Anarchy (#3: Katechon and Apocalypse)


An occult war wages between the striving for the grand unification of all things and the insurgency that haunts its every Promethean feat. One side of this conflict takes as its ground universality, stability, linearity, and homeostasis its, while its opponent is an unground of swarming differentiation, unpredictability, non-linearity, and positive feedback. The former is the top-down view and the latter is bottom-up self-organization. The first is the One, the second a multitudinous Zero – the secondary process that thinks itself primary, and the primary process itself. Flat planes and the multi-scaled. The desire for perfect operativity and the forces that induce its downfall.

At the summit of modernity the nature of this occult war becomes profoundly cybernetic (which means that it always already as so). Tiqqun argued in “The Cybernetic Hypothesis” that the systems of domination and exploitation were evolving towards an unending managerialism based upon openness, ecological thinking, globalist progressivism, horizontalist ethos and cybernetic control – a clever camouflage for the Atlanteans. Tiqqun, at length:

Cybernetics is the police-like thinking of the Empire, entirely animated by an offensive concept of politics, both in an historical and metaphysical sense. It is now completing its integration of the techniques of individuation — or separation — and totalization that had been developing separately: normalization, “anatomo-politics,” and regulation, “bio-politics,” as Foucault calls it. I call his “techniques of separation” the police of qualities. And, following Lukács, I call his “techniques of totalization” the social production of society. With cybernetics, the production of singular subjectivities and the production of collective totalities work together like gears to replicate History in the form of a feigned movement of evolution. It acts out the fantasy of a Same that always manages to integrate the Other; as one cybernetician puts it, “all real integration is based on a prior differentiation.” In this regard, doubtless no one could put it better than the “automaton” Abraham Moles, cybernetics’ most zealous French ideologue, who here expresses this unparalleled murder impulse that drives cybernetics: “We envision that one global society, one State, could be managed in such a way that they could be protected against all the accidents of the future: such that eternity changes them into themselves. This is the ideal of a stable society, expressed by objectively controllable social mechanisms.Cybernetics is war against all that lives and all that is lasting.

While fundamentally correct in the tracing of the contours of particular managerial tendencies (one that aims to culminate in a democratic “social capitalism” which is indistinguishable from an eco-minded “third way socialism”), Tiqqun errs by throwing out the cybernetic baby with the bathwater, and in doing so misses the depths and scope of the war. It remains relegated to level where one on side is the humanist bourgeoisie and their cybernetic ‘toolbox’, and on the other is “Imaginary Party” that swells in the cracks and crevices of this system. Insofar as such a dichotomy can be upheld – which isn’t apparent at all – it is intrinsically problematized by the imperceptible matrix that roars beneath it and even gives rise to it.

No sooner than cybernetics had arrived amidst a fanfare celebrating the optimization of control did a new,frightening conflict break out, as Peter Galison analyzed in his “The Ontology of the Enemy”. The opponent in this deadly game was a “cold-blooded, machinelike opponent. This was the enemy not of bayonet struggles in the trenches, nor of architectural targets fixed through the prism of a Norden gunsight. Rather, it was a mechanized Enemy Other, generated in the laboratory-based science wars of MIT and a myriad of universities around the United States and Britain…” In its genesis the cybernetic sciences were about gaining technological superiority over opponents in the face of faster and faster speeds, which escalating quickly into a mutational program that blurred the distinction between the human and the machine. Genesis turns towards the holy war: “in a final move of totalization, [Norbert] Wiener vaulted cybernetics to a philosophy of nature” in the form of a permanent and boundlessness war between stability and safety and the “Augustinian devil”, the unknowing and unknown “’evil’ of chance and disorder”.

