ACC vs DEC

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Modernity is in trouble. That’s the line, at least that is emerging from a particular sector of the twitterverse. It’s not a new line, of course: it’s the common call of the environmentalist movement writ large. What makes these new voices significant, however, is that their position is not only cybernetic, but transcendental. To declare oneself a decelerationist – and this applies to both those who seek a decelerationist praxis (as in, annihilating industrial civilization) or see deceleration as a given (leaving room only for mitigation and reaction when the SHTF) – is the engendering of an inverted mirror of the accelerationist. Whereas acceleration is the diagram of modernity, understood as the tragic loop of techno-capital undergoing amplificatory self-excitation, decelerationism throws the unconditional back upon the body of the earth, rife with its own loops and pressure points.

Between each there is a glimpse of a future political terrain to be caught. As anticipated with remarkable foresight by FM-2030, this terrain will be battleground where the “upwing” and the “downwing” collide. The latter looks to the earth, and thus would be like the extensive articulation of deceleration in the realm of politics, with the former being that of acceleration, gazing skyward. To those returning to the earth, the color green, and to those taking flight, black:

FM-2030 was an inveterate up-winger whose vitrified corpse awaits resurrection at the Arizona cryonics mecca, Alcor. However, even as the ecology movement was gathering steam, FM-2030 failed to see that the down-wing tendency could generate at least as much passion as his own political faith. Nowadays, down-wingers proudly self-identify as ‘Greens’. As for the up-wingers, they have begun to be colour-coded as ‘Blacks’ — and not simply because of their 1980s dress sense. The phrase ‘Black Sky Thinking’ was coined in a 2004 study by the centre-left UK think-thank Demos, and over the past decade it has increasingly been used to refer to schemes to make the whole inky expanse of the universe fit for human habitation.

As the political binary of left and right collapse into noise and nonsense (understood in the most unproductive sense), green and black stand to be serious contenders for their replacement – implying, by extension, a host of strange mixtures and hybrids, third positions, odd ghosts, and diagonalizations, but we’re running far ahead of ourselves…

The tragic loop of acceleration is that of positive feedback. This image is convergent with the thesis of John Michael Greer, Arch-Druid and decelerationist avant la lettre: civilization, particularly in its industrial phase, unfolds through phases of explosive positive feedback, thrusting creative forces to ever-higher heights. Yet this comes at an immense cost: for Greer, positive feedback is ultimately aberrant in nature. It breaks with the higher order feedback process that dominates nature and lends to it the capacity for auto-correction – that is, negative feedback, the return to homeostasis. Stripping themselves of the ability to correct their runaway trajectories, civilizations become suicide machines. The skyward flight becomes a terrifying fall back to the earth, culminating in green pastures littered with burning wreckage.

Greer’s bloody war between positive and negative feedback is thus a rigorous cybernetic account for cyclical theories of history. Read through the lenses of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, one could even say that Greer’s history is a theater where repetition of the same carries out its staccato dance; after all, it is under the repetition of the same that the abstract cycle is carried out, always bringing a system back to its initial condition. A society or civilization will always be born into the world, grow, engage creatively with nature, peak, curdle with corruption, stagnate, and collapse. Trace this pattern upwards beyond individual civilizations, to the swath of human civilization understood as a whole, or up even higher, to the great movement of nature itself, or the movement of the cosmos, and you’ll arrive at the position of Greer. There’s no better way to articulate the horizon of the decelerationist thesis.

On one hand, the conflict becomes one of competing motors governing development in itself: is it the knowing homeostat with gently violent negative feedback pressure, or is the homeostat missing, with the heat of cyberpositive runaway taking precedence (there is no easy answer to this question yet, but it is worth noting that both ultimately end in doom)? On the other hand, however, things get a little murky. If deceleration is raised under the specter of the cycle, this would imply that acceleration is that of the straight line. For Kant (and Deleuze as well), time is ultimately the straight line that cuts through everything that is. It is cold, uncaring, empty and open-ended development in its most abstracted sense, the permanent revolution that composes the stretch of the infinite itself. But this isn’t the time of acceleration itself. Following Land, acceleration must be thought of as unfolding within the straight line of time, but in the form of the spiral: the diagonalization between the straight line and the cycle, the uncompensated and the compensatory mechanism, attached to the running of “innovation and tradition together as Siamese twins” across its masked surface.

