IV

 

"If motorized machines constituted the second age of the technical machine, cybernetic and informational machines form a third age that reconstructs a generalized regime of subjection: recurrent and reversible 'humans-machines systems' replace the old nonrecurring and nonreversible relations of subjection between the two elements; the relation between human and machine is based on internal, mutual communication, and no longer on usage or action.  In the organic composition of capital, variable capital defines a regime of subjection of the worker (human surplus value), the principal framework of which is the business or factory. But with automation comes a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital; we then see a new kind of enslavement: at the same time the work regime changes, surplus value becomes machinic, and the framework expands to all of society. It could also be said that a small amount of subjectification took us away from machinic enslavement, but a large amount brings us back to it."

Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1980

 

"The only moment of permanence of a class as such is that which has a consciousness of its permanence for itself: the class of managers of capital as social machine.  The consciousness that connotes is, with the greatest coherence, that of apocalypse, of self-destruction."

Giorgio Cesarano, Survival Manual, 1975

 

 

Nothing expresses the contemporary victory of cybernetics better than the fact that value can now be extracted as information about information.  The commodity-cybernetician, or "neo-liberal" logic, extends over all activity, including that which is still not commodified, with an unflagging support of modern States.  More generally, the corollary to the precarization of capitalism's objects and subjects is a growth of circulation in information on their subject: this is as true for unemployed workers as it is for cops.  Cybernetics consequently aims to disturb and control people in one and the same movement.  It is founded on terror, which is a factor in its evolution - the evolution of economic growth, moral progress - because it supplies an occasion for the production of information.  The state of emergency, which is proper to all crises, is what allows self-regulation to be relaunched, and to maintain itself as a perpetual movement.  Whereas the scheme of classical economy where a balance of supply and demand was to permit "growth" and thusly to permit collective well-being, it is now "growth" which is considered an endless road towards balance.  It is thus just to critique western modernity as a "infinite mobilization" the destination of which is "movement towards more movement."  But from a cybernetic point of view, the self-production that equally characterizes the State, the Market, robots, wage workers, or the jobless, is indiscernible from the self-control that moderates and slows it down.   

It comes across clearly then that cybernetics is not just one of the various aspects of contemporary life, its neo-technological component, for instance, but rather it is the point of departure and arrival of the new capitalism.  Cybernetic Capitalism - what does that mean?  It means that since the 1970s we've been dealing with an emerging social formation that has taken over from Fordist capitalism which results from the application of the cybernetic hypothesis to political economy.  Cybernetic capitalism develops so as to allow the social body, devastated by Capital, to reform itself and offer itself up for one more process of accumulation.  On the one hand capitalism must grow, which implies destruction.  On the other, it needs to reconstruct the "human community," which implies circulation.  "There is," writes Lyotard, "two uses for wealth, that is importance-power: a reproductive use and a pillage use.  The first is circular, global, organic; the second is partial, death-dealing, jealous... The capitalist is a conqueror, and the conqueror is a monster, a centaur.  His front side feeds off of reproducing the regulated system of controlled metamorphoses under the law of the commodity-talion, and its rear side off of pillaging overexcited energies.  On the one hand, to appropriate, and thus preserve, that is, reproduce in equivalence, reinvest; on the other to take and destroy, steal and flee, hollowing out another space, another time."  The crises of capitalism, as Marx saw them, always came from a de-articulation between the time of conquest and the time of reproduction.  The function of cybernetics is to avoid crises by ensuring the coordination between Capital's "front side" and "rear side."  Its development is an endogenous response to the problem posed to capitalism - how to develop without fatal disequilibrium arising.    

