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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Breakaway

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There’s an interesting study of independence referendums that has been published in the British Journal of Political Science, titled “Contested Sovereignty: Mapping Referendums over Time and Space”. The study’s authors – Fernando Mendez and Micha Germann – have found that previous attempts to investigate the phenomenon all-too-frequently muddy the waters something terrible: insufficient definitions on what constitutes a ‘sovereignty referendum’, difficulties in determining when exactly the first referendum of the modern epoch was, etc. To navigate these problems and others, Mendez and Germann take the simplest route: ‘referendum’ becomes defined as “any popular vote on an issue of policy that is organized by the state or at least by a state-like entity, such as the authorities of a de facto state”; while ‘sovereignty’ is rendered as “the right to make authoritative political decisions within a territorial unit”. The sovereignty referendum is “a direct popular vote on a reallocation of sovereignty between at least two territorial centres”. This establishes two (primary) forms of political logic: integrative tendencies, which sees the multiple political actors shift their loyalties into a new system with a higher order principle of jurisdiction (prime example being the unification of Europe under the auspices of the EU); and disintegrative ones that move in the precisely opposite direction. Disintegration entails “the dynamic whereby political actors in one or more subsystems withdraw their loyalties, expectations and political activities from a jurisdictional centre and either focus them on a centre of their own (for example, secession) or on an external centre, such as a cultural motherland.”

What Mendez and Germann end up finding is that the amounts of new sovereignty referendums have steadily increased over time, and have continually broadened their scope. For example, referendums tended to be a primarily Western phenomenon for the two first centuries of their existence, but since World War 2 – that is, time frame encompassing the consolidation of a global economic system and the decolonization process – they have globalized. At the tame time, however (and this is critically important for the ongoing interests of this blog), disintegration has not happened at the expense of integration, which itself has advanced in tandem.

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Figure 6 suggests some distinctive patterns. Until the post-war period, sovereignty referendums tended to follow the integrative logic, with notable spikes at the time of France’s post-revolutionary annexations, the unifications of Italy and Switzerland in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the interwar period redrawing of the European map. Much of the baseline integrative activity is due to the drawn-out process of the formation of the American union. However, after 1945 referendums tended to increasingly follow the logic of disintegration. Essentially, this is due to three partly overlapping processes: (1) the wave of referendums related to decolonization after the Second World War, (2) the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union and (3) the spike of self-determination referendums referred to in our eighth cluster. Although disintegrative activity has increased, integrative activity has far from ceased and has indeed even increased in recent years. This is mainly due to the referendums triggered by European integration. Finally, Figure 6 points to another recent development: the emergence of multi-option referendums with mixed logic post- 1945, mostly related to decolonization.

We have some of our own predictions here on how this will ultimately shake-out, of course.

Anarchy

 

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Contrary to the impression given by the demands of socially-minded anarchists, anarchy is already existent and active. This principle does not emerge either from the ground posited by the ranks of the immediatists, the egoists, and general post-left milieu – that anarchy is actualized when we only act in a manner that coheres with the theoretical expectation of what such a (non)state entails. This articulation of anarchy is drab and despondently humanistic, pivoting itself on the power of a given agent to execute their will and desire. Anarchism is distributed along a pole marked by the so-called ‘social anarchists’, and the ‘post-left’ on the other. A common logic binds this pole: everything begins and ends with the human. Exteriority is shunted away, and even if something like it is posed (such as in the common appeals to flowery poetic chaos) it still remains locked into the interior realm of human experience.

Against the binding of the anarchist pole, another way: the realization of an anarchy that is fundamental and unconditional because it serves as the unground for the great struggles of power. To draw this out, consider the global hierarchy of sovereign powers, with its ebbs and flows, consolidations and breakdowns. If we were to begin diagramming these fluctuating arrangements over time, it would quickly become clear that there is no radiant institution that guarantees the stability and rights of the kingdoms beneath it. Not a sovereign of sovereigns, but an immense void: anarchy.

An articulation of anarchy as a transcendental force has been, in fact, a theoretical bedrock in the realist and neorealist schools of international relations. To quote from neorealist theorist Kenneth Waltz’s text Theory of International Politics:

Structural questions are questions about the arrangement of the parts of a system. The parts of domestic political systems stand in relations of super- and subordination. Some are entitled to command; others are required to obey. Domestic systems are centralized and hierarchic. The parts of the international-political system stand in relations of coordination. Formally, each is the equal of all the others. None is entitled to command; none is required to obey. International systems are decentralized and anarchic… The problem is this: how to conceive of an order without an orderer and of organizational effects where formal organization is lacking.

Despite being a far cry from the usual analysis offered by the contemporary anarchist, the IR definition of anarchy conforms very closely to way anarchism was defined by the first anarchist – Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. For Proudhon, there was no contradiction between professing an adherence to an anarchist philosophy and spending time as a politician. A survey of his work betrays a deep fascination with state banking, constitutions, and federated sovereigns. This wasn’t an uncritical embrace of the state – Proudhon challenged the consolidation of dispersed territorial units, communities, and cities into larger European states – but it was a recognition that history unfolds through a dance of cascading variables that wage war against one another, find temporary balance, and break apart again. Adjusting his philosophical framework to Marx’s correct charge that his The System of Economical Contradictions had haply smeared together Kant and Hegel in posing that antimonies resolved into synthesis, Proudhon wrote that “THE ANTIMONY CANNOT BE RESOLVED; this is the fundamental flaw of the entire Hegelian philosophy. The two terms composing the antimony BALANCE either against each other, or against another antinomic term: which leads to the desired result. A balance is not a synthesis in the way Hegel understood it and as I had supposed like him.”

