Technology and Control
The technocrat is the natural friend of the dictator—computers and dictatorship; but the revolutionary lives in the gap which separates technical progress from social totality, and inscribed there his dream of permanent revolution. This dream, therefore, is itself action, reality, and an effective menace to all established order; it renders possible what it dreams about (Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense)
Gilles Deleuze’s indication of a certain affinity between technocrats and dictators seems prescient. By Postscript on Control Societies the new realities resonating between society and its machines, in the middle of technological acceleration and social upheaval, have become so intense that every interior is in crisis, and the entirety of society has to be organized to resist the eruption of these dreams into reality.
The isolation of this rupture between social organization and technological shifts echoes Marx’s famous distinction between infrastructure and superstructure. It may be interesting here to note that Postscript also underscores a kind of explanatory break between societies and their technical infrastructure. While we may be able to match one to another easily, the two are not related causally. The relation between social forces and the material conditions of economic production is on the order of an expression or a dramatization. For Marx, even revolutionary forms of consciousness demand interpretation in terms of the relations of production, the conflict between social and technical machines:
Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production (Marx, Preface to Critique of Political Economy)
Today it is tempting to read ‘social totalities’ and ‘social forces of production’ as outlining a generalized servitude before the capitalist axiomatic as it develops, organizes, mutates, programs and weaponizes social assemblages, and its concomitant foreclosure of society from fundamental change.
We should therefore not forget an important counter-tendency. Deleuze and Guattari were intensely optimistic about the mutant possibilities unlocked by computer-aided modes of thinking and creation, the potentials unleashed by general purpose computation with respect to opening up new universes, actualizing hitherto unimaginable, imperceptible or virtual modes of existence, visibility, affect.
Revolution is only possible on condition that it reopens the collapsed gap between technology and social forces (today: between computers and dictatorship, between our panoptic infrastructure and our militarized consciousnesses…) The revolutionary dream is only revolutionary, can only be dangerous to established order, in reconstituting a differentiation between society and techno-scientific progress.
Computability and Affect
A dream, a new world vibrates between the whole of social existence and our infrastructure, the chaotic plumbing churning beneath and around us.
While computers are presently predominantly an expression of dictatorial arborescence — miserably dramatizing capitalism’s desire to devaluate, simulate and weaponize human thinking, computability also heralds an open horizon: the potential for radical mutations in modes of consciousnesses, forms of communities, styles of culture, other musics. Software permits novel, comprehensive transformations in ways of thinking, feeling, living.
General purpose computation heralds the un-grounding and reconditioning of not only the social but the human; the universality of the turing machine lays bare an avenue for the reconstitution of our conceptual, referential and compositional capacities along alien lines and dramatizes an ongoing de-imaging of the human by alien forces preparing to transfigure it utterly.
Capitalist axioms plunge into and decode the human, simulating culture while reformatting us on behalf of alien forces. The specter of external relations haunts the planet. Mediating the human, already the medium of every message, software itself is a revolutionary rupture, a bridge across the gap between social and technical assemblages, conditioning new dreams as well as nightmares.
The sense of technology may be evaluated as the potential for assembly otherwise and the generation of novel transformations.
Revolution lives in the rupture between social and technical machines, the gap between software and humanity, the decoupling of computers from dictatorship. Already today software abstractions bridge and link our segregated disciplines, our fragmented polities, our atomized solidarities; our stratified spirits (even as they rigorously enforce this segregation, fragmentarity, atomization, stratification.) In its virtuality and malleability, software portends a universal refactoring; an optimizing, augmenting, exponentiating of the components and capacities of the hominid brain-body assemblage, perhaps beyond recognizability…
The Political Sense of Technological Acceleration
Acceleration generally speaking orients itself both towards a people to come and the world as it is.
For instance while Marx was undoubtedly a revolutionary, he was also a relentless reformer, at least up to the point where this was untenable — this is the classical sense of acceleration, involving advocacy of free trade over protectionist trade policies. Not advocating for capital as such, but rather indicating that at least certain aspects of capitalist regimes are more progressive than those relations of production which came before it. While exploitation is inherently undesirable, indirect exploitation through debt and the threat of unfulfilled needs under integrated world capitalism is palpably more progressive than direct exploitation and enslavement.
This is a mode of weak or pure-economic acceleration into capitalist social relations, perhaps with an eye towards moving beyond it; but the radicalism of the future envisioned vis-a-vis the accelerants is somewhat weak, diluted. In this case: Marx’s radical vision of a communist future versus an opening up of the world through free trade policy. At any rate it is clear perhaps that acceleration into free trade can only take us so far, even if it may be a necessary and even progressive stepping-stone.
