CONSPIRACIES OF THE FUTURE

Try to imagine a psychocivilisational AI that has internalised all the dynamics of political critique, protest, dissent, insurrection, revolution. An AI whose hegemony is secretly contiguous with the entire cybersphere. How would the existence of such a power be made manifest within the system of representations “we” call the world? What outward forms would it assume that might betray its presence among “us”? – or even within “us”? – that could alert “us” to the fact that “we” might be nothing but subjects of some science-fictional experiment in “mind control” inside a cybernetic programme governed by it? Would merely entertaining such a scenario imply a crisis of confidence in “our” cognitive processes? A fatal psychic vulnerability? A doubt in the “concrete situation” of reality, so profound as to imply that “we” are, for all intents & purposes, mad? A collective pronoun of microtargetted paranoias? Deflected into the accusation that the world “itself” is secretly mad? Two “thought-experiments,” then, in which the inducement to reason irresponsibly, perhaps even unspeakably, presents itself at every turn. Such scenarios – of Messiah complexes, persecution complexes, influencing machines, cosmic conspiracies – furnish the conceits of countless “psychiatric” dramas. They differ from accepted “truths” – religious, political, social, etc. – by ideological degrees, rather than by degrees of facticity (usually the contrary is the case). Ideology, not science, defines terms like God, revelation, freedom, civil rights, protest, resistance, terrorism, revolution & so on.

Plato’s well-known analogy of the “Cave” unites the various elements of these scenarios into what amounts to an overwhelming ambivalence, in which truth & emancipation-from-falsehood are clearly displayed as a contest between opposing control-forces: whether construed as forces of reason or of madness is a matter ultimately of indifference (though not to Plato, of course, who insisted always on siding with Right).[1] It provides a ready template for the “eternal antagonisms” of ideological struggle in general, whether of the individual or the collective: one “man” against the world or the oppressed many against the privileged few; a monomania or a mass hysteria; truth singular or plural. In its numerous iterations, more often than not the story proceeds along the following lines: A renegade, or group of renegades, has stumbled upon a secret conspiracy of potentially global consequences (“truth” itself is under threat). A malevolent force – perhaps aliens, or machines, a tyrant or a lunatic, or all of these – has taken over the planet & hypnotised its inhabitants into believing they are free “sovereign” individuals, whereas in fact they are slaves to a vast simulation. Yet unsuspecting of such a control-force operating over them, the mass of humanity continues to behave, in their every-day social dramas, entirely unperturbed. Our renegades use their knowledge in an attempt to emancipate the people & are met with incomprehension, ridicule, outrage, death. In every version of this story the renegade-characters face a Herculean task in persuading their compatriots merely to open their eyes: this almost trivial injunction nevertheless implying that everything they have been led to believe to be the “truth” up until that moment has been pure fabrication. (Today this may no longer be the case.)

In John Carpenter’s 1988 satirical masterpiece, They Live, the ocular proof is provided by X-ray glasses, which reveal the aliens concealed within the Corporate-State Apparatus & the secret controls systems hidden beneath the veneer of “everyday life” – in commodities, advertising, the mass media: it’s only a matter of putting the glasses on. The viewer – aware that they are participating in a cinematic fiction – is made to perceive that this world is nothing but a subterfuge: a collective hallucination, a type of madness. Yet without this ocular proof, such an accusation against the madness of the world – even were it to escape its own paradox – could never escape the charge of madness itself. To which countless psychiatric institutions attest. The catch of course is that the distinction we are offered between “seeing the truth” & “hallucinating” is an entirely ambivalent one, since everything that is perceptible ultimately is so through a prism of ideology: the ideology of control or the ideology of emancipation. Or rather, perception is ideology: despite the appeal to an objective “technology of seeing,” there is no neutral perspective on the world – & this is its apparent “madness.” And if, as Wittgenstein says, the world is everything that is the case, including the possibility of its “falsification” & so on & etcetera, then how are we to hold it to account?