While it’s up for debate whether or Proudhon had a firm grasp of Hegelian philosophy, what’s important is how this framework framed his understanding of the political. Social power is a manifestation of “collective force”, which manifests in the form of the state. This is produced through the movement of antinomic opposition into the temporary alliance of balance which occurs not only internally to the state – convergence on concepts of justice and right – but externally as well, in the form of the balance of great powers across the international stage. The question, then, is the same that Waltz posed: how can order be produced without an orderer? For Proudhon, the engine of multi-scaled political self-organization is force and war:

The right of force, the right of war and the right of nations, defined and circumscribed as we have just done, supporting, implying and engendering each other, govern history. They are the secret providence that leads nations, makes and unmakes states, and, unifying force and law, drives civilization on to the safest and widest road. Through them, many things are explained that no ordinary law, historic system, or capricious evolutions of chance can account for.

War makes and breaks political equilibrium, Proudhon’s term for the balance of power. It engenders the political and also stands for its inevitable unmaking in the swirls of unending progress (understood here as the empty, abstract form of progress detached from normative particulars). It is, therefore, a force outside the state, the external regulator of the state’s activities: a swift and unpredictable force that takes the place of the absent sovereign of sovereigns. In other words, war and anarchy are for Proudhon – just as they are for IR realists – intimately entangled with one another. Bellum omnium conta omnes, the Hobbesian state of nature as the war of all against all, is affirmed, yet Proudhon’s thought converges with Nietzsche’s critique of social contract theory in that state is sustained by this primordial conflict. It is not the antithesis of justice (which for Proudhon is nothing more that the production of balance), but its fount.

Nick Land turns Proudhon’s mutualism pitch-black with his political theology of meta-neocameralism:

The effective cyclic reproduction of power has an external criterion — survival. It is not open to any society or regime to decide for itself what works. Its inherent understanding of its own economics of power is a complex measurement, gauging a relation to the outside, whose consequences are life and death. Built into the idea of sovereign property from the start, therefore, is an accommodation to reality. Foundational to MNC [Meta-Neocameralism], at the very highest level of analysis, is the insight that power is checked primordially. On the Outside are wolves, serving as the scourge of Gnon. Even the greatest of all imaginable God-Kings — awesome Fnargl included — has ultimately to discover consequences, rather than inventing them. There is no principle more important than this.

In Proudhon’s mutualism, as with MNC, how one enters into relations with the outside – or anarchy – is directly relevant to the question of survival. Organization can strive to hold the anarchic at bay, or it can exhibit an openness to it. The cold entropic laws governing the decreased life spans of closed systems sends the former down a path of stagnation and death – yet the latter cannot be mistaken for any semblance of immortality and even long-term stability. It might be that this path leads to Bataille’s sovereign that is marked by total absence, or a cutting-up and unfolding of the sovereign body in a manner akin to Lyotard’s visceral body horror: “Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces…”

Do what thou wilt is the challenge that anarchy intones, but to accept it is to enter into a demon’s pact (the Anarch here becoming an anomalous agent, a Sorcerer). Freedom might be found stepping towards that threshold, but at the absolute risk of everything. Balance is precarious, and the threat of complete submersion whips and batters: “No sooner have we reached the condition or ground of our principle than we are hurled headlong beyond to the absolutely unconditioned, the ‘ground-less’ from which the ground itself emerged.” For Proudhon, this means that crowned anarchy topples royalist absolutism. If political organization is sustained, it must be one that goes in the opposite direction from the absolutist doctrine, that rides the waves of progress through that which will decay and dissolve . Such is the supreme law of anarchy:

This double movement, one of degeneration, the other of progress, that resolves itself in a unique constellation, also results from the definition of the principles, from their relative position and their roles: here again no ambiguity is possible, there is no room for arbitrariness. The fact is objectively evident and mathematically certain; this is what we will call a LAW.

ADDENDUM: it seems that Uri already covered much of the content in this post with his superb “Anarchist Transcendental Ontology”. A small sample of this highly recommended read:

at the edge, anarchist ontology seeks the un-ground of power – the realistic source, beyond all mere wishes, from which any ability to produce yields. it incrementally (or, progressively, in a strictly proudhonian sense) found the hints of such un-ground in variation-selection dynamics, or simply “war”.this scale-free framework, implexing itself throughout the universe’s evolution, gives rise and tide to all monarchs, presidents, tyrants and fatherlands.

anarchist ontology, thus, proceeds by breaking up whole into fractal fragments in competition – the only way any order can be produced. thus, it’s not only that the order of the social necessarily falls back on the competition among its individual components, but that the order within the individuals itself falls back on pre-individual components in competition. up above and down below, it’s individualities and collectivities.