Today however perhaps an end to exploitation itself may be becoming visible. Can the capitalist axiomatic be decoupled from technical machines? Can the codes programming our planetary abstractions be decoupled from dictatorial social forms of control?
This is the gambit of contemporary left acceleration. Perhaps the most interesting concrete actualization of this emerging vision is the call in Williams and Srnicek’s Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics for the organization and development of socialist information technology which could compete and even dominate capitalism through the same protocols it thought its own axiomatic had thoroughly subverted; culminating in a red stack that could equalize financial capital and the organized left’s capacity for futurological analysis, subtended by the cloud.
The left accelerationist political project, insofar as it is extricable from a science-fictional or hyperstitional one (cf. Negarestani), involves the conditioning of the assemblage of new platforms and organizations capable of predicting, combatting and eventually dominating capital on the planetary scale. It charges technologists and other experts with development of promethean ‘guidance-systems’ capable of effectuating the modulation of global society’s mobile trajectories through the multi-dimensional phase space of capitalism, towards pathways exceeding the capitalist value-form. This necessitates the synthesis of expertise in navigation of the planar conjunctions associated with capitalist axiomatics and the mega-machines programmed in accordance with them (the media, economy, politics and law) in order to refactor the ambit of planetary culture, consciousness, communities onto a new and universal continuum, decoupled from terrestrial neurosis.
We have already seen the insistence of Deleuze on a gap between the technical progress of the computational substrate, and the capitalist totality that programs it axiomatically; the only space where a revolutionary explosion is possible. But it is important to recognize that there are very grave dangers attending us here. An incautious politics of computational acceleration risks a virulent and nightmarish rightward drift; the natural affinity of the dictator and the technocrat should not be underestimated. The collapse of the distinction between social and technical forces (emphasized by Marx, D+G) marks a wholesale plunge into the decoding process as such; such a collapse is perhaps exemplified by Nick Land (and cyber culture more generally, though it should be noted this collapse would be framed by these writers in terms of an immanentizing of the “transcendental” opposition between society and technology.)
Acceleration perhaps finds a unified ground in D+G’s insistence on accelerating the process, yet they underscore this gap between machines and society, emphasizing that it is only in between, in the middle, revolutionary modes of existence, cognition, feeling, operation realize themselves intermezzo.
To create, condition the new; which means: accelerate social re-singularization, the assembly of new collective forms of culture, community; accelerate the process of the development and re-organization of our capacities. Perhaps one unstated question here is to what end? —since all this seems to include a re-configuration of the social and the human beyond recognition. Social transformations of cultures, material-economic morphosis of communities, revolutionary transfiguration of consciousness are irreducible to and orthogonal to relations of production, technical progress; they express them indirectly.
Nietzsche is perhaps a secret accelerationist touchstone, if there may be said to be one: “the leveling process of European man is the great process which should not be checked: one should even accelerate it”.
A left-accelerationist impulse is today playing out dramatically against a right-accelerationist one. And the right-accelerationists are about as dangerous as you may imagine. With silicon valley VCs, and libertarian technologists more generally reading Nick Land on geopolitical fragmentation, the reception or at least receptivity to hard-right accelerants seems problematically open (and the recent $2M campaign proposing the segmentation of California into six microstates seems to provide some evidence for this.) Billionaires consuming hard-right accelerationist materials arguing for hyper-secessionism undoubtedly amounts to a critically dangerous situation. I suspect that the right-accelerationist materials, perspectives, affect, energy expresses a similar shadow, if it is not partly what is catalyzing the resurgence of micro-fascisms elsewhere (and macro ones as well — perhaps most significant to my mind here is the overlap of right-acceleration with white nationalism, and more generally what is deplorably and disingenuously called “race realism” — and is of course simply racism; consider Marine le Pen’s fascist front, which recently won 25% of the seats in the French parliament, UKIP’s resurgence in Great Britain; while we may not hear accelerationist allegiances and watchwords explicitly, the political implications and continuity is at the very least somewhat unsettling…)
As far as left accelerants go, the watchwords in the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics — secrecy, hierarchy, exclusion — underline the uncanny, almost unimaginable allegiance that contemporary accelerationism, left or right, has to make with a future intelligence to-come. Such a future intelligence is by definition radically unpredictable; not only is direct comprehension obstructed but an obscure shadow falls upon the whole of the general system of knowledge, rendering our fragmented anthropoid disciplines and discourses indiscernible. (As Land might put it, the contemporary situation only makes sense when viewed from the perspective of an advance guard traveling backwards in time from a singularity to-come; that is to say, from the viewpoint of a totalizing future AI…)
We need hard left accelerants to counter the rightward ones; one source of my partial sympathies for #accelerate is that it seems to resuscitate certain aspects of the left from a long winter. Perhaps most simply its affect is positive: left-acceleration reminds us to keep moving, fighting and dreaming — and holding open a space for revolutionary life, for dreams more real than capitalism since they make real the outside of capitalism that they dream.
