Technological change is ridden with conflicts, bifurcations and unexpected developments. Neurocapitalism takes us on an extraordinarily original journey through the effects that cutting-edge technology has on cultural, anthropological, socio-economic and political dynamics. Today, neurocapitalism shapes the technological production of the commons, transforming them into tools for commercialization, automatic control, and crisis management.
But all is not lost: in highlighting the growing role of General Intellect’s autonomous and cooperative production through the development of the commons and alternative and antagonistic uses of new technologies, Giorgio Griziotti proposes new ideas for the organization of the multitudes of the new millennium.
Excerpt from “Neurocapitalism: Technological Mediation and Vanishing Lines”, by Giorgio Griziotti (with permission)
The archaic god and the technological Leviathan – sacred techne
What has been discussed regarding neo-nomadism and transient modes of being has a counterweight (or contradiction) in new forms of absolute belonging that are manifested through archaic religious fundamentalisms. These extremisms are, in their various facets, more and more present – even hegemonic – in vast areas of the South. A conspicuous part of the global population is walking the road back to a sense of belonging that is even more archaic and binding than those previously discussed.
From a superficial point of view, fundamentalist movements seem to have in some way substituted those of Soviet-inspired national liberation from the Cold War era, a vision that doesn’t however take into account the influence of the profound transformation that came with technological mediation. On the other hand, how can we explain the inconsistency of a North poised between the fascination and the threat of technological temptation and the archaic fundamentalism that, from the South, manifests itself even in western metropolitan suburbs? Simondon provides an interesting key for interpreting these profound contradictions.
In one of his main works dedicated to the modality of existence of technical objects, Simondon maintains, similar to what was written in the introduction, that the genesis of technical reality is part of human beings’ relation to the world.1 In addition, he adds that technicality is, along with religion, one of the two simultaneous phases2 that emerge in order to solve the problems presented in the magical, primitive original stage of our relation to the world. “Primitive unity,” writes Simondon, “appears as a reticulation of the universe in privileged key points where exchanges between the living and the environment take place.” These are places or magical moments3 that are distinguished as figures distinct from the background of the universe. At a certain moment in evolution, we pass from the magic unity of these reticulations to the development of technical and religious thought that is “the organization of two symmetrical and opposite mediations.”In this doubling, or rather phase shift, key points in the world separate from the background to become a technicality that is crystallized in efficient and instrumental objects that function everywhere and at any given moment, while the background becomes abstract and is subjectified, personified in divine, sacred forms of religion. What prevents us from grafting the contemporary condition of a technology-religion dualism onto Simondon’s vision? Simondon states that in the becoming of technical objects, key points of the magical, prehistoric world lose “their capacity for creating network and their power to influence reality that surrounds them from a distance.” In this way, he refers to the technological mediation as we knew it until very recently.
Today, however, the situation has changed so drastically that we have put forth the hypothesis of this volume based on the paradigmatic leap in said mediation. A leap characterized, to use Simondon’s terms, by the emergence of a context where today’s technical objects (for example ITC devices and networks) are integrated with the “background” (the space-time of the universe), restoring, in some way, original unity. Such reconstitution obviously doesn’t take us back to a world populated by magical places and doesn’t entail transcendence but, contrary to what Simondon asserts, it can no longer be claimed that the technical object is “distinguished” from natural being in the sense that it is not part of the world. Quite the opposite, our hypothesis is that in human’s “becoming machine,” the technical object becomes a part of the living and this calls into question the vision of two mediations: the technical and the religious, counterposed as an indissoluble couple.
The basic framework from which technicality and religion were born at the dawn of human history is made brittle by a multiplicity of technologies that invade not only the political dimension of life, bios, but also the biological one: the vital breath of zoé. Evoking an extreme biopolitical case that acts upon the separation between bios and zoé and reduces life to “nude life,” we can refer to Nazi thanatopolitics. Agamben reminds us of the Euthanasia-Program enacted by Hitler to eliminate incurable mental patients:
[T]he program, in the guise of a solution to a humanitarian problem, was an exercise of the sovereign power to decide on bare life in the horizon of the new biopolitical vocation of the National Socialist state. The concept of “life unworthy of being lived” is clearly not an ethical one, which would involve the expectations and legitimate desires of the individual. It is, rather, a political concept […] on which sovereign power is founded4.