If acceleration is the accurate diagram of modernity, the cycle is already present. The future terrain stays the same, but color shades subtly adjust themselves. The burning question at the heart of it all – what is modernity doing? – can be answered as thus: critique. The posing of solutions to problems. If capitalism works by breaking down, by learning to learning, it is because modernity advances itself through encounters with problems that must either be solved or routed-around. The ecological pressure cooker bearing down on global civilization is the articulation of an immense problem, one that is indeed perhaps unsolvable. The cry to assault modernity on account of this problem is a forceful posing of the problem from the interior of modernity itself, the early spasms of a coming transformation.

The future, at least in the West, looks grim. Whatever molar shake-ups that took place in 2016 and 2017 are fading, the sheer weirdness of the time being slowly but surely recoded back into a neoconservative status quo. The bourgeoisie remain stupified, the political class broken, the great underclass masses go through the rotations. Yet will this not change, by very want of impending ecological devastation? As the noose tightens, the political articulation of deceleration will only proliferate. The existential risk of conflict will hang like a storm cloud as the black and the green draw respective lines – but this rain could very well be nourishing fluids for modernity. This is not to say that the dialectical parring is what saves modernity for itself, or that on side will necessarily win against the other. Instead, such a conflict would be learning, modernity itself working through to an other side that we cannot, by necessity, know in advance.

Understood as elements tangled in auto-critique and production, black and green are both trapped right from the start. It is in the rising from this to the level of the loops that the future of civilization will be made, or will be broken.

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(Anti)Markets

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There are many advantages to political decentralization as a structural limitation on government power. Imagine a country the size of the United States, but consisting of only five states. Now imagine the same region containing 500 states. All other things being equal, the second situation is likely to be much more hospitable to freedom than the first. The smaller the political unit, the greater the influence an individual citizen can have in politics, thus decreasing the lobbying advantage that concentrated special interests have over the diffuse general public. Further, as the number of available alternative political jurisdictions increases, the citizen’s exit option becomes more powerful. The freedom to leave one state is small comfort if there are only a handful of others nearby to go to; but with many states, the odds of finding a satisfactory destination are much better.

In addition, competition between states can serve as a check on state power, since if any state becomes too oppressive its citizens can vote with their feet. Also, decentralization softens the impact of government mistakes. If a single centralized government decides to implement some ill-conceived plan, everybody has to suffer. But with many states implementing different policies, a bad policy can be escaped, while a good policy can be imitated. (Here too, competition can serve as a discovery process.) – Roderick T. Long, “Virtual Cantons”

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As always, Xenogoth’s blog is a machine for inducing thoughts and productivity over here on this side of things. Their latest post concerns Rana Dasgupta’s recent article for the Guardian titled “The Demise of the Nation State”, the topic of which (as the very name indicates) should be well familiar now. “For increasing numbers of people,” Dasgupta writes, “our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future.” And yet solutions posed seems to be more of the same: avoid the fragmentation, shore up that which is dissolving, and keep on keepin’ on with progressive universalism. Xenogoth writes:

it’s universalism which is the problem here and its funneling progressivism into a single, unwavering straight line. Progressivism reveals itself to be political tunnelvision. When you’re political system starts to offer you the Kool Aid, progressivism becomes putting it down and heading for the exit. There are surely better paths on the outside.

Contra more radical (and perhaps dangerous) routes to the Outside, Dasgupta’s future-oriented politics revolves around three key elements: “global financial regulation”, “global flexible democracy”, and “new conceptions of citizenship”. Xenogoth points out that these are these continue to the drift into neoliberal globalization – and indeed, are these three things not the very idealistic summit of the global regime that has existed since the end of World War II? Empire, the Cathedral, capitalist realism, the Washington Consensus, what have you; it is the unity of regulated monopolistic competition in political economy and liberal democracy in the order of politics that serve as the twin pincers of the meta-system.

The first element will be met with inherent skepticism. After all, we’re told repeatedly that the between the crisis that brought a swift and brutal conclusion to the Fordist-Keynesianism that defined the immediate post-war period (beginning in 1968 and culminating in the Nixon Shock of 1972) and the inauguration of the so-called New Economy of the 1990s, a disastrous path of deregulatory behavior was undertaken, one that undermined the developed world’s industrial base, hollowed out civic institutions and the infrastructures of ‘modern democracy’, and sent us spiraling into cycles of crisis. But is this really the case?