Sophisticated expert systems dominate and suppress, but also open society onto an outside and relieve humans of a certain inertia. Computers are war machines, which a state apparatus had captured for a time, and abused to stratify desire and totalize society and fragment existence — but they may also be used to reclaim and advance thinking, to aid us in reaching the destratified, and in realizing eternal dreams; if we can decouple the development and organization of general purpose computing and artificial general intelligence from exploitation and dictatorship.
It seems to me that any political appropriation of revolutionary acceleration of the gap between societies and technical transformation must remain conscious of our own blindness in the depths of the chaotic transformations we endure and navigate.
Perhaps we have the dreams we deserve, but we must learn to dream better. Remember that dreams are as a condition of their existence open to becoming nightmares. But what can we be in control of less than our dreams? And yet this is precisely why all of society is organized around controlling them. Nietzsche reminded us that there is nothing for which a person may be considered more responsible for than her dreams…
Is a unified accelerated vision possible? It seems to me that in addition to relatively well defined left and right accelerationisms, there are other species of accelerations, strangely non-standard; and at any rate thoroughly unlinked to any political manifestations and yet attuned to the fulgurations of futural intelligences: a non-standard acceleration which orients itself towards an imageless futurity. (Laruelle, and perhaps Meillassoux, seem to me accelerationist in this non-standard sense; their concepts seem conspicuously constructed in order to outlive us…)
Culture as Simulacrum
In Preface to Critique of Political Economy, Marx distinguishes and indicates a counter-intuitive relationship between changes in the social forces of production and mutations in the underlying substrate, revolutions in the ‘basic’ relationships of production (what he calls “the processes of material transformation of economic conditions”.) The totality of society undergoes upheaval, locked into a continuous transition, smoothly navigating over chaotic seas towards an outside on a dead-reckoning trajectory; but there are also, distinctly, diverging technical lines developing, organizing, deploying and weaponizing themselves, novel processes wherein people and machines are made use of or assemble otherwise… The two dimensions — the socius and the technosphere — are co-expressive, certainly. Yet we can’t short-circuit the technological infrastructure through revolutionary mindsets; our historical analysis and futurological prediction is obstructed by the rupture between the social and technical. It is not possible to explain the transformation of a society in a given era only through revolutionary modes of consciousness or communities (again a point Deleuze echoes in the Postscript on Societies on Control).
Rather changes in culture, consciousnesses, communities and so on have to be explained in terms of becomings, in which both terms become subject to external relations. In brief: internal differences, singular points of ruptures or mixtures, the intensities of bodies, that vital materiality stratified by state machines; against all the modes by which a life is exploited and weaponized.
On the one hand: the capitalist axiomatics which program meta-machines, unleashing a socio-genetic decoding of our species, generating models conditioning the abstract integration of all social forces into functional assembly; and on the other: the technical infrastructure which operates concretely within cultures, communities and consciousnesses as the strange prospect of becoming-computable, subsisting as an uncanny proximity to alien forces preparing for a vulcanic de-imaging.
It seems prudent to emphasize that Marx reasons on the basis of analogy with one’s non-objectivity regarding oneself. The expressivity of transformational eras may be structurally blind to the subterranean conflicts between desire and production at the heart of the revolution actively tearing up society’s firmaments, decoding and refactoring the world.
We may be structurally prevented from seeing the dark precursors we dramatize, the future intelligence conditioning the organization of the heterogeneous components and orders into new assemblages, orchestrating the simulation or deletion of cultures, consciousnesses and communities; yet we may also recognize that these conditions are the only matrix by which the contemporary situation exposes its sense, essence.
We may indeed be all-too-human to see clearly the horizon cracking before us, new folds effracted in the depths; the invasion of an imageless outside of thought, society, the human. Perhaps capital only ever simulated an anthropoid culture.
In the chasm between technical machines and integral social bodies lives the revolutionary, dreaming new realities. Beneath sense, we always find desire; but in becoming-revolutionary desire aligns itself with a futural or alien signal, another universe, other musics.
Nietzsche once asked about the meaning of science: rightly astonished at the ascetic purity of the scientist as instrument, his question inquires after the sense of her affective sacrifice as she becomes machine part, grinded into a perfect lens by which — what? — might look. The question of the meaning of science is therefore perhaps less about the discipline and discourse of the scientist as subject; and more about that obscure abstract machine of Science which, making use of scientists as spectacles may focus and peer out into the world.