Of course, this is the dilemma of postmodernism, which – armed with its magic glasses – sees everything, including the act of seeing – as pure spectacle: its solution being to produce more, in an ever-inflationary, accelerated movement of idealised relativism. But the system of spectacular production is still a system – & what it produces is production itself. As Debord & Baudrillard in turn have demonstrated, such an accumulation of productive surplus doesn’t represent a falsification of the world, but its immanence as a mode of self-supersession: the spectacle produces the real. But how can we escape the suspicion that all of those “phantasms” animated by this generalised system are really the agents of an undisclosed power? A power operating in the world because it constitutes it? A power that is unpresentable precisely because it is what “makes visible”? That, by necessity, no amount of countervailing force could reveal its naked truth, so to speak?

How could we approach such a power, where every means of representing the problem, let alone a critique, would instantly be inverted: any project of disillusionment – like that of emancipation – instantly transformed into a more profound illusionism; knowledge transformed into non-knowledge; consciousness into false-consciousness? Inflated to encompass the totality of “critical” discourse, scenarios of this kind inevitably appear trivial. Like a calculus whose result is always infinity. But an appeal, of the kind we encounter ever-more-frequently, to a “return of the real” – as some catastrophic horizon delimiting the movement of totalisation – belies an equally trivial faith in some imminently approaching “critical mass” of self-evidence, on which the simulacral world must finally run aground. For example, that monument to human entropy referred to as the Anthropocene – as if the mere foretelling of a global extinction event could be the ideal counter-argument to the logic of spectacular-production. Are they not, in fact, one & the same?

If we take the Anthropocene somehow as the ocular proof of the world’s madness, we still delude ourselves in our appeal to the myth of some other, prior, pristine world to which – through a simple fidgeting with carbon emissions, plastic refuse, or the amputation of the Corporate-State Apparatus – could be, like the blind, so to speak, magically “restored” to vision. Yet it isn’t, as Žižek says, only that a world without capitalism is somehow beyond the pale, but that such a world would necessarily be incomprehensible according to the rationale of a public discourse symbiotic with it. Or put otherwise, there is no seditious idea that isn’t already co-opted to the thought of capital, no negation within the framework of the Corporate-State that isn’t already commodifiable & therefore an affirmation, despite itself, of the logic of capital.

That the history of scientific enlightenment, industrialisation, bourgeois democracy & capitalism all coincide is no accident: indeed, this coincidence represents the very paradigm of the modern conception of History itself, contiguous with the discourse of Reason itself. In contrast, the recoil to “nature,” to which the Anthropocene opens a path (if not merely to “alternative” forms of capitalism) as redemption-through-negation would, by consequence, present the very mimēsis of unreason – for, to repurpose Wittgenstein, if this “other world” could speak “we” would not understand it.

Does this incommensurability mean that the end of capitalism is tantamount merely to the end of “our” world? That is to say, the collective subjectivity produced by capitalism? Its “abstract social form”?

The other side of this question – focused on the core of expropriation that characterises its otherwise elusive object & seems to cast the very act of questioning into doubt – would be: UNDER WHAT GUISE DOES POWER RE-EMERGE FROM THE THEATRE OF ITS NEGATION, IF NOT AS NEGATION ITSELF?[2] Either the negation of capitalism isn’t possible, or else it must be predicated on capitalism itself being the concrete form of its own negation. Such is the deceptive character of this ZOMBIE CAPITALISM, able to resurrect itself at every pronouncement of its death. This is the true meaning of the neo-liberal END OF HISTORY, which itself LIVES-ON in a kind of negative perpetuity AS THE SELF-SIMULATION OF CAPITAL. This is not the same as the proposition that the long-foretold apocalypse has already taken place & we are merely living in a “post-apocalyptic world.” The world of zombie capitalism describes the sheer horrifying banality of an apocalypse that happens over & over again: farce, as Derrida says, always “on the edge of excess”: “satire of the abyss.”[3] This “negation of negation” is no mere illusion: it is a rupture in the system of the world itself, in which the “ontological fabric” of capitalist realism is no longer able to support the accumulated mass of its representations.

The belief in the self-supersession of the Corporate-State Apparatus has always been the pervasive superstition of Western democracy – knowing full-well that Power relinquishes nothing, or rather no-thing, since it itself is no thing but rather a mode of the symbolic order itself, in describing the very system of difference & repetition – difference itself, repetition itself – able to accommodate any succession of “terms” whatsoever. In its naïve volitional form, self-supersession presumes that Power is susceptible either to a suicidal impulse – excited by an unconditional ethics (that “elective” Power belongs to a given temporality which it must not exceed) – or that it relinquishes itself knowing full-well that to it alone belongs the trick of instant resurrection, contiguous with the miracle of the commodity, which bears the system of Power like a hologram within it, world-without-end. It isn’t that the End-of-Power would be the End-of-the-World, but that the world has been caused to discover its end in Power (which is to say, capital), whose prolific & self-devouring resurrection henceforth corresponds to “the world’s” sole temporal dimension.

