Alien Capital Redux


There’s some fascinating comments by Louis Armand in an essay featured in Alienist #4 that deal with Primož Krašovec’s ‘Alien Capital’:

This Alien metaphor can be taken a step further, in that it exceeds the notion of simply an economic or social prosthesis – an addition to the world of human activity – & speaks rather of a condition. Like Power, capital isn’t abstract: it is abstraction itself. It isn’t  concept born in relation to a subject: it is the very operation of subjectivisation. In its “post-human” iteration, Power is precisely not wielded: like the old Soviet joke, Power wields you. This leads Krašovec to argue that “the two anthropocentric perspectives of capital” – corresponding to the “elemental class positions”: the capitalist & the proletarian – diff er from the perspective of capital itself, which is defined by the production of value for the purpose solely of “infinite technological self-improvement,” on the assumption that technology defines the exclusion of the social. Krašovec thereby identifies competition, or the classical idea of class antagonism, as the technological dynamics of capitalism.

But just as Marx indicated that alienation isn’t in fact an anthropological process (it is instead the condition of the anthropological), so too we must move here beyond the simple description of capital as technological, to the supposition that capital itself is indistinguishable from technology-as such. That capital is in fact a system of technology, just as the commodity  is the thought of capital. It should be evident that the Anthropocene can’t be acquitted by the convenient appeal to a malevolent doppelganger or rogue AIs, & neither can humanism mask the alienation that constitutes subjectivity. Technology isn’t, as Marcuse argued, the invasion of “man’s” inner-freedom. In the final analysis, the subjective is technological; the human is alien capital. And if the dream of humanity is to outlive itself by “alien” sublimation, the dream of capital is no less than to transcend History by becoming the future. Accelerating towards the limit of its own representability, it radiates in the illusion of a totality suspended over its own void – as if making possible the very thing it makes impossible.

The last point—that we ourselves are alien capital (another route to this conclusion, one which would be my own preferable pathway, is the by tracing the constitution of the subject through matrices conditioned by mediation of the value-form)—here at the converges in a curious way with a comments made by Xenogoth in his Note on Eerie Capital. Using  the alien environs explored by Conrad in Hearts of Darkness and Ballard’s The Drowned World (accounts of fateful voyages down the Kurtz-gradient) he writes:

Once this architecture — understood most generally as space-time but we can draw things into a sociopolitical infrastructure — is dissolved into the chaos of the jungle, you can only keep attributing your actions to a self for so long. Eventually, the familiar sociopolitical architecture of habit and understanding is no longer in place so that you cannot distinguish your agency from the agency of your own environment… This fictive realisation that our agency is indistinguishable from capital’s own is precisely the point made by countless theorists and fiction writers. The solution to this is not to double-down on one conspiratorial agency or our individuality, but rather hold both as influencing their other in tandem.

Is it not at this point, in the realization and appraisal of the situation, that the recursive loop of reason is capable of kicking in—and with it, the real struggle over futurity begins?

7 thoughts on “Alien Capital Redux

  1. “AI is simply capital”, as Uriel Fiori says. But if “the human is alien capital”, then it surely comes with a Bakker’s qualification from that Šum Interview: “But now we’re at the point where thanks to cognitive science the human we associate with ancestral shallow information ecologies is about to go extinct. So you can call what comes after that ‘human’, sure, I’ll call that ‘human’, too, but we’ll have to specify if there’s an important difference. We’ll now be talking about deep information as opposed to shallow information humans. We have to admit, our shallow information ancestors would look at us, deep information humans, as being monsters or mad or both.”