In the United States, it is undeniable that there have been the neutering of regulations in certain areas – but this is only remains a part of the story. The cutting here and there – which has become major talking point for both the left and right, as objects of derision and praise, respectively – has served as the mask for a great explosion of regulatory activities. Take John Dawson and John Seater’s 2013 paper “Federal Regulation and Aggregate Economic Growth”, for instance. Looking at the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR), which logs all regulations on the books in the US, Dawson and Seater discovered that its contents multiplied sixfold between 1949 and 2005, going from the (already significant 19,335 pages to a mind-boggling 134,261 pages). This already begins to overturn conventional wisdom on the left that consistent deregulation is the overarching trend in economic development over the last four to six decades – and Dawson and Seater can only pour more gasoline on this fire:

Periods of negative growth are infrequent, and, when they do occur, the absolute value of the growth rate is small. By far, the fastest percentage growth occurred in the early 1950s. High growth also occurred in the 1970s, even though there was extensive deregulation in transportation, telecommunications, and energy. Deregulation in that period was more than offset by increased regulation in other areas, notably pertaining to the environment and occupational safety, as Hopkins (1991) has noted. The Reagan administration of the 1980s promoted deregulation as a national priority, and growth in the number of CFR pages slowed in the early and late 1980s. Nevertheless, total pages decreased in only one year, 1985. The 1990s witnessed the largest reduction in pages of regulation in the history of the CFR, with three consecutive years of decline. This reduction coincides with the Clinton administration’s “reinventing government” initiative that sought reduced regulation in general and a reduction in the number of pages in the CFR in particular. (Interestingly, the greatest percentage reduction in the CFR did not occur during either the Reagan or Clinton administrations but rather in the first year of the Kennedy administration, 1961.) There thus are several major segments in regulation’s time path, with corresponding breaks in trend (dates are approximate): (1) 1949 to 1960 (fast growth), (2) 1960 to 1972 (slow growth), (3) 1972 to 1981 (fast growth), (4) 1981 to 1985 (slow growth), (5) 1985 to 1993 (fast growth), and (6) 1993 to 2005 (slow growth).

There’s a similar lip-service paid to classical political economy and ideological obfuscation going on where “free trade” is concerned. While the right-wing (outside of its populist sector, of course) sounds the trumpets in the name of laissez-faire and the nationalist right and the left-of-center viciously denounce it, what goes in the West under the name of free trade is anything but. While agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP and institutions like the WTO, the IMF, and the like seem to reduce this argument to an absurdity, there is an immense gulf between the sort of free trade advocated by classical political economists like David Ricardo – aaand Karl Marx – and these agreements reached by government negotiators.

Free trade would entail something very simple: the parties in question decide to mutually eliminate barriers, including but not limited to tariffs, to one another’s domestic market places. The contemporary agreement like NAFTA or the TPP, by contrast, consists of thousands upon thousands of pages of legal qualifications, special protections, and what are called “investor-state dispute settlements”. The result is an uneven playing field dominated by entrenched quasi-monopolistic corporations, protected by the state, who have suspended free trade for something profoundly different. Tariffs might have been avoided (until the looming US-China trade war, at least), but corporate protectionism reigns supreme.

A counterpoint might that this is precisely what free trade produces: concentration of power in a handful of corporate entities, who bend the legal apparatuses of the state to fix things their favor (such as implementing protectionist policies that further enforce their hegemony). It’s a good story, and one that makes clear who would be the bad guys and the bad systems (corporations! free trade!), and easy solutions (tightening the grip in advance on the exchange circuits before we get to this disastrous state of affairs). Unfortunately – or maybe not so unfortunately – it isn’t true, and one of the reasons has to do with the ubiquity of regulatory behavior. But more on that in a moment.

Perhaps the best way to look at the global system that is now in crisis is by returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of shifting modes of social organization around the mechanisms of warding off the forces that would undo them. The despotic state was dependent on coding and territorialization of flows in a particular way; it had to, at all costs, ward off the progressive decoding and deterritorializing of flows – and to do this, it had to prevent the arrival of capital, that alien mutagen that draws power from annihilating the very limits and barriers that a socius needs to maintain organization. Hence the sheer apocalypticism of capital and the dread it instills – but the despotic state does not disappear in its dark arrival. It undergoes a transformation into the capitalist state, a unit of “anti-production” that is subordinated to the flux of capitalist deterritorialization.

