I

"There is probably no domain of man's thinking or material activity that cybernetics will not come to have a role in someday."

Georges Boulanger, Dossier on Cybernetics: utopia or science of tomorrow in the world today, 1968.

 

"The world circumscribing us [the "circumverse"] aims to have stable circuits, equal cycles, the expected repetitions, and trouble-free compatibility.  It intends to eliminate all partial impulses and immobilize bodies.  Parallel to this, Borges discussed the anxiety of the emperor who wanted to have such an exact map of the empire that he would have to go back over his territory at all its points and bring it up to scale, so much so that the monarch's subjects spent as much time and energy detailing it and maintaining it that the empire ‘itself’ fell into ruins to the exact extent that its cartographical overview was perfected -- such is the madness of the great central Zero, its desire to immobilize bodies that can only ever ‘be’ as representation."

Jean-Francois Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, 1973.

"They wanted an adventure, and to live it out with you.  In the end all that's all that can be said.  They believed resolutely that the future would be modern: different, impassioning, and definitely difficult.  Peopled by cyborgs and bare handed entrepreneurs, frenzied stock-marketeers and turbine-men.  And for those that are willing to see it, the present is already like that.  They think the future will be human, feminine even -- and plural; so that everyone can really live it, so that everyone participates in it.  They are the Enlightenment men we've lost, infantrymen of progress, the inhabitants of the 21st century.  They fight against ignorance, injustice, poverty, and suffering of all kinds.  They go where it's happening, where things are going on.  They don't want to miss out on a thing. They're humble and courageous, at the service of interests that are far beyond them, guided by a higher principle.  They can pose problems, and they can find solutions.  They'll have us traversing the most perilous of frontiers, they'll reach out a hand to pull us up onto the shore of the future.  They're History marching forth, at least what's left of it, because the hardest part is over.  They're the saints and the prophets, true socialists.  They've known for a long while that May 1968 wasn't a revolution.  The true revolution is the one they're making.  Now it’s just a matter of organization and transparency, intelligence and cooperation.  A vast program!  Then..."

 

  

Excuse me?  What?  What'd you say?  What program?  The worst nightmares, you know, are often the metamorphoses of a fable, fables PEOPLE tell their kids to put them to sleep and perfect their moral education.  The new conquerors, who we'll call the cyberneticians, do not comprise an organized party -- which would have made our work here a lot easier -- but rather a diffuse constellation of agents, all driven, possessed, and blinded by the same fable.  These are the murderers of Time, the crusaders of Sameness, the lovers of fatality.  These are the sectarians of order, the reason-addicts, the go-between people.   The Great Legends may indeed be dead, as the post-modern vulgate often claims, but domination is still comprised of master-fictions.  Such was the case of the Fable of the Bees published by Bernard de Mandeville in the first years of the 18th century, which contributed so much to the founding of political economy and to justifying the advances made by capitalism.  Prosperity, the social order, and politics no longer depended on the catholic virtues of sacrifice but on the pursuit by each individual of his own interests: it declared the "private vices" to be guarantees of the "common good."  Mandeville, the "Devil-Man" as PEOPLE called him at the time, thus founded the liberal hypothesis, as opposed to the religious spirit of his times, a hypothesis which would later have a great influence on Adam Smith.  Though it is regularly re-invoked, in a renovated form given it by liberalism, this fable is obsolete today.  For critical minds, it follows that it's not worth it anymore to critique liberalism.  A new model has taken its place, the very one that hides behind the names "internet," "new information and communications technology," the "new economy," or genetic engineering.  Liberalism is now no longer anything but a residual justification, an alibi for the everyday crimes committed by cybernetics.

