III

"You don't have to be a prophet to acknowledge that the modern sciences, in their installation within society, will not delay in being determined and piloted by the new basic science: cybernetics.  This science corresponds to the determination of man as a being the essence of which is activity in the social sphere.  It is, in effect the theory whose object is to take over all possible planning and organization of human labor."

Martin Heidegger, The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thought, 1966

 

"But cybernetics on the other hand, sees itself as forced to recognize that a general regulation of human existence is still not achievable at the present time.  This is why mankind still has a function, provisionally, within the universal domain of cybernetic science, as a "factor of disturbance."  The plans and acts of men, apparently free, act as a disturbance.  But very recently, science has also taken over possession of this field of human existence.  It has taken up the rigorously methodical exploration and planning of the possible future of man as an active player.  In so doing, it figures in all available information about what there is about mankind that may be planned.

Martin Heidegger, The Origin of Art and the Destination of Thought, 1967

 

In 1946, a conference of scientists took place in New York, the objective of which was to extend the cybernetic hypothesis to the social sciences.  The participants agreed to make a clear disqualification of all the philistine philosophies that based themselves on the individual or on society.  Socio-Cybernetics was to concentrate on the intermediary phenomena of social feedback, like those that the American anthropological school believed it had found at the time between "culture" and "personality," to put together a characterization of the various nations, intended for use by American soldiers.  The operation consisted in reducing dialectical thought to an observation of processes of circular causality within what was considered a priori to be an invariable social totality, where contradiction and non-adaptation merged, as in the central category of cybernetic psychology: the double bind.  As a science of society, cybernetics was intended to invent a kind of social regulation that would leave behind the macro-institutions of State and Market, preferring to work through micro-mechanisms of control -- preferring devices.  The fundamental law of socio-cybernetics is as follows: growth and control develop in inverse proportion to each other.  It is thus easier to construct a cybernetic social order on the small scale: "the quick re-establishment of balance requires that inconsistencies be detect at the very location where they are produced, and that corrective action take place in a decentralized manner."  Under the influence of Gregory Bateson, the Von Neumann of the social sciences, and of the American sociological tradition, obsessed by the question of deviance (the hobo, the immigrant, the criminal, the youth, me, you, him, etc.), socio-cybernetics was aimed, as a priority, towards studying the individual as a feedback locus, that is, as a "self-disciplined personality."  Bateson became the social editor in chief of the second half of the 20th century, and was involved in the origins of the "family therapy" movement, as well as those of the "sales techniques training" movement developed at Palo Alto.  Since the cybernetic hypothesis as a whole calls for a radically new physical structuring of the subject, whether individual or collective, its aim is to hollow it out.  It disqualifies as a myth individual inwardness/internal dialogue, and with it all 19th century psychology, including psychoanalysis.  It's no longer a question of removing the subject from the traditional exterior bonds, as the liberal hypothesis had intended, but of reconstructing the social bonds by depriving the subject of all substance.  Each person was to become a fleshless envelope, the best possible conductor of social communication, the locus of an infinite feedback loop which is made to have no nodes.  The cyberneticization process thus completes the "process of civilization,"  to where bodies and their emotions are abstracted within the system of symbols.  "In this sense," writes Lyotard, "the system presents itself as an avant-garde machine that drags humanity along after it, by dehumanizing it so as to rehumanize it at another level of normative capacities.  Such is the great pride of the deciders, such is their blindness... Even any permissiveness relative to the various games is only granted on the condition that greater performance levels will be produced.  The redefinition of the norms of life consists in an amelioration of the skills of the system in matters of power."

 

 

Spurred on by the Cold War and its "witch hunts," the socio-cyberneticians thus tirelessly hunted down the pathological couched behind the normal, the communist sleeping in everybody.  In the 1950s, to this effect, they formed the Mental Health Federation, where an original and quasi-final solution was elaborated to the problems of the community and of the times: "It is the ultimate goal of mental health to help people to live with their peers in the same world...  The concept of mental health is co-extensive with international order and the global community, which must be developed so as to make men capable of living in peace with each other."  By rethinking mental problems and social pathologies in terms of informatics, cybernetics gave rise to a new politics of subjects, resting on communication and transparency to oneself and to others.  Spurred on by Bateson, Wiener in turn began thinking about a socio-cybernetics with a scope broader than the mere project of mental hygiene.  He had no trouble affirming the defeat of the liberal experimentation: on the market information is always impure and imperfect because of the lying implicit in advertising and the monopolistic concentration of the media, and because of the ignorance of the State, which as a collective contains less information than civil society.  The extension of commodity relations, by increasing the size of communities and feedback chains, renders distortions of communication and problems of social control ever more probable.  The past processes of accumulation had not only destroyed the social bonds, but social order itself appeared cybernetically impossible within capitalism.  The cybernetic hypothesis' stroke of luck can thus be understood in light of the crises encountered by 20th century capitalism, which questioned once again the supposed "laws" of classical political economy -- and that was where the cybernetic discourse stepped into the breach.