The capitalist state finds itself in a paradoxical situation: it is founded atop capital’s flows, but it still must ward off their ultimate – and inevitable – trajectory, that is, the acceleration into absolute deterritorialization. Maybe it is across this tension wire that we must place something like the free trade agreement, or even the rates of regulation growth and occasional deregulation. Read this way, the free trade agreement would be series of measures taken to channel flows, to situate institutional entities and political blocs atop the slipstream of global marketization, without falling into them – which would bring the order to its very demise.

Is this not precisely an incredible compensatory mechanism, at one time aimed at global installation? Is this not a more accurate picture of what is splitting apart than most progressivist ideologues argue? And, by extension, does this not mean that the progressivist solution is ultimately to turn back the clock and complete the global installation?

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Braudel’s famous argument, implicit in Capitalism and Schizophrenia (this is the topic of a current in-progress work) and operationalized in full by Manuel Delanda, is that the market and capitalism must be made distinct from one another, and that capitalism must be thought as something oppositional to the market: an anti-market. The market – or micro-capitalism – is the realm of “economic life”; it is full of highly visible activities, the interchanges of commerce happening at rapid speeds, and variables profit rates attached to quickly shifting registers of price. “The market spells liberation, openness, access to another world”. Capitalism, by contrast, is defined large-scale centralization, bureaucracy, oligopoly, and decreased mobility in the price regime. Markets link themselves together in networks of “horizontal communication” between smaller firms and actors bound up in competitive behavior. Anti-markets are based around monopoly, and thus ward off the specter of competition.

We could say that, shifting into Deleuze and Guattari’s framework, the market/micro-capitalism corresponds the schizophrenizing, deterritorializing edge where capital rushes towards its ultimate limits, while the anti-market/capitalism side of the economic meshwork aligns with reterritorialization. Indeed, the capitalist state, identified by Deleuze and Guattari as composing a Katechonic mechanism for reterritorializing capital in order to avoid the end of things, is similarly found by Braudel as guarantor and protector of monopolistic entities. In the void of strong states, warding off occurs less and less, and the market emerges a norm; in the presence of them, it is capitalism that is business as usual.

I definitely hope to draw this argument out more in soon-to-be finished Vast Abrupt essay on SchizoMarketization and economic eschatology; in the meantime, however, I’d like to do something different and put forth the exceedingly questionable suggestion that the two of the ideological poles of economic governance in the US – Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism – can be roughly mapped to this schema of markets and antimarkets, in both their unity and opposition.

The Jeffersonian ideal moved power in a decentralizing direction, towards smaller and smaller, more localized levels; it opposed aristocracy and remained suspicious of mercantile, industrial and financial interests. The yeoman, an archetypal figure for small-scale, non-slaving owning farmers running the gamut from subsistence farmers to medium-range commercial entities, was the focal point of Jeffersonianism – making it a kind of populism that foreshadows many of the characteristics of certain libertarian factions in existence today.

Jeffersonianism seems to capture the ideological screen erected by the Washington establishment, but the order of business falls more under the purview of Hamiltonianism, with its emphasis on centralization of power, the supremacy of the Federal level above the local, and the creation of powerful and wealthy industrial and financial classes. The tenets of the “American School of Economics” (also known as the ‘National System’), developed in point-by-point opposition to those of classical liberalism, epitomize the Hamiltonian perspective. To quote from the wiki page, the three primary principles were:

  1. Protecting industry through selective high tariffs (1861 – 1932) and through subsidies (especially 1932-1970).
  2. Government investments in infrastructure creating targeted internal improvements (especially in transportation.
  3. A national bank with policies that promote the growth of productive enterprises rather than speculation.

If we’re to talk of the groundwork for the globalizing regime that is organized around transnational corporate protectionism, regulatory behavior, and liberal democracy, it is paramount not to mistake the Hamiltonian platform for free trade – especially given that the beginning of the globalization of this model corresponds with the arrival of US hegemony in the wake of the Second World War. It is an apparatus for producing monopolies – the dynamic generator of anti-market systems.

