Panda Bear Democracy

If we don’t see this, if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.

– Slavoj Zizek, Berlusconi in Tehran

Zizek asks: “Is there a link between Ahmadinejad and Berlusconi? Isn’t it preposterous even to compare Ahmadinejad with a democratically elected Western leader?” Sad as it is he comes to the pessimistic conclusion that the two leaders are part of the same “global process”. Even if Zizek intends a communist future, he is more pessimistic in that he envisions that we could take another path. He quotes Peter Sloterdijk who once remarked that “if there is one person to whom monuments will be built a hundred years from now it is Lee Kuan Yew, the Singaporean leader who thought up and put into practice a ‘capitalism with Asian values’.” Even China is modeling its future on the logic of Singaporean success. Like a viral meme that is infecting the socio-culture nets of our postmodern cities the “link between democracy and capitalism” has finally been severed. Like zombies in a second rate film we move fitfully and without purpose, consuming everything in out path knowing full well that we have given ourselves over the embedded mechanisms of control that have become so habitual and invisible that we no longer even know they were at one time the pure substance of propaganda. Governance has disappeared into our neuralnets like artifacts from the future controlling the very processes of productive thought.

Democracy is an empty shell he tells us. Capitalism no longer needs democracy to prop up its illusionary scaffolding. Democracy everywhere in the world has become an experimental laboratory where our future is being worked out. If our political choice is between “permissive-liberal technocratism and fundamentalist populism”, then the great choice of the future is a marriage of the two. Zizek reminds us that the “dignity of classical politics stems from its elevation above the play of particular interests in civil society: politics is ‘alienated’ from civil society, it presents itself as the ideal sphere of the citoyen in contrast to the conflict of selfish interests that characterise the bourgeois.” Now our neoliberal Leaders have effectively abolished this alienation: in today’s democracies, state power is directly exerted by the bourgeois, who openly exploits it as a means to protect their own economic interest, and who parades their personal lives as if they were taking part in a reality TV show. And, the funny thing is, that they truly are. One need only turn on the TV to any cable network and find it littered with Reality Shows more fantastic and fictional that reality itself.

Every night we watch the news our media moguls dish out to us an ever more preposterous series of repetitive time bombs that seem to repeat the same message: you need us, we will protect you, the world is a bad place, government can solve your problems, just continue buy more and more of our sponsors products, everything will turn out ok. In their fictional universe our Leaders are all clowns, but as Zizek remarks “we shouldn’t be fooled: behind the clownish mask there is a state power that functions with ruthless efficiency”. The ideological fictions we live in are more like bad cartoons. He explains it using a cartoon movie:

Kung Fu Panda, the 2008 cartoon hit, provides the basic co-ordinates for understanding the ideological situation I have been describing. The fat panda dreams of becoming a kung fu warrior. He is chosen by blind chance (beneath which lurks the hand of destiny, of course), to be the hero to save his city, and succeeds. But the film’s pseudo-Oriental spiritualism is constantly undermined by a cynical humour. The surprise is that this continuous making-fun-of-itself makes it no less spiritual: the film ultimately takes the butt of its endless jokes seriously. A well-known anecdote about Niels Bohr illustrates the same idea. Surprised at seeing a horseshoe above the door of Bohr’s country house, a visiting scientist said he didn’t believe that horseshoes kept evil spirits out of the house, to which Bohr answered: ‘Neither do I; I have it there because I was told that it works just as well if one doesn’t believe in it!’ This is how ideology functions today: nobody takes democracy or justice seriously, we are all aware that they are corrupt, but we practise them anyway because we assume they work even if we don’t believe in them. Berlusconi is our own Kung Fu Panda. As the Marx Brothers might have put it, ‘this man may look like a corrupt idiot and act like a corrupt idiot, but don’t let that deceive you – he is a corrupt idiot.’

Zizek warns us that the future coming at us is one where the ‘state of emergency’ is permanent. Agamben’s notion of homo sacer – the figure excluded from the civil order, who can be killed with impunity – is being realized everywhere and without impunity. Freedom is another word for slavery. In search of security we have allowed ourselves to be put into chains. There is no exit door from this insanity. Barbarism with a human face. The kindness will kill you, literally.