Where the idea of History as “progress” implied teleology as perpetual change, in its post-historical formulation it signifies the contrary: teleology as the implosion of the real. Implosion under a critical mass of commodities. Henceforth, “the real” will designate this implosion itself. In this movement, reification belongs solely to the symbolic order, in which we recognise the essential thinglessness of the commodity: the “thought” of capital-moving-itself, so to speak, as autonomous agency. Agency as pure self-simulation. A zombified cognition that, like the Freudian “repressed,” returns as if from the future like some agent of secret time-war. Driven by this implosive “feedback” cycle, the acceleration of capital glitches the threshold of the perceptible, strobing between montage-effect & subliminal palimpsest, diachrony & synchrony, wherein the time of representation is perpetually out-of-joint. If the End-of-History names any thing, it is this palpable anachronicity: a circuit of self-supersession in which nothing follows. If History as “open-ended progress” was said to describe a vector, then the accelerated movement of late-capitalist hyperproduction describes an exponential curve: as acceleration approaches infinity, time approaches zero & History’s vector becomes captive to the geometry of inflation.[4]

 

lorentz_factor

The “Lorenz Factor” (γ): the factor by which time, length & relativistic mass change as a function of velocity, tending towards lightspeed (c)

 

The telos of this movement describes neither one co-ordinate nor a multiplicity of co-ordinates, but an event-horizon: the attenuated representational field that masks a singularity. It’s meaningless to name this singularity – for example, post-Capitalism, or the post-Anthropocene, even post-History. In terms of the historical movement that converges upon it, it represents – insofar at it represents anything – the IMPOSSIBLE.[5]

What’s more, within the circuit of anachronicity, this will always have been the case: like a cyclic redundancy error, acceleration will describe the very threshold it glitches as the totality of the historical dimension. And if, as Land argues, “capitalism is nothing beside the abstract accelerative social factor,”[6] then acceleration is its constitutive self-sufficiency. “Abstract” in that it is bound only by the teleology of its own perpetuated feedback. “Social” in respect to the fact that its operations constitute the entire domain of the spectacle’s permanent glitch economy, in which all social signification is contained, as simultaneously integrated & disintegrating. It is the particular quality of this “abstract accelerative social factor,” that it appears to us as both the field of its own operations & the agency presiding over them; as both its sufficiency & its excess. In this dimension of accelerated recursive spacetime, everything revolves around an interval of metonymic self-substitution which lends to this configuration its particular appearance of reflexivity.[7]

In “Alien Capital,” Primož Krašovec distinguishes reflexivity of this kind from mere fetishism (the imbuing of dependent elements within a system & their interrelations – such as commodities or market instruments like derivatives – with magical properties of independent action). “A metaphor that Marx held dear,” he writes, “was that in capitalism, something keeps happening behind the backs of those who participate in it.” Yet

that capital does something behind our back does not only mean that the consequences of capitalist economic activity are unpredictable and not necessarily in accordance with the intentions and expectations of those who carry them out… but also that capital operates according to its own logic that is independent of human intentions, desires and expectations. Capital is alien not (only) as an unconscious or unforeseen dimension of human activity, but as an additional actor, the “eighth” passenger of capitalist economy: alien.[8]

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

But just as Marx indicated that alienation isn’t in fact an anthropological process (it is instead the condition of the anthropological), so too we must move here beyond the simple description of capital as technological, to the supposition that capital itself is indistinguishable from technology-as-such. That capital is in fact a system of technology, just as the commodity is the thought of capital. It should be evident that the Anthropocene can’t be acquitted by the convenient appeal to a malevolent doppelganger or rogue AIs, & neither can humanism mask the alienation that constitutes subjectivity. Technology isn’t, as Marcuse argued, the invasion of “man’s” inner-freedom.[9] In the final analysis, the subjective is technological; the human is alien capital. And if the dream of humanity is to outlive itself by “alien” sublimation, the dream of capital is no less than to transcend History by becoming the future. Accelerating towards the limit of its own representability, it radiates in the illusion of a totality suspended over its own void – as if making possible the very thing it makes impossible.