In 1888, well into the Hamiltonian era, Benjamin Tucker advocated what he described as an “unterrified Jeffersonianism” – a radical free market socialism that served as the “the logical carrying out of the Manchester doctrine; laissez faire the universal rule”. Blocking the path to this world were the four monopolies: “the money monopoly, the land monopoly, the tariff monopoly, and the patent monopoly.” The money monopoly is the state’s exclusive right to establish and produce a medium for circulation, which effectively cut-off the ability for competition between currencies to take place, and alloted greater power to banks and other lending institutions. The land monopoly, meanwhile, is “the enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation”, while the tariff monopoly needs little mention. The patent monopoly – which, up until recently, was the far more pressing obstruction to international free trade than tariffs – is the domination of ideas under the rubric of intellectual property laws.

To these Kevin Carson adds a fifth: the transportation monopoly, in which roads and other infrastructures are designed and paid for by the state. In both the land monopoly and the transportation monopoly, costs are externalized onto the taxpayer, either in the form of law enforcement or public works. While collective pooling of resources for a common goal is one thing, in the context of the monopoly system this means that businesses are automatically exempt from certain costs. Wal-Mart, for example, has its distribution infrastructure already established by the transportation system. Or, in another case, a landowner who must bear the costs of protecting ownership is going to own considerably less land due to that price tag.

For Tucker, examples such as these – and many others – point to how elimination of the monopolies would proceed from the elimination of the state that made them possible in the first place, and that their removal would clear the way for real competition to occur, the Braudelian market rising up to fill the void. With more competition comes lower costs, and without heavy regulatory burden the barriers to entry implode – which adds to more competition, and lower costs still. The effect would be less distance between market price and what the classical political economists called the “natural price” – the costs inputs that were expended in advance in order to initially bring something to the market.

Carson suggests an even radical transformation: the implosion of homogeneity in socio-cultural formation and politico-economic governance, and the rapid multiplication of other ways of life. Speaking from the left-libertarian perspective, he writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution that

…it’s extremely unlikely in my opinion that the collapse of centralized state and corporate power will be driven by,or that the post‐corporate state society that replaces it will be organized according to, any single libertarian ideology… although the kinds of communal institutions, mutual aid networks and primary social units
into which people coalesce may strike the typical right‐wing flavor of free market libertarian as “authoritarian” or “collectivist,” a society in which such institutions are the dominant form of organization is by no means necessarily a violation of the substantive values of self‐ownership and nonaggression… it seems to me that the libertarian concepts of self‐ownership and nonaggression are entirely consistent with a wide variety of voluntary social frameworks, while at the same time the practical application of those concepts would vary widely.

To exit from the globalist anti-market is to be propelled towards the strangeness of patchwork.

Cthelllic Tendrils (#3a: Possession and Return)

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From inside the Turning she whispers to the Bottomless Pit: Ogun the metal-bodied, one who is many, breaker of masks. The hour of her coming draws near, and her Cloud of Dispersion already casts its abysmal shadow. – Mother Mary Ann Haddok, Industrial Church of the Nine Knocks

In the final pages of Flatline Constructs, Mark Fisher turned his attention to John Carpenter’s 1994 horror film In the Mouth of Madness, which he provocatively described as something of a companion piece to the two volumes of Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia project. In the Mouth of Madness is the story of a freelance investigator by the name of John Trent, who is hired by a large New York City-based publishing company to look into the disappearance of Sutter Cane, a popular horror novelist whose novels are reputed to have ‘strange effects’ on certain types of readers. Things go off the rails fairly quickly when Trent and Linda Styles, Cane’s editor, arrive in the town of Hobb’s Endan otherwise idyllic little New England ‘burg, besides a sinisterly beckoning church that loom up on the outskirts and the fact that the town itself is a fictional setting in Cane’s novels.

What binds In the Mouth of Madness to Capitalism and Schizophrenia is the twisting red thread of market apocalypticism. Cane is ultimately revealed to be to be a conduit – initially unwittingly – for the Old Ones, who are invading the world through his books, with the massive capitalist market serving as a contagion vector for belief. The more people read, the more they believe, and the more they believe, the more time accelerates towards the impending arrival of the ancients from the Abyss. In the film’s closing moments, we hear emergency broadcasts reporting in from somewhere, panicked voices warning of mass outbreaks of schizophrenia, of waves of violence and social disintegration, and of afflicted human bodies undergoing horrific mutation. A hyperstitional configuration par excellence: fiction writing itself into reality, the Outside invading in via the wildly oscillating hype(r) circuitry of capital.