Life in the Shadow of Protocol

Edmund over on Deterritorial Investigations has a excellent post on the work of Alexander Galloway’s Protocol, which in its complementarity feeds into many of my own thoughts of late. I read Galloway’s work a few years back… worth a good read… and Edmund has done it justice!

Deterritorial Investigations

server-farm-shot

I’ve been reading Alexander Galloway’s excellent Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, which explores what he terms the “protocological” apparatuses of control, or the invisible mechanisms of power that hide behind the horizontally organized distributed networks that define the workings of the post-Fordist information economy. The ‘protocol’ in his term is the combination of the internet’s Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP in shorthand, and the DNS. The TCP/IP model (also called the “DoD model because of its initial development by DARPA) is by virtue of its architecture borderline anarchic; TCP and IP “work together to establish connections and move data packets effectively through those connections… any computer on the network can talk to any other computer, resulting in a nonhierarchical, peer-to-peer relationship.”1 The DNS, by contrast, is fundamentally hierarchical: while it exists as a “decentralized database,” its “maps network addresses to network names,” or the binding of…

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Cities Under Siege by Stephan Graham: Dystopian Thoughts on Control Society

In some of his work, Guattari argued that digital technologies were constructing human-machine assemblages that would enable entirely new and different forms of subjectivity to emerge.

– Savat, David,  Uncoding the Digital:
Technology, Subjectivity and Action in the Control Society

In the coming machinic society our post-human assemblages will huddle in hive like worlds protected by a technosphere of total surveillance. In this world all travellers to any destination will be screened against no-fly lists and intercept target lists. Together with biometric visas, this will help keep trouble bound to the outer limits of the new no-man’s land of non-civilization. “The massive global proliferation of deeply technophiliac state surveillance projects like the e-Border programme signals the startling militarization of civil society – the extension of military ideas of tracking, identification and targeting into the quotidian spaces and circulations of everyday life.”1 This is the landscape of postmodern civilization, the new era of total security, governance, and control.

The data conclaves of the future will house the micro-analysis of threat whether in the homeland or on the frontiers of global edge culture. The technodreams of the global elite reinforced by the industrial war machines integrated into the circuits of our internal lives are producing a total surveillance society. Our military analysts Stephan Graham tells us look forward to a day “a whole suite of surveillance and tracking systems emerge on the back of high-tech modes of consumption, communication and transportation to permeate every aspect of life in Western cities.”(ibid)

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Welcome to the paradise of tears…

Let us take a limited example, and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games.

– Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Nomadology: The War Machine

We seem to be caught in the vice between fascism and terror, like members of a forgotten tribe, forlorn and destitute we live in our wall-less cities like refuges from an asylum for abandoned hope. Our academy has become the streets of war torn cities, the twisted wastelands of shanty towns, the boneyards of former shipping lanes where the pirates of a new age filter through the debris of metal giants, leftovers from the future where our hopes and dreams blasted by the fluid war machines of a terrible peace were finally captured in this infernal Cage of Time.

The Dark Lords of this enterprise were not some mythical apparitions of our imaginal minds, but the mathematical algorithms of an insidious thought, a philosophy based on axioms of desire turned against us; the drives of life formulated by a twisted and fractured, fragile species seeking its own path to paradise. We discovered in the mythologies, epics, dramas, and games of our ancestors the true path to oblivion. The age old tools of peace and prosperity turned against us at last brought us to this place of misery and total destitution. We now live in the hell we sought to escape, no longer a mythic dimension of some poetic tribal memory, the linguistic musings of a Dante or Milton, we emerged from the cesspool of a glutinous poetry into this triumphal cave of idiocy and apathetic ineptitude. Children of Time we have conquered its last domains and found in the silences of its last circles the resting place of our kind, the eternity of a pure repetition, a prison house for our most secret desires.

Striated within the temples of a vast State we’ve learned the harsh lessons of tyranny at last. We’ve all succumbed to the Great Lie, to the interior paramour of a forbidden truth, the siren song of a great defeat: we allowed the knowledge of escape to entrap us in this eternal chamber of security and peace. Trapped in this hermetically sealed universe of hate and despair we’ve all attuned ourselves to the music of the dark precursor, to his terrible deeds and failures, to the memories scattered across the blades of time like so many leaves crumbling into the winter of our dying sun.

