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.


Ruin and Freedom


If Proudhon’s philosophy of progress can be summed up in just a few words, it would be this: things grow and things decay, and things grow again elsewhere. State decay, community decay, cultural decay, economic decay so on and so forth – this is the necessary movement for state growth, community growth cultural growth, economic growth, etc. etc. It will, however, never run backwards: what has inevitability decayed is barred from returning in its original form. Anticipating Deleuze and Guattari’s stunning observation (one brought into alignment the with non-linear movements of complex systems by Manuel DeLanda) that deterritorialization within an assemblage implies reterritorialization elsewhere – and vice-versa – by centuries, Proudhon delivers an understanding of progress fully stripped of the assumptions packed into it by modernity at its most hubristic.

One of the common critiques of U/ACC is that it doesn’t deal sufficiently with the question of collapse, that its assumptions align with the most Promethean of moderns in that it envisions, on the ‘other side’ of technoeconomic take-off, unending wealth, prosperity, and orgiastic delirium. Nothing could be further from the truth (except perhaps the last one, though the delirium in mind is hardly that of bourgeois decadence). Sites of techno-economic intensity will doubtlessly be characterized by self-reinforcing growth, which – until it hits the transcendental wall of hard singularity – will bleed through society in the form of higher standards of living, health, and happiness. But things decay, and grow elsewhere. The interior cost of this techno-economic feedback will be the consolidation of the human agent into the gears of the urban machine, but the exterior costs will be something completely different: ruin.

Jane Jacob’s argument concerning the relationship between urban development and rural zones, detailed in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, helps draw out the implications of this. For Jacobs, the focus of macro-economic analysis should be shifted from the scale of the nation-state to the city-unit, noting that the economic health of the city is not only a barometer of the nation’s economy, but actually takes lead in driving economic development. This takes place because the city tends to development into a self-reinforcing entity, bringing industry inwards toward itself in a manner which effectively transforms the urban zone into an immense vacuum that sucks constant and variable capital from the rural.

Combine this with the globalization of post-Fordist supply chains and the evolution of capital from its striated form to the smooth, it becomes clear which direction the progress of decay and growth is heading, at least in the current time. The rural – as well as various obsoleted urban zones killed by the thrasher of creative destruction – becomes dotted with what has been described as “sacrifice zones”. Driving across the United States and you’ll see more of these than you can count. Extrapolate how these conditions will look in ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years and the creeping ruin looms greater and greater. Collapse is actualized in these places, and does not contradict the fiery circuit of growth elsewhere. Or, to put it even more bluntly, collapse is the cost of unstoppable techno-economic acceleration. To paraphrase an old Trotskyite proverb: the system might be combined, but its development is completely and totally uneven.

Deep in the caves, Schwund pokes and prods Jacob’s theory of urban path dependency for weaknesses to exploit: “this sort of is due to centralized production modes, people move to the city because that’s where the jobs are and vice versa, but if I can sit in the desert writing code for killbots that get produced not in some factory but anywhere my company sets up a 3d printer, and I get everything I need droned to my doorstep by amazon there’s little reason to go anywhere.”

With shades of Kevin Carson, Schwund shines a light on another dimension of collapse: that ruin and a particular kind of freedom need not be antithetical. Out beyond the shimmering borders of the internally-individuating urban zone – and maybe serving a foreshadow of that zone’s own fate under the blade of capital – the sucked-dry bones of yesterday’s world may very well become a space teeming, swarming with strange things, a vast and broken laboratory incubating mutants of its own kind. Consider the following vision of the coming “drop-out economy”, one of the weirder (and more exciting, if a little overly optimistic) things to be written by an American conservative political commentator:

Imagine a future in which millions of families live off the grid, powering their homes and vehicles with dirt-cheap portable fuel cells. As industrial agriculture sputters under the strain of the spiraling costs of water, gasoline and fertilizer, networks of farmers using sophisticated techniques that combine cutting-edge green technologies with ancient Mayan know-how build an alternative food-distribution system. Faced with the burden of financing the decades-long retirement of aging boomers, many of the young embrace a new underground economy, a largely untaxed archipelago of communes, co-ops, and kibbutzim that passively resist the power of the granny state while building their own little utopias.

Rather than warehouse their children in factory schools invented to instill obedience in the future mill workers of America, bourgeois rebels will educate their kids in virtual schools tailored to different learning styles. Whereas only 1.5 million children were homeschooled in 2007, we can expect the number to explode in future years as distance education blows past the traditional variety in cost and quality. The cultural battle lines of our time, with red America pitted against blue, will be scrambled as Buddhist vegan militia members and evangelical anarchist squatters trade tips on how to build self-sufficient vertical farms from scrap-heap materials. To avoid the tax man, dozens if not hundreds of strongly encrypted digital currencies and barter schemes will crop up, leaving an underresourced IRS to play whack-a-mole with savvy libertarian “hacktivists.”

Work and life will be remixed, as old-style jobs, with long commutes and long hours spent staring at blinking computer screens, vanish thanks to ever increasing productivity levels. New jobs that we can scarcely imagine will take their place, only they’ll tend to be home-based, thus restoring life to bedroom suburbs that today are ghost towns from 9 to 5. Private homes will increasingly give way to cohousing communities, in which singles and nuclear families will build makeshift kinship networks in shared kitchens and common areas and on neighborhood-watch duty. Gated communities will grow larger and more elaborate, effectively seceding from their municipalities and pursuing their own visions of the good life. Whether this future sounds like a nightmare or a dream come true, it’s coming.

At the far horizon from this short-term vision is the time-tangling of modernity catching up with itself and plummeting to its apex: paleo-agorism and the cyborg nomad. “if it’s true as Land says, that reaction is never regressive enough and modernity is never advanced enough, what you get, at the point where circuit closes, at doom, is nomad cyborgs. a hunter-gatherer band formed by the most fiercely selected elements of technology.”