 

In the logic of Capital, the development of the piloting function, of "control," corresponds to the subordination of the sphere of accumulation to the sphere of circulation.  For the critique of political economy, circulation should be no less suspect than production, in effect.  It is, as Marx knew, but a particular case of production as considered in general.  The socialization of the economy -- that is, the interdependence between capitalists and the other members of the social body, the "human community" -- the enlargement of Capital's human base, makes the extraction of surplus value which is at the source of profit no longer centered around the relations of exploitation instituted by the wage system.  Valorization's center of gravity has now moved over to the sphere of circulation.  In spite of its inability to reinforce the conditions of exploitation, which would bring about a crisis of consumption, capitalist accumulation can still nevertheless survive on the condition that the production-consumption cycle is accelerated, that is, on the condition that the production process accelerates as much as commodity circulation does.  What has been lost to the economy on the static level can be compensated on the dynamic level.  The logic of flows is to dominate the logic of the finished product.  Speed is now taking primacy over quantity, as a factor in wealth.  The hidden face of the maintenance of accumulation is the acceleration of circulation.  The function of the control devices is thus to maximize the volume of commodity flows by minimizing the events, obstacles, and accidents that would slow them down.  Cybernetic capitalism tends to abolish time itself, to maximize fluid circulation to the maximum: the speed of light.  Such is already the case for certain financial transactions.  The categories of "real time," of "just in time," show clearly this hatred of duration.  For this very reason, time is our ally.

 

This propensity towards control by capitalism is not new.  It is only post-modern in the sense that post-modernity has been confused with the latest manifestation of modernity.  It is for this reason that bureaucracy developed at the end of the 19th century and computer technology developed after the Second World War.  The cybernetization of capitalism started at the end of the 1870s with the growing control of production, distribution, and consumption.  Information regarding these flows has since then had a central strategic importance as a condition for valorization.  The historian James Beniger states that the first control-related problems came about when the first collisions took place between trains, putting commodities and human lives in peril.  The signalization of the railways, travel time measurement and data transmission devices had to be invented so as to avoid such "catastrophes."  The telegraph, synchronized clocks, organizational charts in large enterprises, weighing systems, roadmaps, performance evaluation procedures, wholesalers, assembly lines, centralized decision-making, advertising in catalogues, and mass communications media were the devices invented during this period to respond, in all spheres of the economic circuit, to a generalized crisis of control connected to the acceleration of production set off by the industrial revolution in the United States.  Information and control systems thus developed at the same time as the capitalist process of transformation of materials was growing and spreading.  A class of middlemen, which Alfred Chandler called the "visible hand" of Capital, formed and grew.  After the end of the 19th century, it was clear enough to PEOPLE that expectability [had] become a source of profit as such and a source of confidence.  Fordism and Taylorism were part of this movement, as was the development of control over the mass of consumers and over public opinion via marketing and advertising, in charge of extorting from them by force, and then putting to work, their "preferences," which according to the hypotheses of the marginalist economists, were the true source of value.  Investment in organizational or purely technical planning and control technologies became more and more salable.  After 1945, cybernetics supplied capitalism with a new infrastructure of machines - computers - and above all with an intellectual technology that permitted the regulation of the circulation of flows within society, and making those flows exclusively commodity flows.

 

That the economic sectors of information, communication, and control have taken ever more of a part in the economy since the Industrial Revolution, and that "intangible labor" has grown relative to tangible labor, is nothing surprising or new.  Today these account for the mobilization of more than 2/3 of the workforce.  But this isn't enough to fully define cybernetic capitalism.  Because its equilibrium and the growth depend continually on its control capacities, its nature has changed.  Insecurity, much more than rarity, is the core of the present capitalist economy.  As Wittgenstein understood by looking at the 1929 crisis - and as did Keynes in his wake - there is a strong bond between the "state of trust" and the curbing of the marginal effectiveness of Capital, he wrote, in chapter XII of General Theory, in February 1934 - the economy rests definitively on the "play of language."  Markets, and with them commodities and merchants, the sphere of circulation in general, and, consequently, business, the sphere of production as a place of the anticipation of coming levels of yield, do not exist without conventions, social norms, technical norms, norms of the truth, on a meta-level which brings bodies and things into existence as commodities, even before they are subject to pricing.  The control and communications sectors develop because commodity valorization needs to have a looping circulation of information parallel to the actual circulation of commodities, the production of a collective belief that objectivizes itself in values.  In order to come about, all exchanges require "investments of form" - information about a formulation of what is to be exchanged - a formatting that makes it possible to put things into equivalence even before such a putting of things into equivalence has effectively taken place, a conditioning that is also a condition of agreement about the market.  It's true for goods, and it's true for people.  Perfecting the circulation of information will mean perfecting the market as a universal instrument of coordination.  Contrary to what the liberal hypothesis had supposed, to sustain a fragile capitalism, contracts are not sufficient unto themselves within social relations.  PEOPLE began to understand after 1929 that all contracts need to come with controls.  Cybernetics entered into the operation of capitalism with the intention of minimizing uncertainties, incommensurability, the kinds of anticipation problems that can interfere in any commodity transaction.  It contributes to consolidating the basis for the installation of capitalism's mechanisms, to oiling Capital's abstract machine.