While subsequent developments in the realm of cybernetics, particularly as it moved its second-order phase up through general systems theory into complexity theory (of which much more will be said momentarily) transformed this basic Manichean conflict by recognizing the role of chance, disorder and noise in making systems evolutionary and transformative, the ontological conservatism that whispers through Wiener’s writings is reflected in the widespread resistance to evolutionary transformation. Top-down order is predicated on the ubiquity and prowess of human-led production. An entangling inhuman auto-production that nests this production cannot be be seen as but a threat. That the cybernetic paradigm ruptured the distinction between the human and the machine by articulating the baseline functioning of each in teleological circular causality made the machines uncanny by giving them the attributes of agency and intelligence. Wiener found in the gremlin that haunted aircrafts during the war an earlier preamble to this uncanny collapse:

The semi-humorous superstition of the gremlin among the aviators was probably due, as much as anything else, to the habit of dealing with a machine with a large number of built-in feedbacks which might be interpreted as friendly or hostile. For example the wings of an airplane are deliberately built in such a manner as to stabilize the plane, and this stabilization, which is of the nature of a feedback … may easily be felt as a personality to be antagonized when the plane is forced into unusual maneuvers. (quoted in Galison, “The Ontology of the Enemy”)

In the wake of World War 2, Carl Schmitt famously turned his attention to famously turned his attention to the idea of juridical order as the Katechon. With its origins in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, the concept of the Katechon became prominent in the Middle Ages to describe a force that restraints the Antichrist, and by so effectively holds the apocalypse itself at bay. In Schmitt’s political theology it carried the same function – but it is not simply a singular apocalypse. It is a history of apocalypses, of grand imperial ambitions that acted as Katechons by forestalling their end until, at last, the empires rots and rays, its thread disentangling and separating as another Katechon rises on the horizon. From Byzantine Empires to the Third Reich to the United States, an oscillating history of imperial ruin and passage.

Much ink and paper have been spilled and spent trying to determine what precisely the Schmittian Antichrist is . Interestingly, the Katechon at times depicted is as a decelerator that slows the pace of world history; it would follow, then, that the Antichrist can be found as an affiliate of the quickening pace – an accelerator, even. This often remains lodged at the political level: he describes the Third Reich, for instance, as an accelerator of world history that is opposed by the decelerator of the United States. But the laws of state decay and means-end reversal prevail, and the US would itself become the new accelerator. There are, however, other ways of articulating the Antichrist. John McCormick argues that, running through Schmitt’s intellectual evolution from the 1910s to the postwar era, an understanding of technology and economics as a malevolent Antichrist that cunningly infiltrates the political arena and bring with it ruin:

Just as the Antichrist seems to deliver salvation and eternal peace, on the contrary, only to actually bring destruction and despair, technology and commercialism promise a heaven on earth but bring only a worse form of impoverishment and devastation, which may not even be readily recognized as such. One of the characteristics of modern technology is that it can mechanically reproduce virtually anything. Schmitt plays on this theme of reproduction with the image of the Antichrist. If one cannot distinguish between God and Satan, then what can be distinguished? Everything becomes the same. Everything is neutralized. The Antichrist/technology is described as “uncanny [unheimlich]” because of the epistemological uncertainty involved in deciphering precisely what it is. It simulates the familiar and authentic, but is it? The very nature of what real is, is called into question in the age of technology. According to Schmitt, “The confusion becomes unspeakable”. (John McCormick, Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology, 88-89)

As Mark Fisher relentlessly illustrated, the cybernetic revolution, by lending to technological systems a certain intelligence and sense of agency, fulfilled the long-held Gothic dread of the living automaton. Schmitt here taps into this underground current, one that connects the myth of the Golem, Marx’s undead capital, Frankstein’s monster, and the gremlins haunting aircrafts engaged in wartime missions. An echo can be heard, one no doubt unintentional (but no less telling) between Wiener’s Manichean cybernetic conflict of organization and its enemy, the Augustinian devil of disorder, and Schmitt’s own definition of the political as what arises from the friend/enemy distinction. For McCormick, the relationship between the dichotomy of friend/enemy and Christ/Antichrist is clear: traveling above the political as an abstract order and looking down into it, the Antichrist is the absolute Enemy that threatens to undermine the political as a category writ large. Throw this insight into jagged alignment with the cybernetic uncanny and the Antichrist, the schizophrenic god Baphoment, becomes what Deleuze and Guattari described as the Gothic Line, or, in its more common guise, the machinic phylum.

