Future Sailors: Notes on Inventing The Future (ii)

What does the “full” in “full automation” mean? Does it mean the automation of literally everything, or the automation of everything in some class of presumably-automatable things? We can rule out the former immediately, because of the halting problem. This is a more abstract, and much less interesting, reason than “what about care work?”; but it also shows that “full automation” can’t interestingly be assumed to mean the automation of literally everything: it must mean the automation of some class of presumably-automatable things, and that immediately opens up the question of how that class is to be specified. (Again, for abstract and not very interesting reasons, it can’t be specified automatically: it’s impossible to have an automatic procedure for determining whether or not something is automatable, at least if we assume that “automatable” implies “computable” in some sense).

Without totally dismissing the idea that some kinds of automation might make some kinds of care work easier to do (in the manner of “labour-saving devices”), I think we can rule out robot mental health nurses, childminders, or other kinds of looker-after-of-vulnerable-human-beings. That human beings are recurrently vulnerable in ways that require looking after, and that this looking-after isn’t amenable to automation, ought to frame our understanding of the ways in which automation can expand our capacity for action, or relieve us of the necessity of having to do certain kinds of work for ourselves. Lyotard makes the point that all human beings pass through a kind of neoteny, which we call childhood, and that this is as much “the season of the mind’s possibilities” as it is a kind of impairment. Childhood is a condition under which the things we want to do, and the things we need doing for us, are complex and dialogical, and we remain substantially under this condition as adults even if we have managed to find transitional objects to tide us over. Automation can do very little to relieve us of the work of childhood (although psychoanalysis is often concerned with a kind of automatism that takes hold in these processes, replacing dialogic tension and release with monologic fixation).

So, the Universal Abstract Subject that finds its opportunities for self-and-other-actualisation enhanced and amplified by technology is in a sense a subject separated from its childhood, a grown-up subject, with relatively stable needs and purposes. I am playing a game, and I want to be more successful at it; I script a bot to execute efficiently some of the combinations of moves I commonly have to make, or to evaluate the state of play and suggest winning strategies. Or: I have been given a well-specified and repetitive task to do, and it occurs to me that something much less intelligent than me could do it instead. Or: I offload part of the cognitive burden of detecting patterns in sensory information to a machine-learning system that has become superlatively good at noticing when something looks a bit like a cat, so that I can concentrate on something the machine-learning system isn’t quite so good at doing. What do these scenarios have in common? That the goals to be achieved are specified in advance, and that technical means exist through which they can be accomplished by a proxy agent with less and less involvement from the agent (me) whose goals they originally were.

“Full” automation, then, means that things we already know we want to do, and already know how to do, should be done less and less by us, and more and more by proxies, so that we can spend more time on things we don’t already know we want to do, or how to do. There isn’t actually any specifiable endpoint to this process: we’ll never know when we’ve finished, when we’ve automated all the things. The argument of ItF, as I understand it, is that we’re lagging a long way behind: that there are still a great many things that human beings are doing unnecessarily, because capitalism (like Sports Direct) will happily use cheap labour rather than even quite “low” technology for as long as it can get away with it. The demand for full automation is then a (perfectly reasonable) demand to “catch up” with what technology has already made possible. But the dynamic I’ve been describing here suggests that this will mean not so much the elimination of work as its ongoing transformation.

Future Sailors: Notes on Inventing The Future (i)

Neoliberalism, as ItF narrates it, was neither a social movement (“politics from below”) nor, initially, a state project (“politics from above”), but a kind of conspiracy which aimed to capture both state power and social energies and turn them to its own ends. Its effective cunning, its ability to transform “contradictions” into “productive tensions”, was in part due to the fact that it had no identity to uphold: no fixed allegiance, no-one in whose name it was to speak. If neoliberalism was finally a class politics, it was a politics of the owners of capital qua owners of capital, whoever they might happen to be. We must understand Hayek’s “individual freedom” not only negatively, as freedom from state intervention or bonds of collective allegiance, but also positively, as freedom to act as a certain kind of abstract agent: a receiver and emitter of pricing signals. I alone must be able to say what the value of something is to me (deregulation), and I must have as many occasions as possible to deliver evaluations of this kind (marketisation).

The universal abstract subject (UAS) of neoliberalism is a transducer of price signals, a node in a massively distributed information system the global goal of which is to become more efficient. The role of producer is secondary: there must be inputs from labour in order for the system to have priceable things to regulate, but from the point of view of the system labour itself exists only as another priceable thing. As a counter to this, ItF proposes an alternative UAS, a self-and-other-actualising producer of values (to give it a slightly Nietzschean accent) whose “synthetic freedom” is the freedom to invent new things to do, and new means by which it can become more free to do them.