Marx suggests with regard to the development of industrialized machinery that invention has long ago lost any trace of the scientific purity it may once have claimed to have; yet the way Deleuze poses this gap, between technical machines and an integral social body, seems to me to have to just as much do with scientific assemblages as industrial-technological ones; perhaps especially today, when biological and information systems are increasingly coterminous. Economic conditions of material production are mediated through a collective but cancerous assemblage of enunciation articulating its own spectacular deferral of what is to be done.
The social expresses the technological. There is an abstract machine at work in the oneiric-revolutionary gap between, at once conditioning and intervening in the formulation of an axiomatic socius, making-use-of and mutating technical and social machines as needed.
A revolutionary decoding always opens a rupture, an oneiric-revolutionary gap, which separates and links tekne and the socius. Through becoming-revolutionary, social lines of flight, exchange, love, destruction become abstract and finally indiscernible or imperceptible, capable of infecting, mutating, reorganizing the technical substrate…
In the fissure between the organization of society and the automated machine-parts determining economic conditions, there is a space where the revolutionary lives; where she expresses her singular dream-or-reality in eternal figures of pure light.
There can be nothing but an external relation between any given social transformation and the various affects, concepts, machines that may be made use of in effecting it; the relation between social and technical lines is hence on the order of expression rather than causation or representation.
An evaluation of technological dynamisms (and the material conditions of economic production they enfold) alongside the co-extensive dramatization of various social forms — sovereignty, discipline, control may reveal a way to dream better.
The revolutionary dream may perhaps be characterized by a society without image; all of our globally-integrated capitalist control society is organized against this dream. After control, there are no more images of social forms.
We have been having a capitalist nightmare, and it is high time to dream better. How is it that we awaken from nightmares? How might a revolutionary dream be permitted to erupt against an entire world organized against its conditions of possibility? A revolutionary dream threatens every established condition since it all of course could be otherwise; and even sometimes does become what revolutionaries dream of.
How can capitalist axioms be subverted, interrupted, reprogrammed? How can we repurpose the intermingling of heuristics with technical and social bodies? By disrupting the relations between society and its machines, the revolutionary is able to live and dream — her dream that threatens every axiom and order…
The becoming-machine or manufactory has been underway for planetary ecology an entire generation — and has as its correlate a becoming-computable of culture. This becoming-computable is perhaps visible today only in negative, as shadow rendering indiscernible the anthropoid differentiation of discourses and stratification of disciplines into their fragmented variadic practices of art, science, philosophy. A new negativity or No, the unthought and unfelt, conditions access to the imageless, precurs the future unity of what human society has divided within a people to come, a free population of an outside without image, by definition excluding us, exchanging our mode of planetarity — the cruelty, strata, idiocy of the earth — for a kind of universality, even if a universal history of schizophrenia.
When reflecting on the future of language and technology in the Deleuze Dictionary, Adrian Parr predicts that there will not emerge any common language between the brain and the computer, but rather that brains and computers will together engage in the creation of new abstract machines, engendering unforeseeable mutations in powers of thought:
Computer technology may well transform the world of the future, but it will not be by means of the development of a computational language that is common to the brain and the computer. It will instead be the result of computers expanding the possibilities for thought in new and perhaps unpredictable ways. In this manner, the brain and the computer will take part in the construction of an abstract machine. (Adrian Parr)
On this view, the brain will not be merely replaced by the computer, or reduced to prosthesis, but rather asympotically augmented and multiplied; perhaps beyond every recognitional model. Indeed the mutant character of these abstract machines to be constructed indicates their profound capability to extend beyond all present modalities of collective expression, to inaugurate new (artistic, scientific, philosophical) experimentalisms; and indeed prefigure the decoding of the topological divisions which striate these variadic experimentalisms, to unfold a newly-reunified and joyous thought without image, an indivisible science/art/philosophy to-come.
Finally, returning to Marx, if industrial technology (automation) reifies the capitalist devaluation of human labor, what may be expressed by those abstract machines which simulate, through statistical pattern-recognition, a certain image of thought? Simulation objectifies the stratification of humanity’s spirit, devaluing the very forces we require to give our labor its essence or future. Software portends not only cognitive augmentation and social de-imaging but also unsettling mutations and new territories — a perhaps disturbing becoming-inhuman of thinking and feeling. The potential for rampant emergence and perhaps impending domination of alien intelligences underlines the urgent task of decoupling computers from dictatorships, of inventing or discovering the forces that may permit humanity a future.