 

Rationalist critics of the "economic creed" or of the "neo-technological utopia," anthropologist critics of utilitarianism in social sciences and the hegemony of commodity exchange, marxist critics of the "cognitive capitalism" that oppose to it the "communism of the masses," political critics of a communications utopia that resuscitates the worst phantasms of exclusion, critics of the critiques of the "new spirit of capitalism," or critics of the "prison State" and surveillance hiding behind neo-liberalism -- critical minds hardly appear to be very inclined to take into account the emergence of cybernetics as a new technology of government, which federates and associates both discipline and bio-politics, police and advertising, its ancestors in the exercise of domination, all too ineffective today.  That is to say, cybernetics is not, as we are supposed to believe, a separate sphere of the production of information and communication, a virtual space superimposed on the real world.  No, it is, rather, an autonomous world of apparatuses so blended with the capitalist project that it has become a political project, a gigantic "abstract machine" made of binary machines run by the Empire, a new form of political sovereignty, which must be called an abstract machine that has made itself into a global war machine.  Deleuze and Guattari link this rupture to a new kind of appropriation of war machines by Nation-States: "Automation, and then the automation of the war machine, only came truly into effect after the Second World War.  The war machine, considering the new antagonisms running through it, no longer had War as its exclusive object, but rather it began to take charge of and make Peace, policy, and world order into its object; in short: such is its goal.  Thus we see the inversion of Clausewitz's formula: politics becomes the continuation of war, and peace will release, technologically, the unlimited material process of total war.  War ceases to be the materialization of the war machine, and rather it is the war machine that itself becomes war itself materialized."  That's why it's not worth it anymore to critique the cybernetic hypothesis either: it has to be fought and defeated.  It's just a matter of time.

 

 The Cybernetic Hypothesis is thus a political hypothesis, a new fable that after the second world war has definitively supplanted the liberal hypothesis.  Contrary to the latter, it proposes to conceive biological, physical, and social behaviors as something integrally programmed and re-programmable.  More precisely, it conceives of each individual behavior as something "piloted," in the last analysis, by the need for the survival of a "system" that makes it possible, and which it must contribute to.  It is a way of thinking about balance, born in a crisis context.  Whereas 1914 sanctioned the decomposition of the anthropological conditions for the verification of the liberal hypothesis -- the emergence of Bloom and the bankruptcy, plain to see in flesh and bone in the trenches,  of the idea of the individual and all metaphysics of the subject -- and 1917 sanctioned its historical contestation by the Bolshevik "revolution," 1940 on the other hand marked the extinction of the idea of "society," so obviously brought about by totalitarian self-destruction.  As the limit-experiences of political modernity, Bloom and totalitarianism thus have been the most solid refutations of the liberal hypothesis.  What Foucault would later call (in a playful tone) "the death of Mankind," is none other than the devastation brought about by these two kinds of skepticism, the one directed at individuals, and the other at society, and brought about by the Thirty Years' War which had so effected the course of Europe and the world in the first half of the last century. The problem posed by the Zeitgeist of those years was once again how to "defend society" against the forces driving it towards decomposition, how to restore the social totality in spite of a general crisis of presence afflicting it in its every atom.  The cybernetic hypothesis corresponds, consequently, to a desire for order and certitude, both in the natural and social sciences.  The most effective arrangement of a constellation of reactions animated by an active desire for totality - and not just by a nostalgia for it, as it was with the various variants of romanticism - the cybernetic hypothesis is a relative of not only the totalitarian ideologies, but also of all the Holisms, mysticisms, and solidarities, like those of Durkheim, the functionalists, or the Marxists; it merely takes over from them.

 

As an ethical position, the cybernetic hypothesis is the complement, however strictly opposed to it, of the humanist pathos that has been back in vogue since the 1940s and which is nothing more than an attempt to act as if "Man" could still think itself intact after Auschwitz, an attempt to restore the classical metaphysics on the subject in spite of totalitarianism.  But whereas the cybernetic hypothesis includes the liberal hypothesis at the same time as it transcends it, humanism's aim is to extend the liberal hypothesis to the ever more numerous situations that resist it: It's the "bad faith" of someone like Sartre, to turn one of the author's most inoperative categories against him.  The ambiguity that constitutes modernity, seen superficially either as a disciplinary process or as a liberal process, or as the realization of totalitarianism or as the advent of liberalism, is contained and suppressed in, with and by the new governance mentality emerging now, inspired by the cybernetic hypothesis.  This is but the life-sized experimentation protocol of the Empire in formation.  Its realization and extension, with the devastating truth-effects it produces, is already corroding all the social institutions and social relations founded by liberalism, and transforming both the nature of capitalism and the possibilities of its contestation.  The cybernetic gesture affirms itself in the negation of everything that escapes regulation, all the escape routes that existence might have in the interstices of the norms and apparatuses,  all the behavioral fluctuations that do not follow, in fine, from natural laws.  Insofar as it has come to produce its own truths, the cybernetic hypothesis is today the most consequential anti-humanism, which pushes to maintain the general order of things, all the while bragging that it has transcended the human.     