Politics in the name of a UAS, i.e. a vision of generic human capacity, is politics in a different register to politics in the name of justice, rights or equality. It is only interested in the ways people can be wounded, stigmatised, humiliated or excluded insofar as such injuries impinge on their ability to exercise the capacity by virtue of which they qualify as instances of the UAS. To many people this will seem weirdly amoral. Neoliberalism can be moralised, if we posit property rights as in some way fundamental to human dignity rather than simply as necessary preconditions for the exercise of liberal agency, but it has no real need of morality to motivate its defence of strong property rights: they are functionally indispensable, that’s all. ItF’s modernist UAS, liberated from work and empowered by technology to mould reality to its individual and collective wishes, has (increasingly) complex needs, but once again the reason why these needs should be met is not that suffering cries to the heavens for remedy, but that synthetic freedom requires us to be constantly levering ourselves further and further away from the precarity and waste of subsistence-level survival. (An open, and troubling, question for ItF’s whole project is how this “ourselves” can be properly inclusive of all humanity, and not merely codify the entitlement of its wealthiest part to all the resources they can lay their hands on).

In some quarters, access to the internet is now being discussed as a universal human right. From the point of view of ItF’s UAS this is exactly as it should be, because internet access is functionally necessary for certain kinds of projects which a subset of humanity is now able to undertake (creating open source software, for example, or arguing about books on blogs). But this is then a conception of “rights” which is contingent on the ongoing elaboration of human powers and freedoms, rather than grounded in human nature or motivated by a ceaseless ethical vigilance over human vulnerability.

What ItF wants to have in common with neoliberalism, then – besides its demonstrated effectiveness as a hegemonic strategy – is a certain detachment from morality, a sense that moral concerns are politically secondary. (This sense is also present in some, but by no means all, formulations of revolutionary politics). There is a deliberate break here with what we might call pastoral politics, politics which proposes an ideal moral order and looks for ways that this order can be established so that we can all live peacefully within it. Modernist Prometheanism is decidedly anti-pastoral, because its demand for openness about possible human goals and purposes is incompatible with any scheme in which everyone has and knows their place in a global moral order. Its strongest critique of neoliberalism, then, is not that the latter is amoral and destructive, but that it, too, constitutes a premature and drastically limiting decision in favour of a singular vision of human purpose.

DIRTBAG JEZZA

SUN JOURNALIST: Mr Corbyn
CORBYN: asphinctersayswhat
SUN JOURNALIST what

CORBYN: …

TOM WATSON: Jeremy
CORBYN: yo deputy dawg
TOM WATSON: I’ve been meaning to talk to you
about the NATO thing
CORBYN: lol
TOM WATSON: I’m serious
what about Russia
CORBYN: asphinctersayswhat…
TOM WATSON: …
CORBYN: …aboutrussia

PAXMAN: Mr Corbyn
CORBYN: yo
PAXMAN: Questions have been raised
about your associations with Islamist organi-
CORBYN: hey paxman
do you have any of those blue pills
PAXMAN: What pills
CORBYN: you know
the ones you eat
so you can gobble the ghosties
PAXMAN: what

CORBYN: mr prime minster
my next question comes from Sam
in London
[jeers from Labour benches]
CAMERON: you mean Sam
Cameron
my wife
Samantha
CORBYN: yes
she wants to know
where you keep the emergency johnnies
CAMERON: what
CORBYN: where’s michael gove
mr prime minster
why isn’t he sitting next to you
right now
CAMERON: omg
CORBYN: i know
right
[sings to theme tune of “Byker Grove”] Michael! Gooooove!

“for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust”

A comment from 3 years ago on reddit about Ashley Madison:

Not really question, but I want to make sure that everyone else knows what Mr Biderman knows.
There are few or no women on Ashley Madison. Ads and messages “from” women are in fact from employees of Ashley Madison.
The business model is fairly simple. The would-be adulterer buys the privilege of sending X messages, say 50 for $100. He uses them to respond to ads supposedly from women (unbeknownst to him, of course, they are just plants).
When he starts to run low, one of his messages will be answered. A woman who is, miraculously, exactly what he was looking for and lives nearby, will start up a conversation with him. Things will be looking really good just when he runs out of messages. He’ll have to buy a whole new package of 50 or 100 but someone that women will never as responsive — until he starts running low again.
Personally, I think it’s a pretty sleazy business, but what the hell.
(No, I’m not a victim. I used to run an honest dating site.)

If you want to understand the motivations of the AM hackers, you need to understand how very intensely anons hate this kind of thing. It’s not wannabe-adulterers they have a hate-boner for – they’re quite sanguine about treating AM’s userbase as collateral damage, but if they rationalise this as “punishment” it’s for stupidity not immorality. But that’s by the by. What they hate, with the fire of a thousand suns, is systematic deception and unfairness – because what they adhere to, as a value above all values, is the idea of a level playing field with transparent rules. They know very well that the world isn’t like that, but they believe that it should be and can be made to be by exposing and punishing offenders against fairness – the corrupt, the duplicitous, the biased and self-serving. This is the underlying principle behind both the old anon campaigns against the Church of Scientology, and all the bits of ‪#‎gamergate‬ that are in any sense actually about ethics in games journalism. If AM had actually done what it purported to do, fairly and consistently and without false advertising or making a sucker out of the punters, then I can guarantee that absolutely no fucks would have been given by anyone in that community.