At the limit, there is a single phylogenetic lineage, a single machinic phylum, ideally continuous: the flow of matter-movement, the flow of matter in continuous variation, conveying singularities and traits of expression. This operative and expressive flow is as much artificial as natural: it is like the unity of human beings and Nature… Vital impulse? Leroi-Gourhan has gone the farthest toward a technological vitalism taking biological evolution in general as the model for technical evolution: a Universal Tendency, laden with all of the singularities and traits of expression, traverses technical and interior milieus that refract or differentiate it in accordance with the singularities and traits each of them retains, selects, draws together, causes to converge, invents. There is indeed a machinic phylum in variation that creates the technical assemblages, whereas the assemblages invent the various phyla. (A Thousand Plateaus 406-407)

The human and the machine, the orchid in the wasp: unilateral agency dissolves away in the face of the phylum, and as such can only be viewed by the political as the Enemy, even if it to approach the relation in such a manner is extremely vulgar (after all, do Deleuze and Guattari not make it the itinerants who follow the phylum, figures who are outside the reach of the State, but on who the State depends on survival?) To reach the level of phylum we’ll have had to pass from the basic loops of Wiener’s first-order cybernetics to arrive at the imperceptible matrix, the staggering sum of immanent self-organizing processes. In this mesh, the political, the state, Christ, the Atlantean continuum, all can be understood as a elements internal to these processes, no different than Deleuze and Guattari’s self that mistakes itself to be unitary whilst being but something that has congealed to the side of the auto-productive processes: a voided coagulation that thinks itself not. The unwavering stability of this creation, held together by the Judgment of God, is countered by emergent flux of the phylum.

A Lemurian insurgency, even if the things that the flux produces – commerce and technology, namely – sustain the State. The fact of the matter is that the singular instantiation of something from a catalytic process will never be stable, and is part of line that intrinsically escapes. The Katechon is sinking.

16 thoughts on “Anarchy (#3: Katechon and Apocalypse)

  1. felt the need to plug this here:

    “When people – or even ‘lower’ animals — behave as things, they primitively evoke the dread of morbidity, mortality, and more radical varieties of cosmic wrongness, partially captured by the figure of the zombie. The intermediate zone, of the ‘living dead’, can be entered from either direction, triggering an archaic revulsion from monstrosity – the most fundamental of all things that should not be. Horror fiction dwells almost entirely in this twilight world of categorical slippage.

    When order emerges spontaneously among things, it seems like magic (in the ancient, soul-seizing sense), and panicked spectators reflexively grasp for the hidden agents of ‘animistic’ or religious interpretation, compelled by categorical intuitions far older than the human species. Calm apprehension of such ‘teleonomies’ is grounded, perhaps invariably, in an attenuation or vagueness of distinct perception. Were a biologist to truly perceive the evolutionary process, its integral, primordial horror would be ineluctable. Urbanomy, likewise, belongs to the realm of real monstrosity. That is one reason why cities cannot readily be seen for what they are.

    Spontaneous animation, horror, and time-reversal are inextricably knotted together at the root of their apprehension. The human nervous-system cannot register a deeper wrong than an inversion of time, as demonstrated by a thing that comes to life. Cities, eventually, will scare us. In doing so, they will draw us out beyond what has been – to date — the horizon of intelligible time.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dmf

      on what basis would one decide what the borders of a city are? what is in or out of a city? and if we can’t account for such basics how might we measure/grasp whether or not such a thing exists let alone what its capacities/functions are?
      as for the the alien horrors of evolution why couldn’t they be a source/subject of wonder/adoration for those with eyes to see, haven’t we examples of how anything might become a fetish for human cathexis ?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Alien horror and wonder/adoration certainly ain’t mutually exclusive! Though I suspect the articulation of the urban-as-menance – or an antidote to it – can’t be properly engineered, but has to do with how the city is the abusive surgeon of organic culture and traditional identity. Heat traps and pollution death only exacerbate this.

        As for what cities are – a tenative definition that I suspect will be unsatisfactory is they constitute self-organizing processes that can only begin assembly once series of critical singularity-thresholds are passed (examples may bea bend in the river, veins of vital minerals under the hills, spatial distance from other cities that need linking together, etc). From there, it’s more a question of inward flow and (self)escalation, or outward flow and plummeting deescalation.


