a process of exteriorisation.  Our experience of being is therefore not merely a product of memory but is achieved through the processes of mnemotechnics: the ‘technical prostheses’ through which memory is recorded and transmitted across generations, and which is never limited to individual minds.  Without this sense of memory, Stiegler argues, the human would not be possible. The point here is that our bodies might be the last sacrosanct thing we will have to relinquish in this long road from animal to the post-human. For if Stiegler is correct it is our cultural memories and these technics of exteriorization that have for millennia become the project to which the human organic systems were moving, a process that has through the invention of computational machines and the rise of AI and Robotics only accelerated this process of self-exteriorization.

With this notion comes the transition from the terms of technics and machines to that of assemblages. As David Roden in his work will iterate:

The concept of assemblage was developed by the poststructuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1988). Its clearest expression, though, is in the work of the Deleuzean philosopher of science Manuel DeLanda. For DeLanda, an assemblage is an emergent but decomposable whole and belongs to the conceptual armory of the particularist “flat” ontology I will propose for SP in § 5.4. Assemblages are emergent wholes in that they exhibit powers and properties not attributable to their parts but which depend (or “supervene”) on those powers. Assemblages are also decomposable insofar as all the relations between their components are “external”: each part can be detached from the whole to exist independently (assemblages are thus opposed to “totalities” in an idealist or holist sense). This is the case even where the part is functionally necessary for the continuation of the whole (DeLanda 2006: 184; see § 6.5).(Roden: 111)

Is the future of the human-in-migration this becoming assemblage? As Roden continues biological humans are currently “obligatory” components of modern technical assemblages. Technical systems like air-carrier groups, cities or financial markets have powers that cannot be attributed to narrow humans but depend on them for their operation and maintenance much as an animal depends on the continued existence of its vital organs. Technological systems are thus intimately coupled with biology and have been over successive technological revolutions. (Roden: 111)

This sense that we are already so coupled with our exterior memory systems that what we’re seeing in our time is a veritable hyperacceleration and migration out of the organic and into the artificial systems we’ve been so eagerly immersed in. As futurist Luciano Floridi reminds us we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick.4

Most of us hang onto that last bastion of the human, our body. For many the whole notion that we are not bound to this organic husk that has been the natural evolutionary experiment of millions of years seems utter tripe, and yet what if we are about to migrate into a new platform, an assemblage of plasticity and formlessness? What if the whole notion that we are stuck in this dying ember of organicist nature is just a myth, a myth that is keeping us from breaking through the barrier of becoming posthuman? What if the chains that tie us to this dead world of organic being is our religious, philosophical, and political prejudices, our exceptionalisms, our anthropologicisms? What if merging with our software and platforms is not only feasible but the motion and very movement we’ve been performing through this process of self-exteriorization all along? What if this is our way forward? What then?

One day we will quaintly look back upon organic life and the human body with a fondness that is only a memory, while we become pluralistic denizens of a million prismatic forms yet to be shaped by technics into the vast assemblages of the unbound universe. The question to ask yourself is: Will you see this as a worthy task or as a horror? If the former then you are already in migration into the assemblage, if the latter then you have become a problem for yourself and every other living thing on this planet.

  1. Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 1749-1757). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 105). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  3. Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  4. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.


Ars Industrialis: Bernard Stiegler on Anamnesis and Hypomnesis

Discovered a site with a few online lectures and writings by Bernard Stiegler: Ars Industrialis… Only recently have I seen Stiegler’s name cropping up across the blogosphere. His focus on the intersection of power and technology and its implications for philosophy, along with the impact of control societies through such aspects as cognitive capitalism (Moulier Boutang) in such works as For a Critique of Political Economy are intriguing to say the least. I must admit that his early trilogy was a difficult and abstruse read, yet is was worth the effort even if I disagree with aspects of his project. Yet, some of his newer work dealing with memory and technology and the implications it has for the politics of global governance that seems to be arising within late capitalism should awaken us from our long sleep in false ideologies.  As knowlege economies seek control of us more and more using data mining and the externalization of memory technologies to broker its power relations, we need to develop better tools of critque as well as activist programs to confront such sleeper technologies in our midst.

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