As usual, it all gets a bit skewed in the presence (or, rather, absence) of sex, because anons tend to see male sexual desire as an uncontrollable need exploited by a) individual unscrupulous women (hence the monstering of Zoe Quinn), b) society at large, via advertising and the apparatus of celebrity (hence the rationalisability of the Fappening as a kind of pirate raid on the hoarded sex-value of female celebs, a return to the commons of a resource made artificially scarce), and c) scammers like AM who promise to service that need but never delivar (cf the tremendous anger of disappointed PUAs, who’ve been promised a reversal of fortunes that never materialises in practice). To be male, and to have unmet and probably unmeetable sexual needs, is in their eyes to be permanently and damagingly vulnerable – it’s an unbearable and deeply-resented state of dependency on others. The AM hack is unusual in that in this case that resentment has been focussed on something other than women – but it’s nevertheless based on the same truly horrible and destructive understanding of what it is to be a sexual being.

p.s.: my initial take on the AM hack –

Laura Kipnis says something somewhere in Against Love to the effect that adultery is almost like an American religion – it fulfils a need for having secrets, for private meaning, for a kind of self-ownership based on reclaiming the prerogative of defaulting on one’s public oaths and pledges of allegiance: “my tongue swore to, but my heart (or mind, or other backstage artiste) did not”. Don Draper is explicitly positioned as a figure of envy, even if he simultaneously seems – as he is – sad, empty, driven by futile compulsions. His capacity for duplicity is the most authentic thing about him. The point here isn’t that monogamy is “too hard”, that it’s unnatural and too much for ordinary, unsaintly people to bear; it’s that the couple form is invested with such tremendous significance that it generates a perverse incentive to break out, a counter-investment of equal and opposite potency. AM’s sales pitch – have an affair, take possession of a part of your life that you had surrendered control over, evade detection, act as if invisible and untouchable by consequence – proposes adultery as a ring-of-Gyges scenario, almost like the exercise of a superpower: be Walter White in your own life! And now it’s Naked Lunch time – “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork”…

The Adventure Of French Philosophy

BADIOU: hey Gilles
how’s that body coming
you know
the one without organs

DELEUZE: oh hi Alain
how’s it going with that political organisation
what was it called again
oh yes
“the political organisation”

BADIOU: it’s going great
been hanging out with the migrant workers
doing stuff
political stuff
not that you’d know anything about that

DELEUZE: the migrant workers told me
you and Sylvain just talked
for three hours
about the real

BADIOU: IT WAS A TRUTH PROCEDURE
WE WERE DOING TRUTH

BADIOU: Gilles did I ever tell you
they got rid of infinitesimals
like
a hundred years ago

DELEUZE: Alain
we’ve been over this
not everything is a set
just because you say so
for example
multiplicities

BADIOU: are totally sets

DELEUZE: sets aren’t even real
tho

BADIOU: what do you think
a riemannian manifold is
no really
I want you to tell me

DELEUZE: it’s a metaphor Alain

BADIOU: pre
fucking
cisely

DELEUZE: lol nerd

BADIOU: u mad

DELEUZE: microfascist

BADIOU: spudfucker

Res Publica

PLATO: kings are stupid
why do we have to have kings
anyone who wants to be king
is stupid
but you know who isn’t stupid

XENOPHON: go on then who

PLATO: philosophers
philosophers aren’t stupid
because they know about Ideas
unlike stupid people

XENOPHON: you mean the people
in the cave

PLATO: that’s right
people like uncle Critias
i hate him

XENOPHON: careful Plato
that kind of talk
could totally get you hemlocked
for real

PLATO: I don’t even care
any more
stupid kings
you know what there should be

XENOPHON: what should there be

PLATO: philosopher
kings

XENOPHON: but I thought
people who wanted to be kings
were stupid

PLATO: no idiot
philosophers aren’t stupid
haven’t you been listening
to a word I’ve said

with apologies to Mallory Ortberg, who invented this form and excels at it.

Tunnel Of Love

Not so to exit, so perform exilic
leaderboard, how putatively reft
the early gates unswung, the left undone
or lately stifled. Murder by remote
new-normal novel, fuzzing out on impact:
be that our pitch, our key to elevation
stray pupillage, slipping through jagged straits
unverified of iris, crudely hitched
to heavy providence. Critic of all,
dress down each apparition, pluck from lambent
ectoplasm the least fungible
imaginary kernel; make for home
a final coronet, a bounding circuit
outsizing the imperishable parish.


 

Written at speed, and without one might think sufficient care given the subject matter. The immediate occasion is a more than usually revolting cartoon by “Mac” in the Daily Mail, which nevertheless in depicting refugees attempting to storm the walls of heaven touches on some questions about the economy of salvation worth considering more seriously.

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