So too it goes in Capitalism and Schizophrenia: capital, described in Anti-Oedipus as a flow of “abstract or fictional quantities”, is oriented towards “the wilderness where the decoded flows run free, the end of the world, the apocalypse”. This plane of cosmic schizophrenia is constantly ward-offed by Oedipal and statist compensators – yet the more capital itself proliferates, the greater the schizophrenization that explodes back from the periphery to the center, and the more the compensatory mechanisms shake and, ultimately, shatter. When social bodiesthemselves compositions of fictional quantities and mythsare “confronted with this real limit, repressed from within, but returns to them from without, they regard this event with melancholy as the sign of their approaching death”.

Cane’s role is that of the xenocommunicant: here is a figure who is opened up, unwittingly at first, to the Outside, though which the infection of the “schizo-signal” spreads. It’s not hard to see him as a composite of, on the one hand, Stephen King, with his utterly insane sales figures and strangely mutagenic effect on cultural formations; and on the other Lovecraft (another point of connectivity with Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the second volume is particular). Carpenter filled In the Mouth of Madness with references to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, from structure of the film itself, to the names of characters, to the New England setting, to the final actualization of the long-awaited return of the Old Ones.

If the fictional Cane is an xenocommunicant, is it a stretch to grant that same designation to the ‘real’ Lovecraft? Ludicrous as it may seemand it is only going to get strangerthis is the position that was taken by Kenneth Grant, who in the 1970s began to cross-pollinate Crowley’s Thelema doctrines with Lovecraft and UFOlogy. In Beyond The Mauve Zone Grant would even suggest that the signals tapped into by the author were “strange sigils swirled by the power-waves of [Frater] Achad’s work” – Achad being Charles Stansfeld Jones, a ceremonial magician and purported ‘magical child’ of Crowley. Peter Levenda also takes up this question in his work on Lovecraft, Crowley and Grant titled The Dark Lord; to quote him at length:

In Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Crowley refers to several of the images with which Lovecraft would be consumed in his stories, but especially in “The Call of Cthulhu.” Here we have a buried god that is awakened from a stone, in a coffin, in a sepulchre, and mysterious words written in an ancient book, including Tutulu. And “of pure black marble is the sorry statue” resonates with the black stone on which the statue of Cthulhu squats.Crowley believed that the first two books [the Holy Books of Thelema] mentioned above were not his writing, but were inspired works dictated to him by his Holy Guardian Angel, the ancient Sumerian personality Aiwass, after Crowley had attained samadhi during a course of rituals he undertook with his colleague, George Cecil Jones, in England. Even the undecipherable language of “Olalam Imal Tutulu” has its counterpart in the enigmatic hieroglyphics of the Cthulhu statue and the ecstatic, glossolalia-like cries of the worshippers in the Louisiana swamps. Both men—the American author and the English magician—were dealing with the same subject matter, and indeed Lovecraft had dated the first appearance of the Cthulhu statue to the same year, month and day that Crowley began writing these sections of the Holy Books.

Levenda suggests that these may not be mere coincidences (as if there is anything mere about coincidence!), but could very well be an indication of some alien entity at work: “Either Lovecraft was in some kind of telepathic communication with Crowley, or both men were in telepathic communication with… Something Else.”

[If anyone is on the fence thus far, consider Levenda’s innocuous capitalizations in light of the following AQ equivalence: SOMETHING ELSE = 268 = SCHIZOPHRENIA]

In 1949a year after Crowley’s death, the beginnings of the modern UFO phenomenon (by way of the Kenneth Arnold sighting and the mythical Roswell Crash), and the inauguration of the Aeon of MaatPeter Vysparov convened a small group of researches together to study, among other things, these very sorts of “cryptic communications from the Old Ones, signaling return”. In a manner very close to Grant’s own untimely remixing of the edgeland currents rippling through cosmic post-war modernity, Vysparov’s goal was to find the key that would zip together Lovecraft’s ‘fiction’ with the body of work produced by Crowley and his acolytes, as well as with that of certain Indonesian indigenous populations. In his correspondence with the anthropologist Echidna Stillwell, he described this nexus as the zone of “Cthulhoid contagion”. On these matters Stillwell would response with a sense of knowing hesitance:

Whilst not in any way accusing you of frivolity, I feel bound to state the obvious warning: Cthulhu is not to be approached lightly. My researches have led me to associate this Chthonian entity with the deep terrestrial intelligence inherent in the electromagnetic cauldron of the inner earth, in all of its intense reality, raw potentiality, and danger. According to the Nma she is the plane of Unlife, a veritable Cthelll—who is trapped under the sea only according to a certain limited perspective—and those who set out to traffic with her do so with the greatest respect and caution.