70,000 people were eliminated, of which 5,000 were children, in the span of fifteen months. The program was later abandoned due to the growing protest of the Bishops. The two doctors responsible for the program, condemned to die at Nuremburg, “declared they didn’t feel guilty because the question of euthanasia would come up again.” With the Aktion T4 program, the Nazis also widened their deadly action to all “lives unworthy of being lived.”5
Today, for the first time, technology allows us to operate within the complexity that binds and separates bios and zoé and that, until recently, was indecipherable. In fact, like all mysteries, what unites life and death was the exclusive prerogative of religion and, in rendering it profane, we overstep the boundaries of the confines of religious thought and technical thought moves into the domain of the sacred. Paraphrasing Agamben, we could say we are facing a sacred techne that “is set outside of human jurisdiction without trespassing the divine.” Therefore, from an archaic point of view, the civilization of profaning technology can be killed with impunity, as homo sacer, but not sacrificed.
On the other hand, this capacity to act upon bios and zoé opens many prospects including, in a positive sense, that of an era of hybridization that is not exclusively anthropocentric6 that could give life to a non-capitalist, non-archaic ethics. Positive outcomes are not, however, obvious or to be taken for granted because, in this framework, technology is also the tool of the contemporary necropolitics practiced by biopower that, concentrated almost exclusively on the daily exploitation of life itself, creates inhumane forms of destruction. Inhumane are the new forms of a remote-controlled algorithmic death because it is delegated to automatons and robots like, for example, the CIA’s drones that, in under eight years, killed thousands of people in Pakistan alone, including hundreds of women and children,7 or the automatic sensorial strafing systems able to automatically activate themselves and shoot “intruders.”8
These new forms of asymmetrical warfare, of which remotely guided drones are only the tip of the iceberg, are subverting the praxis, theory and ethics – if not the very concept of war itself, as explained in the well-argued piece A theory of the drone.9 More generally, the ecological devastation of the Earth is literally inhumane in the sense that it takes out a dangerous mortgage on the possibility of human participation in the future. However, now we’d like to focus our attention on the macropolitical consequences of questioning a reality founded on a technological-religious bipolarity. If technical objects, born from the objectification of magical places that emerge from the background of the primitive world tend to reorganize themselves in networks, pushed by cognitive capitalism and reconstitute a new unity, what are the consequences for religious thought?
The impulse of reticular technologies that reconstitute unity with the universe in the perspective of control and the commercialization of life and death calls into question the religious phase, breaking the previous balance. This condition influences all religions and, in particular, the three main monotheistic belief systems. Our hypothesis is thus that, subjectivizing and rendering “profane” the role traditionally allocated to the divine, technical capitalist thought unconsciously pushes the latter to regress towards archaic values by any means necessary. It is as if religious subjectivation tries to recover its primitive vocation of total need that it feels slipping through its fingers. In this regard, it is enough to recall the anathema of Pope Ratzinger – a theologian little inclined to the populism in vogue – against the “dictatorship of relativism.” In looking for universal and absolute values, fundamentalist theologians are convinced they will find the original strength to contrast the invasion of technical, profane thought by going back to archaic values and ethics. This obviously doesn’t mean that, for example, in Islamic theocracies the use of contemporary technology is denied but that, maybe unconsciously, they react against the supposed danger of a society that no longer has divinities to refer back to for ethics. This is common both in fundamentalist instincts as well as the three monotheistic religions.