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    1. I think the crux here is actually a debate I’ve been having with Uri off and on over the past several months over the question of just what *is* capital, what gives rise/how does it give rise to its status as historical subject, and whether or not the so-called labor theory of value has merits. You can imagine where the divisions are!.. but the short-hand for me is by taking capital as the expression of the substance of value (labor) through the form of value (money) in a movement that self-exacerbates both enhances and distorts the relationship between capital and the human on the one hand, and capital and AI on the other. It retains its character as alien because it goes to work on humanity, dissolving all previous social formations (though recasting them in a time-tangled Oedipal machinery) and, by becoming the mediator that structuralizes social relations, produces types of consciousness appropriate to it; and also because it constitutes a mass dis-embedding from ‘nature’ (in quotes because this is a retroactive formation arising from capital’s own historical epoch). Because it remains resolutely human in the sense that it is the movement of value, albeit in diminishing quantities… so there’s a weird topological environment in play here, complicated by the time dilation induced by planetary scale industrialization – and, more recently, ‘computerization’. In a certain sense AI appears as constant capital, inputs facilitating the expanded reproduction of this circuit. But if we go further, as Primož does when he writes that

      >What the development of artificial intelligence also means is that capital can potentially begin to phase out not only human labour power, but markets as well; or rather, it is possible that markets will soon prove to be a primitive, insufficient institution that capital will discard. It could be that markets were only a temporary solution to the problem of fast and efficient communication between individual units of production through quantitative price signals that can be replaced by more efficient IT systems connecting artificially intelligent entities. In such a case capital would sever its final connection to humanity (through the market and consumption)—it could also be that consumer preferences and whims are not so much the centre of the capitalist system, but simply another obstacle that capital will overcome. And it could be that capitalism, if we take the process of liberation from work, markets and money into consideration, is not (any longer) about economy—not because ‘everything is political’—or rather that economic processes were only the environment in which capitalism was born and which it will overcome to become entirely technonomic.

      is this not precisely ‘alien capital’ ceasing to be capital, precisely because it is no longer the self-movement of value, that is, the substance that is human labor expressed as money?

      I’m struggling to think how to properly cross-hatch this with Bakker’s schema, even though the motive forces in each account are fundamentally entangled. A tentative offering: he writes ” you can call what comes after that ‘human’, sure, I’ll call that ‘human’, too, but we’ll have to specify if there’s an important difference”… I might call it human too, but *dons speculative hat* it seems the capacity to make a transition from a ‘shallow information humans’ will require bringing to the fore and going to work on the ‘inhumanities that compose the human’ (to paraphrase Deleuze). Inhuman humanism? It also seems that this scenario would be intimately connected with the above, but it is also that this process is also that which engenders the crash space: “Machines of the industrial revolution were not simply bigger or composite tools (as extensions of the human arm or an alienating appropriation of human manual dexterity) and the same holds true for artificial intelligence today: AI is not something that was taken away from the human intellect, but has been evolving in a different way and independently of its rules and boundaries”.

      BTW Bakker’s description of Canada in the Sum interview as a sort of space where the crash space and cutting-edge cosmopolitanism co-mingle is wonderful:

      >We let in on average, per capita basis, twice as many immigrants as any other country. At least that was the case, it’s been a few years since I’ve looked at the statistics, but historically we have let in more immigrants than any other country on this planet relative to our population. It has created an ethno-cultural crash space. Really the only things that bind people once you bring so many of them from so many different organic contexts into a new context are commercial norms. So we are a cultureless culture in a strange sense. The only culture we share is commercial culture, crass commercial culture in many respects. If you’re an observant soul in this country, I think it gives you a feeling of having been kicked loose from history. You don’t feel quite as constrained or quite as bound by the past… We have no Sturm und Drang, our history is, from a dramatic standpoint, tepid and bureaucratic. There are no defining myths, nothing that we can reach back to and repeat as a catechism, the way Americans can. And not only that, the United States is just a much more homogenous society, Canada is far more cosmopolitan. You get away from the big cities in the US and it’s almost frightening how homogenous things become.

      This sounds exactly like the staging ground for the telecommunist impulse, which is surely no different than the escape from the prison of those shallow ecologies: “…to strip out the false memory chips binding [the proletariat-replicants] to the quasi-organic earth, in order to produce a New Earth for a ‘people that do not yet exist'”.

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