      2. dmf

        ‘Alien horror and wonder/adoration certainly ain’t mutually exclusive’, indeed to quote the late Mr. Bowie we are quite adept at loving the alien, hell there are whole cults around cities (see folks like Richard Florida), yeah the self-organizing thing sort of begs the question, I had hoped that the sad (because so limited/unimaginative) but still threatening rise of efforts to make cities “smart” would at least point out the kinds of infrastructures that are currently lacking in our urban areas, would undercut (or at least make more poetic) theories from the past few decades that acted as if such infrastructures/networks where somehow already in place but apparently not.
        I like the move to think more in terms of autopoesis (rather than swarms or the like) but not sure what one does with say flows of people, information, funds, etc, in the case of something like urbanism/governance? lots to ponder, I’m with folks like Sassen who feel that we are in situations that are truly novel, not just more of the same and call for new and self-consciously limited/provisional attempts at grasping/figuring:


      3. I think that flows that cut across urban zones as part of the self-reinforcing loop/resource vacuum tend towards a point in which grasping it from the POV of governance becomes harder and harder to handle. Hence the folly of the smart city (though it’s by no means unique to it – see something like James Scott’s analysis of Brasilia): you can’t engineer these things by force.

        I’ll check out the link, thanks!


      4. dmf

        my concern is that short of such engineering there is no actual nervous/feedback-system, no means of organization (this isn’t like say weather).
        be interested in yer take I think she is doing what the best of the post-structuralists where after but sticking much closer to the events on the ground (so to speak), like Paul Rabinow, Keller Easterling, Eyal Weizman, etc. like your own deterritorial investigations they do the legwork of forensic geography, a new noir perhaps.


      5. Yeah I would actually lean the opposite direction, that it is like the weather! Obviously this needs further untangling but law and order in early cities wasn’t formalized from the get-go, but were emergent properties that become formalized (similar to Scott’s passage from Metic to Technic forms of [applied] knowledge, with the implication that detached, abstract techne tends to collide harshly with metis). Infrastructural mechanisms develop through gradual clustering driven by environmental factors: from the bridge to shorten the distance between two town, the road from the camp to the mine, and other instances like those seem obvious and self-evident but it seems to me that they’re internal to the feedback processes, not something being executed from on high outside of it.

        Thinking too of David Kilcullen’s analysis of urban zones having a “natural flow” that punches back on attempts to manage them without proper understanding of them, which induces catastrophic externalities. This leaps from the political to the military (though I think the lessons equally apply), but he breaks this down in a comparison of the US assault on Mogadishu – which ignored the natural flow of the urban – and the Mumbai shootings, in which the natural flow of the city was used to their advantage.


      6. dmf

        the thing is we can identify the relevant factors at work in a weather system (see @PhaedraDaipha ‘s Masters of Uncertainty: Weather Forecasters and the Quest for Ground Truth for example) along the lines I was asking for in relations to cities, and then do forecasting.
        Might be worth looking into how bridges, roads, etc come to be and to be maintained or not, more, how things travel (or not) between parties, departments,etc part of the drive behind civic hacking groups is not just transparency, efficiency and public commentary but to create more in the way of reflexivity and feedback loops among the makers, managers, and maintenance crews, one can also see in this in the drive to put sensors on everything that cities own, see efforts like:


      7. Sure, I don’t deny that people operate within it the cityscape and carry out activities. It’s on the question of whether or not such things are primary or autonomous with regard to deeper, vaster process and macrohistorical cycles that I diverge.


    2. This is great, definitely constitutes a tendril burrowing from your Proudhonian urbanomics to Xenobuddism’s comments in this thread:

      “The unsettling thought that the well ordered polis and the harmonious city-states of Florentine humanists betray a deeper ignorance. Megacities live on humanity. Consuming flesh, they produce death as their own abundant waste”.

      Or, how we get from “Heat: this is what cities mean to me” to “As things become more complex they become more female, but patriarchy prolongs the ice age of mankind. The fatherland is cryogenic, a fantasy of perfect preservation, whose bronze age ancestors are even now thawing out in the Alps, frozen assets under attack. Global warming melts the ice, raises the seas, subverts the glaciers. Computer viruses melt icebergs of data down the screens, burning through the bacterial frost, like Burroughs exploring his junkie cold with LSD.”


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