Having stripped ourselves of the last vestiges of our humanity we’ve entered the machinic realms like undulating serpents, modulated by the law of our kind, controlled by the mechanisms of an internal necessity. No longer free to choose our way, we’ve finally entrusted ourselves to the supreme entropy of endless bifurcation. Moving from splice to splice we divide ourselves into immaterial code, channeled by the indifferent gaze of the demiurgic void that is less than nothing. Nothingness itself has come home to roost, to deliver its final coup d’état.

Graced by the miracle of life we’ve invented a temple to death. The citizens of a new earth we’ve built our iron paradise in the ashes of a blasted humanity. Frightened by our own power we’ve entered these cages of steel like butterflies swarming in their death throes, hoping beyond hope to find the broken vessels of light, knowing that only our own darkness survives. The light was scattered into the black holes of a lost age long ago. Now we silently sit here in the pandemonium of our insipid thoughts unable to move forward or backward, caught in the frozen gaze of our fated Keepers. With no way out we have finally accepted the bitter truth: we alone caused this, we alone are responsible, we alone deserve this demonic paradise. There is no judgment day, there is only the judgment we’ve passed upon our own children, knowing that it is they who will inherit our terrible dreams…

Welcome to the paradise of tears…

Societies of Control: Deleuze and Foucault

It is true that capitalism has retained as a constant the extreme poverty of three quarters of humanity, to poor for debt, too numerous for confinement: control will not only have to deal with erosions of frontiers but with the explosions within shanty towns and ghettos.

– Gilles Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control

Someday there will be a history written of the impact of Michel Foucault on the work of Gilles Deleuze. One can browse just a smattering of essays Deleuze wrote from the early seventies to the early nineties in which he develops threads and productive moments that he first read in the works of Foucault. As in his praise of Foucault’s commentary on Raymond Roussel, the relatively unknown artist: “…recently Michel Foucault has published a commentary of great poetic and philosophical power on the work of Roussel, and finds the keys to this work in an entirely different direction from what the Surrealists had indicated.” (72)1

Yet, it is not about this close reading of Foucault’s works by Deleuze that I want to write today, instead it is about the shift from certain elements of Foucault’s methodical uncovering of the societies of discipline and how those have in our time transmuted into societies of control. Deleuze in his Postscript on the Societies of Control reminds us that Foucault’s histories of these disciplinary societies from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reached their pinnacle in the twentieth. Yet, somewhere during the mid part of the twentieth century new forces made themselves known that began as a process of reform in schools, industries, hospitals, armed forces, and prisons that lead to these societies of control. Deleuze, a long time reader of William Burroughs, took the term “control” as best befitting this new “monster, one Foucault recognizes as our immediate future.” Each of these new regimes discovered sites of confinement, environments for enclosure within which they could practice their experimental pressure of control.

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Hope and the Dystopic Impulse

At the crossroads of utopian, dystopian, and anti-utopian thought we find ourselves with choices that will lead us on a path toward hope or despair. The choices we make are bound to the types of political action or inaction we are committed too. In our time those committed to fighting against the utopian impulse, such as writers like Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man and Oliver Bennett’s Cultural Pessimism: Narratives of Decline in the Postmodern World see utopian thought as a panacea against the political, social, and environmental degradation in our times. Both maintain that the utopian impulse leads to an illusionary set of values and ideology that offer “unrealistic expectations of what the future may bring“.

“…it is the real which has become our true utopia—but a utopia that is no longer a          possibility, a utopia we can do no more than dream about, like a lost object.”

– Jean Baudrillard, Two Essays

On the other hand many cultural critics, as well as sf writers, have brought about a Renaissance in Utopian thought and ideology. Two recent works shed light on this revival, dark Horizons Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination, Utopian Method Vision The Use Value Of Social Dreaming. These “Social Dreams” as Lyman Tower Sargent states it help us understand the “dreams and nightmares that concern the ways in which groups of people arrange their lives.” At the heart of the utopian impulse is the hope of a better life. Yet, as we discover from the cautionary tales of dystopian writers, from the early work of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We to George Orwell’s novel 1984, on too such sf classics as Farenheit 451, The Telling, and the Gold Coast triptych we discover what Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan call the ‘critical dystopia’, which, as a didactic form, teaches us “that choices have consequences, in helping us to see why and how things are as they are, and, perhaps, in showing how we can act to change the conditions around us: not simply to do no harm but utterly to transorm reality in favor of all(p. 241 dary Horizons).”