Thereafter, the force and effects of this phenomenon are different: in the areas of Christianity and Judaism, cradle of the new technological paradigm and where the decline of belonging strikes ideologies and religion, fundamentalism sometimes manifests with virulence,10 though without assuming a driving or central function. In the great swath of the postcolonial south, from Morocco to Indonesia and where one of the great monotheistic religions, Islam, prevails, the situation is quite different. It doesn’t seem surprising that facing western techno-biopolitical expression, archaic religious calls gain strength and increasingly radicalize. If post-capitalist social movements had managed to rapidly trigger new political processes during the Arab Spring, today we probably wouldn’t be witnessing the wars that tear apart, disperse and take entire populations hostage, “collateral damage” of two asymmetric necropolitical blocs that fight in a downward spiral: biotechnological capitalism on the one hand and absolutist obscurantism on the other.
One of the expressions of the explosion of this antagonist equilibrium between the technical thought of cognitive capitalism and fundamentalist religion found its origins in the Middle Eastern wars to then spread globally. The two significant and rival arms are, on one side, suicide bombers and, on the other, Hellfire missiles launched from a remotely controlled drone that annihilate any form of life within a twenty-meter range.11 The kamikaze and the technological angel of death are the incarnation of two deviations that attempt to destroy one another and us without any hope for victory.
If fundamentalist thought wasn’t the archaic equivalent of Western neo-colonialist biopower which it opposes and if it had a minimal awareness of the impulses that animate it, it would have promoted Nineveh and Palmira as symbols of resistance rather than destroying them with several tons of TNT. In conclusion, nothing good will come of this war that opposes a simulacrum of god to the technological Leviathan origins of supreme algorithms attempting to subject the entire planet. Only a third path of constructing a common based on post-capitalist ethics can effectively counter this trend. The rest is a question of time.
1 Simondon, 1958.
2 The phase must be understood, according to Simondon, not from a temporal point of view but from the point of view of the relation of phases to the physical, in which it must be conceived of as a relation to another or others and the whole of the phase constitutes a complete system (in our case, reality).
3 Many institutionalized and temporal vestiges of these figures remain today: holidays, vacations, justified with the excuse of the rest, “often compensate with a magical charge lost in contemporary urbanization.”
4 Agamben, 1995, 90.
5 Marco Paolini wrote and produced “Ausmerzen. Vite indegne di essere vissute.” [Ausmerzen. Lives unworthy of being lived], a play that deals with Nazi eugenic theories and Aktion T4. This play was performed at Milan’s ex-psychiatric hospital “Paolo Pini” in 2011.
“This is the story of mass extermination known as Aktion T4. T4 stands for Tiergartenstraße 4, an address in Berlin.
During Aktion T4, around 300,000 people, classified as ‘lives unworthy of being lived’, were killed.” Paolini, 2012, 5 [our translation].
6 Hybridization here isn’t intended to support any particular current of posthumanist or transhumanist thought.
7 Already in 2012, there were more than 2400 dead according to London’s “Bureau for Investigative Journalism”: “March of the robots,” The Economist, 2/06/2012 http:// www.economist.com/node/21556103.
8 For example, the automatic sensorial strafing systems like Rafael’s Samson Remote Weapon Station, installed in Israel along the border with the Gaza Strip.
9 Chamayou, 2013. For a realistic representation of drone piloting stations in the US, see Good Kill (Niccol, 2015).
10For example, the somewhat ample social movement against the so-called “Mariage pour tous” [Marriage for all] (which extended matrimony to homosexual couples) in France in 2014.
11 Chamayou, 2015, 120.
Bio: Giorgio Griziotti was one of the first digital engineers to graduate from Milan’s Politecnico University. His participation in the autonomous movements in Italy in the 1970s forced him to gain most of his professional experience in exile. He has an experience of more than thirty years in large international IT projects. Today he is an independent researcher and member of the collective Effimera.
Released by Minor Compositions 2019
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Minor Compositions is a series of interventions & provocations drawing from autonomous politics, avant-garde aesthetics, and the revolutions of everyday life. Minor Compositions is an imprint of Autonomedia