Down and under…

Phyles and Networked Tribalism (notes and link roundup)

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The despatialized patch: or, as it has been called by its actually-existing practitioners, a phyle. The question of despatialized patches becomes foregrounded by multiple factors, the most obvious of which is that in the 21st century there is not necessarily any correlations between community and territorial clustering. Not even that ephemeral force that organized itself through reiterating engagements in a shared environment – tradition – is locked in place by the ground from which it emerged. Solid into air, value into information. On the far side of this trend is subscription governance that, unlike fixed neocam models, can be plugged into anywhere in the world. One only needs to look in the direction of  Estonia’s ongoing experiments with e-governance to reach this stage (or, from another direction, the recognition that there’s nary a government service that isn’t also provided for on the open market, and it is only a matter of time before the package deal rears its head. Government, by Amazon).

The term phyle has its roots in Neal Stephenson’s (post)cyberpunk novel The Diamond Age, and describes national, ethnic, and ‘synthetic’ networks of governance and commerce that operate globally. Coexistence with city-states, the phyles maintain certain territorial ‘enclaves’ where business enterprises internal to the network set up shop, which in turn supports the functioning of the phyle itself. In many respects Stephenson’s vision comes close to Rizome, the transnationally-networked corporation in Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net, which also exhibited a kind of decentralist organizational dynamic that has been described by Kevin Carson, in The Desktop Regulatory State, as ‘platform support structures’. Sterling suggested that the Rizome organizational system be likened to the structures of Japanese feudalism, while Stephenson’s phyles akin to the Venetian merchant guilds. Time-tangling, it seems, is utterly ubiquitous, and when we consider that the fictional depiction of the phyle directly informs the real-life experimentation, it’s clear that something very weird is happening. A hyperstitional thread, however, is probably best left for another time…

Las Indias is a ‘neo-Venetian’ phyle organized by a collective that came together in the Spanish cyberpunk scene of the 1990s. Contra the voiceless structure of Moldbuggian neocameralism, Las Indias articulates itself as an ‘economic democracy’ boasting a heavy focus on community, fraternity, and shared experience: a social “common metabolism’ that is conjoined to a “single economic metabolism”. According to David de Ugarte, one of the chief brains behind the project, these intertwined metabolisms produce an architecture that synthesizes an understanding of the phyle as both a “micro-country without territory” and a “kind of local economy”: the transnational network and the localized, spatial support structures. Out from these conduits flows product and services, and in flows capital and goods.

de Ugarte notes that while the neo-Venetian ethic of Las Indias bends towards the democratic, this isn’t the only path for the phyle:

The Murides, the old pacifist Sufis from Senegal, went from having a nationalist dis- course and growing peanuts to constituting a community trade network with two million members that spreads from South Africa to Italy. Its transformation isn’t over yet, but the young Murides have turned the daïras, the old Koranic schools, into urban communes that are also business cells.

At first blush, nothing could be farther apart than cyberpunks and the Murides. But the parallelism is significant: they are not companies linked to a community, but transnational communities that have acquired enterprises in order to gain continuity in time and robustness. They are phyles.

Phyles may function democratically and be cooperative-based, as in the case of the Indianos, or else they may have a small-business structure and even a religiously inspired ideology, as in the case of the Murides. But they share two key elements: they possess a transnational identity, and they subordinate their companies to personal and community needs.

Phyles are “order attractors” in a domain which states cannot reach conceptually and in areas that states increasingly leave in the dark: phyles invest in social cohesion, sometimes even creating infrastructures, providing grants and training, and having their own NGOs. Transnational thinking allows them to access the new globalised business before anyone else. A phyle’s investment portfolio may range from renewable energies to PMCs, from free software initiatives to credit cooperatives. Their bet is based on two ideas. First: transnational is more powerful than international. Second: in a global market the community is more resilient than the “classic” capitalist company.