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Michel Houellebecq: Islands of the Mind

Michael Houellebecq (1958 – )

Who, among you, deserves eternal life?

– Michel Houellebecq, The Possibility of an Island

We can imagine the last human sitting on the edge of the global desert, watching the sand pipers circle over the dunes of the Atlantic, his mind blank but observant waiting for the end when he too will take the final leap into eternal life. Michel Houllebecq a member of the post-Ballardian generation who wandered down the streets of pomoland where the fall of the Berlin Wall and the slipstream civilities of Western democracy fell before the trivialization of a post-historical farce gives us a fable of our transhumanist legacy. Like any neo-nihilist he learned the trade of a buffoon who could trick the neon cages, wander out of the loony bin and make us believe that madness was just another name for normalcy. He gave us a mirror into which we could no longer see ourselves, but instead the blank eyes of our own embittered and meaningless clones lives. Neither anti-natalist nor a melancholic or even full fledged anhedonian Houellebecq delivers us to the compositions of our own death-drives. This is the future as it is in the island of solitude, the land of no return our transhumanist prognosticators terminally call the affectless zone:

Undoubtedly there used to be a form of demotic happiness, connected to the functioning of the whole, which we are no longer able to understand; there was undoubtedly the pleasure of constituting a functional organism, one that was adequate, conceived with the purpose of accomplishing a discrete series of tasks—and these tasks, through repetition, constituted a discrete series of days. All that has disappeared, along with the series of tasks; we no longer really have any specific objective; the joys of humans remain unknowable to us, inversely, we cannot be torn apart by their sorrows. Our nights are no longer shaken by terror or by ecstasy. We live, however; we go through life, without joy and without mystery; time seems brief to us.1

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Dystopic Thoughts: 21st Century Neurototalitarianism

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

In my previous post I centered on the statement all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. And that we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure.

I also want to return to the previous quote:

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition. (ibid)

In the statement above I began to visualize a future where people were divided by genetic profiles and forced into dystopic conclaves of the stupid, the knowledgeable, and the players. This tripartite division came to me from Scott’s statement above about people through the power of science, and especially of neuroscience, being suborned into cognitive domains (“compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition”). One can imagine how our globalists and their corporate think-tanks would have a heyday with such ideas.

A dystopic society controlled through neuropathic or cognitive sciences as the basic premise. Obviously the horror of such a thing brokers our imaginations. But I think we have to assume such a possibility if we are to take seriously Scott’s and our investment in a society in which naturalism and science rule. If as he suggests in his original post that intentional thought is an illusion, and that thought itself may become a thing of the past, then what will replace it? Will we be controlled by neurosurgeons who divide the human species into workers that are more machine than human, devoid of emotion and thought they would become the perfect society of robots enabled to do all our work without thought or issue. Such a world of mindless beings, of zombies without the virus of cannibalism, who live to work, never complain, go about their lives with idiot smiles on their faces living to serve their masters.

While on the other hand you have the knowledge workers, those who have the ability to think (within limits), who can use thought (Math, language, etc.) as tools but no more. Manipulators of symbolic codes that no longer have the ability to feel, to love, to care only enabled to work the vast knowledge based systems of control for their masters.

And, the Masters, the elite of this society? What kind of power plays would be afforded to them? What kind of lives would they lead knowing that the majority of humans were enslaved within neuroprisons, free to move about and do their jobs and live out their lives oblivious to the truth of their slavedom. And what if these supposed Masters were conned into believing that they were truly free, that they were enabled to do whatever they liked but were in fact worse off that the suborned classes of stupids and knowledgers? What if these elite were neuropathically enabled with only a set of predefined emotional markers, enabled to love but only under controlled and manipulated forms, able to rule but only as the neurotoxins and neurosuregeries allowed for? What if these Masters were slaves as well to a system that their ancestors schemed up ages before and threw away the keys to such knowledge.

