Mixed Bag

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Xenogoth has a great new post up in his ongoing examination of p-work: “Patchwork Pub Chat”. It concerns a bar room conversation with a city planner, and the conceptual diagonal of high connectivity/low integration. Ultimately, the city planner – while expressing sentiments close to the secessionist drive – finds this schema to be “too corporate”. Regardless, this is exactly the kind of conversation that should be had, right where the graph paper meets the jungle of concrete, metal, wires, and governing protocols. This brings to mind Jacobite’s recent article on the major trends in “innovative governance”, which splits the terrain into two camps (each with their own subdivisions): the heterodox and the mainstream. While this blog sits squarely in the heterodox camp – the vantage point of acceleration cannot but problematize the goings-on in the mainstream – it is nonetheless the mainstream that will bear the fruits of these alien signals (or at least in the short term).

Xenogoth makes a great point, referencing Fernando Mendez and Micha Germann’s exciting study of sovereignty referendums, which had found that while secessionist politics are steadily rising, this has not yet wounded the drive towards political integration. He writes:

It seems obvious to me now, nationally and internationally, that there is a conflict over which future will win out — unified or patchwork. Desires for both seem internalised by many.

Couldn’t agree more! The argument that I would want to pose is that something like patchwork is ultimately inevitable – maybe not codified as strongly as many adherents would hope (indeed, it stands to ask: besides geopolitical fracture and sovereign stabilization, will we not see increased non-linear conflict in the course of x-risk democratization?) – but multiplying poles of power at the expense of the integrated politico-economic bloc. This was the argument of my old “Unconditional Acceleration and the Question of Praxis” piece (ayy, published just one year and a few days ago). The gambit was to cross the temporal swirl of acceleration (technomic spiraling towards a singularity point) with a broadening of the Hayekian knowledge problem by way of Kevin Carson’s critique of contemporary organizational dynamics and Yaneer Bar-Yam’s analysis of the impact of complexification on organization on the scale of civilizational history. If one has the time, I strongly recommend the uh first 350 pages of Carson’s 600+ page tome Organization Theory (pdf warning); if not, definitely give Bar-Yam’s “Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, A Complexity Profile” a go. The conclusion of Bar-Yam’s work points, in my opinion, to the ultimate failure of larger systems of political integration, and why political organization will be routed down to smaller and smaller units:

…A schematic history of human civilization reflects a growing complexity of the collective behavior of human organizations. The internal structure of organizations changed from the large branching ratio hierarchies of ancient civilizations, through decreasing branching ratios of massive hierarchical bureaucracies, to hybrid systems where lateral connections appear to be more important than the hierarchy. As the importance of lateral interactions increases, the boundaries between subsystems become porous. The increasing collective complexity also is manifest in the increasing specialization and diversity of professions. Among the possible future organizational structures are fully networked systems where hierarchical structures are unimportant.

 

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If we take the motor of complexification to be accelerating technomic feedback, then we arrive at a formulation that high connectivity may very well be what induces low integration. Rejoice, distributists! Small really is better – but not necessarily for the reasons you may think or want (putting this here as a reminder to finally write up “The Cybernetic Subsidiarity Principle”).

At the same time, however, Land’s argument that cyberpositive excitation is historically compensated by explosion-dampening forces must be taken seriously. “Self-organizing compensatory apparatuses — or negative feedback assemblies — develop erratically. They search for equilibrium through a typical behavior labeled ‘hunting’ — over-shooting adjustments and re-adjustments that produce distinctive wave-like patterns, ensuring the suppression of runaway dynamics, but producing volatility.” Read politically, this is the persistence of integration attempting to, as Deleuze and Guattari might say, ward off the flow that seek to escape or route around their blockages.

So, for a time at least, a mixed playing field seems likely, which will certainly induce volatility (and thus friction, and from there more complexity). I recently listened to a talk by Benjamin Bratton, titled “Processing Sovereignty”, that deals with this very problem. Anticipating that the entire geopolitical worldsphere will be rewritten according to the often imperceptible rules of the Stack, he argues that there is a two-fold process has begun: one in which ‘software consumes sovereignty’, and a reverse in which ‘software is consumed by sovereignty’. This has implications on patchworked paths into the future, which he notes by directly addressing the neocameralist variant:

New sovereign territories, I want to sort of underscore, are also drawn in parallel domains to the state but can be imagined as configured as diffuse and discontiguous incorporations from there, in each of which of ways that would redefine and reposition how we would locate this problem of emplacement. That it, that’s it’s not only the Cloud platform absorbs and redraws the functions of the state according to their more gossamer topologies. The production of new territories occurs as much if not more so by how much states absorb the functions of the Cloud and become Cloud platforms. So instead of thinking of new spaces as something developed in opposition to the state, which is then understood as a kind of fixed model, a landlocked entity against which liquid flows may swim, we need to see that states are also producing new territories and perhaps in some ways more important ones for, good or bad, the state itself is actually respatialized as a Stack.

Also, I’ll talk a little about this a bit more informally, about the relative continuity of those spaces may span from a kind of hard enclosure within a bounded territorial domain, to transoceanic atmospheric encapsulations, through information securitization and monetization, of course. Now, the argument I would propose and need some more time to draw out – and this is sort of what at least one of the chapters in the next book will do so – is a bit more like Schitt’s Großraum than it is like, for example, the neocameralist patchwork multiplication of Westphalian enclaves, though we see that too with as certain private polities proliferate. So that is to say that what we see instead is not one global Stack, but a mitosis of Stack genera, into a regime of multipolar hemispherical Stacks, in which the sovereign steerage of a state, even if unbounded by Westphalian borders exactly, remains paramount.

On a related note, Stuart Elden has a great essay on the concept of the Großraum: “Reading Schmitt Geopolitically: Nomos, Territory, and Großraum.

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Anarchy (#3: Katechon and Apocalypse)

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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.