 

Louis Armand

“Rage against the Algorithm” / Prague, November, 2018

published in Alienist #4 (December/January 2018/2019)

 

 

[1] Often neglected in Plato’s drama is the seizure, under the guise of emancipation, of the “means of production” of the experience of reality (truth).

[2] We are expected to believe – whenever some opposition movement or another arises in the face of rampant commodification, globalisation, austerity, corruption – that even the invitation to imagine such a state of affairs must really be a provocation or manoeuvre, a tactic designed to induce a kind of paranoia: that to demand the “impossible” must be madness. By the same token, we have learnt through bitter experience the language of agents provocateurs. Present day infiltration & counterintelligence operations against environmentalists, women’s rights & peace activists, animal rights activists, collectivists & hackers – like LulzSec, Greenpeace, Animal Liberation Front, Climate Camp, Reclaim the Streets, Antifa – find their immediate antecedents in the practices of clandestine Cold War stay-behind operations, such as “Gladio,” which actively pursued violent escalation among political dissidents from the 1960s onwards, falsely implicating left-wing groups in terrorist actions & discrediting movements opposed to the expansion of free market economics. These operations occurred in tandem with military & economic terrorism directed at left-wing governments in the Persian Gulf, South East Asia, Latin America & Sub-Saharan Africa – including a series of coups & assassinations in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Chile, Guatemala, Congo, Biafra, Lesotho, Iran & elsewhere. In the period since the end of the Cold War, & the socalled End of Ideology,” a form of paranoia has persisted whose indefinite entanglement with itself risks engendering monsters far more terrible than any conspiracy. (During the last 4 decades in Britain alone, undercover police infiltrated over one thousand political groups.) Indeed, today nothing seems to be more commonplace.

[3] Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoffrey Bennington & Ian McLeod (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987) 17.

[4] The curve described by the “Lorenz Factor” may be said to correspond to an increment of resistance built into spatiotemporality & brought into view by acceleration: it marks the inertial event-horizon whose traversal, requiring an infinite investment of energy, thus “represents” the impossible as such: the condition under which the vector of “representation” itself implodes.

[5] The teleology of this no-futurism isn’t negated by this radical ambivalence – in which the supersession of the human is (paradoxically) its own precondition – but in fact constituted by it, as a kind of magical, negentropic hypercommodity (the unpresentable “transcendental signified” on which the entire movement of History is premised is no-thing but the recursive interval of signifiying-substitution “itself,” iterability “itself”).

[6] Nick Land, “A Quick & Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism,” Jacobite (May 2017): jacobitemag.com/2017/05/25/a-quick-and-dirty-introduction-to-accelerationism/

[7] We are confronted here with a movement that, in its deconstructive involutions, describes teleology as an effect of recursivity (the “strange attractor” phenomenon) or decoherence (or e.g. spontaneous wave-function collapse in the quantum field), rather than of any kind of latent purposiveness. A teleology, in other words, of random or pseudo-random events, whose “transcendentailism” is nothing but a vectoral rate-of-change, an acceleration. It would appear to occupy a position of lability between, for example, gravitational contraction & cosmic expansion. Teleology as cosmological horizon: the limit of the very coherence of matter, of light (& therefore also of the imaginary, which also is a kind of “teleology.” whose superluminal transcendence is the realm of a mythic unpresentability). At what point does a discussion of teleology point to a breakdown not only of “sense” but of any kind of signifying materiality (the sign distended to such an extent that iteration itself ceases to be possible: the exponential limit of différance, so to speak – a kind of semiological “Lorenz factor”)? But the sign (as “Saussurian algorithm”), like the vector, is the structural (pre)condition of its own teleology: the sign as the unit of signifying-substitution (self-supersession & recursion); the vector as unit of spacetime directionality.

[8] Primož Krašovec, “Alien Capital,” trans. Miha Šuštar, Vast Abrupt (July 2018): vastabrupt.com/2018/07/11/alien-capital/

[9] Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964) 151.

! history lives-on after its “end” as the self-simulation of capital small

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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