And, what if someone came upon this knowledge? What if someone accidently, as evolutionary thought has always supposed, became an enigma a new Eve or Adam and discovered that everyone else lived in a clockwork world thinking they were actually free and moral beings? What then? I can imagine this as a series of YA Dystopic Novels with all the antagonisms of young protaganists awakening from the long sleep within neuroprison. Reawakening all the old revolutionary ideologies etc. A tattered set of ideas, all, I agree… but what happens if Bakker is right… and such a neurotechnical society came about through the erroneous use of science without philosophy, ethics, etc. What then?

1. R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

YA Dystopian Novels: Strange Tales of Youth

Of late I’ve entered the ranks of those who enjoy the YA Dystopian Novel. They offer strange new worlds for our dystopic reflections on love, politics, philosophy, society, media, etc. It seems that such fiction, written for teenagers, is becoming a wide-spread social phenomena and drifting into the academic world as well. Several years ago I began noticing works by writers such a Cory Doctorow whose fictions typify some of the best philosophical interplay of social criticism and dystopic reflection in the troposphere. His current novel, Homeland, features the ‘war of terror’ as permanent emergency:

A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that the emergency had become permanent. Declaring war on an abstract noun like “terror” meant that we would forever be on a war footing, where any dissent was characterized as treason, where justice was rough and unaccountable, where the relationship of the state to its citizens would grow ever more militarized.

Dystopia has become one of the most popular teenage genres. This sudden rise in YA Dystopian literature has gained as much criticism as praise. Reactionary conservatives within the neo-liberal world seen in these decadent fictions of dystopic mayhem a form of post-modern relativism and nihilism. While radical critics see the emancipatory visions of a post-capitalist vision of theory and praxis working its self out in the young minds of those who will inherit the wastelands of neoliberalist collapse. Young adults are the future leaders of the world and books that are written for them always have a specific purpose. YA Dystopian literature’s purpose is to teach teenagers about the real world by using young protagonists. These books are very didactic; their message depends on the real world truth that the author wants to teach. Because of this dependence on the author’s purpose, this genre changes a lot to keep up with the times. Yet, for all their didacticism what we discover in them is not a message to be learned so much as the possibility of a new mode of life, one beyond our present neo-liberal world of nightmare visions and re-visioning of collapse, waste, and dispersement into voidic voids economic slavery by a corporate socialism turned fascist. In these youthful expenditures of excess we learn how to transgress the frozen modes of this neo-liberal delusion and begin formulating other desires, other adjacent modes of life, a ‘vertigo of immanence’ that can at last give us hope of real change

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The e(U)topian impulse

At the crossroads of utopian, dystopian, and anti-utopian thought we find ourselves with choices that will lead us on a path toward hope or despair. The choices we make are bound to the types of political action or inaction we are committed too. In our time those committed to fighting against the utopian impulse, such as writers like Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man and Oliver Bennett’s Cultural Pessimism: Narratives of Decline in the Postmodern World see utopian thought as a panacea against the political, social, and environmental degradation in our times. Both maintain that the utopian impulse leads to an illusionary set of values and ideology that offer “unrealistic expectations of what the future may bring“.

On the other hand many cultural critics, as well as sf writers, have brought about a Renaissance in Utopian thought and ideology. Two recent works shed light on this revival, dark Horizons Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination,Utopian Method Vision The Use Value Of Social Dreaming. These “Social Dreams” as Lyman Tower Sargent states it help us understand the “dreams and nightmares that concern the ways in which groups of people arrange their lives.” At the heart of the utopian impulse is the hope of a better life. Yet, as we discover from the cautionary tales of dystopian writers, from the early work of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We to George Orwell’s novel 1984, on too such sf classics as Farenheit 451, The Telling, and the Gold Coast triptych we discover what Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan call the ‘critical dystopia’, which, as a didactic form, teaches us “that choices have consequences, in helping us to see why and how things are as they are, and, perhaps, in showing how we can act to change the conditions around us: not simply to do no harm but utterly to transorm reality in favor of all(p. 241 dary Horizons).”

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