 

 With cybernetic capitalism, the political moment of political economy subsequently dominates its economic moment.  Or, as Joan Robinson understands it looking from the perspective of economic theory, in her comments on Keynes: "As soon as one admits the uncertainty of the forecasts that guide economic behavior, equilibrium has no more importance and History takes its place."  The political moment, here understood in the broader sense of that which subjugates, that which normalizes, that which determines what will happen by way of bodies and can record itself in socially recognized value, what extracts form from forms-of-life, is as essential to "growth" as it is to the reproduction of the system: on the one hand the capture of energies, their orientation, their crystallization, become the primary source of valorization; on the other hand, surplus value can be extracted from any point on the bio-political tissue on the condition that the latter reconstitutes itself incessantly.  That the ensemble of expenditures has a tendency to morph into valorizable qualities also means that Capital permeates all living flows: the socialization of the economy and the anthropomorphosis of Capital are two symbiotic, indissoluble processes.  In order for these processes to be carried out, it suffices and is necessary that all contingent action be dealt with by a combination of surveillance and data capture devices.  The former are inspired by prison, insofar as they introduce a centralized system of panoptical visibility.  These have for a long while been monopolized by the modern State.  The latter, the data capture devices, are inspired by computer technology, insofar as they are part of the construction of a decentralized real-time gridding system.  The common intent of these devices is total transparency, an absolute correspondence between the map and the territory, a will to knowledge accumulated to such degree that it becomes a will to power.  One of the advancements made by cybernetics has consisted in enclosing its surveillance and monitoring systems upon themselves, guaranteeing that the surveillers and the monitorers are themselves surveilled and/or monitored, with the development of a socialization of control which is the trademark of the so-called "information society."  The control sector becomes autonomous because of the need to control control, since commodity flows are overlaid by their double, flows of information the circulation and security of which must in turn be optimized.  At the summit of this terracing of control, state control, the police, and the law, self-legitimating violence, and judicial authority play the role of controllers of last resort.  The surveillance one-upmanship that characterizes "control societies" is explained in simple terms by Deleuze, who says: "they have leaks everywhere."  This incessantly confirms the necessity for control.  "In discipline societies, one never ceased to recommence (from school to barracks, etc...) [the disciplinary process], whereas in control societies nothing is ever finished." 

 