Commentary from others in the P2P ‘movement’ had pushed back a little on certain aspects of Las Indias’s presentation of the phyle: drawing on some the same historical precedents cited by de Ugarte (namely: merchant guilds), Poor Richard challenges the formula that “community precedes enterprise”:

A guild can function just as envisioned for a phyle (from Greek phulē — tribe, clan) but does not carry the same connotation as a tribe, clan, or phyle of having a primary basis in familial kinship, nor the historical reputation (in certain cases) of rebellion against central authority. The subtle but important difference is that a guild is all about practical know-how and about taking care of business– not about ideology or revolution (eh, at least on the surface…).

Typically a guild (German: Gilde) is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. In the most general sense a guild is simply an organization of persons (peers) with related interests, goals, etc., especially one formed for mutual aid or protection. Historically guilds were any of various medieval associations, as of merchants or artisans, organized to maintain standards and to protect the interests of their members.

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One point on which I think guilds differ from Las Indias’ conception of phyles (“In Phyles, Community precedes Enterprise” -David Uguarte) is that for guilds, community and enterprise are two sides of one coin. I think this fits well with p2p culture while also being relatively non-confrontational with mainstream corporate/capitalist norms. The ability of guilds and leagues (such as the League of Women Voters) to present a relatively “normal” outward face, may have occasional tactical advantages.

Leaping off from this conversation, we might say that the phyle is a diagonalization between two different forms of organization: the guild and the networked tribe. There has been quite murmurs and active experimentation with neo-guild models over the last two decades, but the figure of the tribe itself – as perhaps a more abstract organizational system than either the guild or the phyle – permeate the emergent world. Extrapolate from trends in cultural fragmentation and miniaturization of production technology, and McLuhan’s dictum that electronic communicaton exerts a “tribalizing effect” nestles itself up against everything from the (arguably templex) tribalist dreams emanating from certain anarchist quarters as well as DIY networks, to insurgent hacker tribes, among other examples.

Speaking of tribes and time loops, here’s John Robb, circa 2005. While written only a year into the US’s disastrous adventure in Iraq, this seems like it may very well be more relevant today:

The tribalism we face today is a combination of these ancient mindsets and modern systems thinking (economics, networks, communication, etc.). It’s a very dangerous combination made stronger by the forces of globalization — which has levelled the playing field in the competition between tribes and states. Today, networked tribes thrive economically (particularly as participants in the multi-trillion dollar black economy) and project power globally:

  • In Iraq, we don’t face a single tribe (either traditional or manufactured). We face dozens. Wholesale systems disruption and violence has forced great many people (particularly young men) into tribal organizations for economic support and defense — a pattern we see repeated in other failed states.
  • In Afghanistan, we see tribes in control of most of the country as well as a multi-billion dollar opium industry.
  • Globally we see rapidly growing manufactured tribes like the Mara Salvatrucha (already over 700,000 strong) and al Qaeda in open war with states. The appeal of these tribes — the sense of belonging they represent — transcends borders. It is able to motivate young men in the UK and Honduras to undertake acts of extreme violence in the hope of gaining membership.

Until we understand the moral bonds of networked tribalism, there is little hope that we will morally defeat it.

From the U/Acc point of view of this blog, the idea of the moral defeat of such things seem like a woefully antiquated concept, as is the issue is not, at the ultimate unground, a question of moral determination or a sense of operational agency.

More mill-grist:

  • The Cyborg Nomad on Bit-Nations and Sovereign Services, charting out the intersection of extreme deterritorialization and the spatial boundaries of the Neocam model. Such things have relevance to the aforementioned organizational dynamics of the Neo-Venetian model.
  • Cockydooody on the Tankie Patchwork in Dontesk. Networked tribalism in pursuit of breakaway republics fosters what appears to be the opening chasm to unending war defined by the alchemical mixture of red and brown political ideologies. The “harsh exit”: “Neo-Soviet-Eastern-Orthodox-Eurasianist-Fascism-Communism”
  • Xenogoth on Bifo and the ‘Global Civil War’. A very poignant moment is the reflection on the possibility that resistance to geopolitical fragmentation may very well be “exacerbating mental disintegration”. The specter of antipraxis lurks in Bifo’s reflections, to boot.