 

Like any discourse, the cybernetic hypothesis could only check to verify itself by associating the beings or ideas that reinforce it, by testing itself through contact with them, and folding the world into its laws in a continuous self-validation process.  It's now an ensemble of devices aspiring to take control over all of existence and what exists.  The Greek word kubernèsis means "the act of piloting a vessel," and in the figurative sense, the "act of directing, governing."  In his 1981-1982 classes, Foucault insisted on working out the meaning of this category of "piloting" in the Greek and Roman world, suggesting that it could have a more contemporary scope to it: "the idea of piloting as an art, as a theoretical and practical technology necessary for existence, is an idea that I think is rather important and may eventually merit a closer analysis; one can see at least three types of technology regularly attached to this 'piloting' idea: first of all medicine; second of all, political government; third of all self-direction and self-government.  These three activities (healing, directing others, and governing oneself) are quite regularly attached to this image of piloting in Greek, Hellenic and Roman literature.  And I think that this 'piloting' image also paints a good picture of a kind of knowledge and practice that the Greeks and Romans had a certain affinity for, for which they attempted to establish a tekhnè (an art, a planned system of practices connected to general principles, notions, and concepts): the Prince, insofar as he must govern others, govern himself, heal the ills of the city, the ills of the citizens, and his own ills; he who governs himself as if he were governing a city, by healing his own ills; the doctor who must give his advice not only about the ills of the body but about the ills of individuals' souls.  And so you see you have here a whole pack of ideas in the minds of the Greeks and Romans that have to do I think with one and the same kind of knowledge, the same type of activity, the same type of conjectural understanding.  And I think that one could dig up the whole history of that metaphor practically all the way up to the 16th century, when a whole new art of governing, centered around Reasons of State, would split apart - in a radical way - self government/medicine/government of others - not without this image of 'piloting,' as you well know, remaining linked to this activity, that activity which we call the activity of government."

 

What Foucault's listeners are here supposed to know well and which he refrains from pointing out, is that at the end of the 20th century, the image of piloting, that is, management, became the cardinal metaphor for describing not only politics but also all human activity.  Cybernetics had become the project of unlimited rationalization.  In 1953, when he published The Nerves of Government in the middle of the development of the cybernetic hypothesis in the natural sciences, Karl Deutsch, an American university social sciences academic, took the political possibilities of cybernetics seriously.  He recommended abandoning the old concept that power was sovereign, which had too long been the essence of politics.  To govern would become a rational coordination of the flows of information and decisions that circulate through the social body.  Three conditions would need to be met, he said: an ensemble of capturers would have to be installed so that no information originating from the "subjects" would be lost; information handling by correlation and association; and a proximity to every living community.  The cybernetic modernization of power and the expired forms of social authority thus can be seen as the visible production of what Adam Smith called the "invisible hand," which until then had served as the mystical keystone of liberal experimentation.  The communications system would be the nerve system of societies, the source and destination of all power.  The cybernetic hypothesis thus expresses no more or less than the politics of the "end of politics."  It represents at the same time both a paradigm and a technique of government.  Its study shows that the police is not just an organ of power, but also a way of thinking. 

 

 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.  By studying the formation of the cybernetic hypothesis, I hereby propose a genealogy of imperial governance.  I then counterpose other wisdom for the fight, which it erases daily, and by which it will be defeated.

 

 


changed April 27, 2010