 

 

 The contemporary history of economic discourse must be looked at from the angle of this increasing problem of information.  From the crisis of 1929 to 1945, economists' attention was focused on questions of anticipation, uncertainty regarding demand, adjustments between production and consumption, and forecasts of economic activity.  Smith's classical economics began to give out like the other scientific discourses directly inspired by Newton's physics.  The preponderant role that cybernetics was to play in the economy after 1945 can be understood in light of Marx's intuitive observation that "in political economy the law is determined by its contrary, that is, the absence of laws.  The true law of political economy is chance."  In order to prove that capitalism was not a factor in entropy and social chaos, the  economic discourse gave primacy to a cybernetic redefinition psychology starting in the 1940s.  It based itself on the "game theory" model, developed by Von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern in 1944.   The first socio-cyberneticians showed that homo economicus could only exist on the condition that there would be a total transparency of his preferences, regarding himself and others.  In the absence of an ability to understand the whole ensemble of the behaviors of other economic actors, the utilitarian idea of a rationality of micro-economic choices is but a fiction.  On the impetus of Friedrich von Hayek, the utilitarian paradigm was thus abandoned in preference to a theory of spontaneous mechanisms coordinating individual choices, acknowledging that each agent only has a limited understanding of the behaviors of others and of his or her own behaviors.  The response consisted in sacrificing the autonomy of economic theory by grafting it onto the cybernetic promise of a balancing of systems.  The hybrid discourse that resulted from this, later called "neo-liberal," considered as a virtue the optimal market allocation of information  - and no longer that of wealth - in society.  In this sense, the market is but the instrument of a perfect coordination of players thanks to which the social totality can find a durable equilibrium.  Capitalism thus becomes unquestionable, insofar as it is presented as a simple means - the best possible means - of producing social self-regulation.

 

Like in 1929, the planetary movement of contestation of 1968, and, moreover, the post-1973 crisis present for political economy once more the problem of uncertainty, this time on an existential and political terrain.  High-flown theories abound, with the old chatterbox Edgar Morin and "complexity" theory, and Joel de Rosnay, that eccentric simpleton, and "society in real-time."  Ecologist philosophy as well was nourished by this new mystique of the Great Totality.  Now totality was no longer an origin to be rediscovered, but a future to build.  For cybernetics it is no longer a question of predicting the future, but of reproducing the present.  It is no longer a question of static order, but of a dynamic self-organization.  The individual is no longer credited with any power at all: his knowledge of the world is imperfect, he doesn't know his own desires, he is opaque to himself, everything escapes him, as spontaneously cooperative, naturally empathetic, and fatally in interdependent as he his.  He knows nothing of all this, but THEY know everything about him.  Here, the most advanced form of contemporary individualism comes into being; Hayekian philosophy is grafted onto him, for which all uncertainty, all possibilities of any event taking place is but a temporary problem, a question of his ignorance.  Converted into an ideology, liberalism serves as a cover for a whole group of new technical and scientific practices, a diffuse "second cybernetics," which deliberately erases the name it was originally baptized with.  Since the 1960s, the term cybernetics itself has faded away into hybrid terms.  The science explosion no longer permits any theoretical unification, in effect: the unity of cybernetics now manifests itself practically through the world itself, which it configures every day.  It is the tool by which capitalism has adjusted its capacity for disintegration and its quest after profit to one another.  A society threatened by permanent decomposition can be all the more mastered when an information network, an autonomous "nervous system" is in place allowing it to be piloted, wrote the State lackeys Simon Nora and Alain Minc, discussing the case of France in their 1978 report.  What PEOPLE call the "New Economy" today, which brings together under the same official nomenclature of cybernetic origin the ensemble of the transformations that the western nations have undergone in the last thirty years, is but an ensemble of new subjugations, a new solution to the practical problem of the social order and its future, that is: a new politics.

 

 

Under the influence of informatization, the supply and demand adjustment techniques originating between 1930-1970 have been purified, shortened, and decentralized.  The image of the "invisible hand" is no longer a justificatory fiction but is now the effective principle behind the social production of society, as it materializes within computer procedures.  The Internet simultaneously permits one to know consumer preferences and to condition them with advertising.  On another level, all information regarding the behavior of economic agents circulates in the form of headings managed by financial markets.  Each actor in capitalist valorization is a real-time back-up of quasi-permanent feedback loops.  On the real markets, as on the virtual markets, each transaction now gives rise to a circulation of information concerning the subjects and objects of the exchange that goes beyond simply fixing the price, which has become a secondary aspect.  On the one hand, people have realized the importance of information as a factor in production distinct from labor and capital and playing a decisive role in "growth" in the form of knowledge, technical innovation, and distributed capacities.  On the other, the sector specializing in the production of information has not ceased to increase in size.  In light of its reciprocal reinforcement of these two tendencies, today's capitalism should be called the information economy.  Information has become wealth to be extracted and accumulated, transforming capitalism into a simply auxiliary of cybernetics.   The relationship between capitalism and cybernetics has inverted over the course of the century: whereas after the 1929 crisis, PEOPLE built a system of information concerning economic activity in order to serve the needs of regulation - this was the objective of all planning - the economy after the 1973 crisis put the social self-regulation process came to be based on the valorization of information.

 

 


changed April 27, 2010