Thus there is nothing surprising about the fact that the development of cybernetic capitalism has been accompanied by the development of all the forms of repression, by hyper-securitarianism.  Traditional discipline, the generalization of a state of emergency - emergenza - are transplanted to grow inside a whole system focused on the fear of any threat.  The apparent contradiction between the reinforcement of the repressive functions of the State and the neo-liberal economic discourse that preaches "less State" - and permits Loïc Wacquant for instance to go into a critique of the liberal ideology hiding the increasing "penal State" - can only be understood in light of the cybernetic hypothesis.  Lyotard explains it: "there is, in all cybernetic systems, a unity of reference that permits one to measure the disparity produced by the introduction of an event within the system, and then, thanks to such measurement, to translate that event into information to be fed into the system; then, in sum, if it is a regulated ensemble in homeostasis, to annul that disparity and return the system to the quantities of energy or information that it had before... Let's stop here a moment.  We see how the adoption of this perspective on society, that is, of the despotic fantasies of the masters, of placing themselves at the supposed location of the central zero, and thus of identifying themselves with the matrix of Nothingness... must force one to extend one's idea of threat and thus of defense.  Since what event would NOT be a threat from this point of view?  All are; indeed, because they are disturbances of a circular nature, reproducing the same, and requiring a mobilization of energy for purposes of appropriation and elimination.  Is this too 'abstract'?  Should I give an example?  It is the very project that is being perpetrated in France on high levels, the institution of an operational Defense of the territory, already granted an operating Center of the army, the specific focus of which is to ward off the 'internal' threat, which is born within the dark recesses of the social body, of which the "national state" claims to be the clairvoyant head: this clairvoyance is called the national identification registry; ... the translation of events into information for the system is called intelligence, ... and the execution of regulatory orders and their inscription into the "social body," above all when the latter is racked by some kind of intense emotion, for instance by the panicked fear which would seize hold of it if a nuclear war were to be triggered (or if some kind of a wave of protest, subversion, or civil desertion considered insane were to hit) - such execution requires an assiduous and fine-grained infiltration of the transmission channels in the social 'flesh,' or, as some superior officer or other put it quite marvelously, the 'police of spontaneous movements.'"  Prison is thus at the summit of a cascade of control devices, the guarantor of last resort that no disturbing event will take place within the social body that would hinder the circulation of goods and persons.  The logic of cybernetics being to replace centralized institutions and sedentary forms of control by tracing devices and nomadic forms of control, prison, as a classical surveillance device, is obviously to be expanded and prolonged with monitoring devices such as the electronic bracelet, for instance.  The development of community policing in the English speaking world, of "proximity policing" in France, also responds to a cybernetic logic intended to ward off all events, and organize feedback.  Within this logic, then, disturbances in a given zone can be all the better suppressed/choked off when they are absorbed/deadened by the closest system sub-zones.


Whereas repression has, within cybernetic capitalism, the role of warding off events, prediction is its corollary, insofar as it aims to eliminate all uncertainty connected to all possible futures.  That's the gamble of statistics technologies.  Whereas the technologies of the Providential State were focused on the forecasting of risks, whether probabilized or not, the technologies of cybernetic capitalism aim to multiply the domains of responsibility/authority.  Risk-based discourse is the motor for the deployment of the cybernetic hypothesis; it is first distributed diffusely so as then to be internalized.  Because risks are much more accepted when those that are exposed to them have the impression that they've chosen to take them on, when they feel responsible, and most of all when they have the feeling that they control them and are themselves the masters of such risks.  But, as one expert admits, "zero risk" is a non-existent situation: "the idea of risk weakens causal bonds, but in so doing it does not make them disappear.   On the contrary; it multiplies them.  ...To consider danger in terms of risk is necessarily to admit that one can never absolutely protect oneself against it: one may manage it, tame it, but never annihilate it."  It is in its permanence in the system that risk is an ideal tool for affirming new forms of power, to the benefit of the growing stranglehold of devices on collectives and individuals.  It eliminates everything that is at stake in conflicts by obligatorily bringing individuals together around the management of threats that are supposed to concern all of them in the same way.  The argument that THEY would like to make us buy is as follows: the more security there is, the more concomitant production of insecurity there must be.  And if you think that insecurity grows as prediction becomes more and more infallible, you yourself must be  afraid of the risks.  And if you're afraid of the risks, if you don't trust the system to completely control the whole of your life, your fear risks becoming contagious and presenting the system with a very real risk of defiance.  In other words, to fear risks is already to represent a risk for society.  The imperative of commodity circulation upon which cybernetic capitalism rests morphs into a general phobia, a fantasy of self-destruction.  The control society is a paranoid society, which easily explains the proliferation of conspiracy theories within it.  Each individual is thus subjectivized, within cybernetic capitalism, as a Risk Dividual, as some enemy or another [a "whatever enemy"] of the balanced society. 

 

It should not be surprising then that the reasoning of France's François Ewald or Denis Kessler, those collaborators in chief of Capital, affirms that the Providential State, characteristic of the Fordist mode of social regulation, by reducing social risks, has ended up taking responsibility away from individuals.  The dismantling of social protection systems that we've been seeing since the start of the 1980s thus has been an attempt to give responsibility to each person by making everyone bear the "risks" borne by the capitalists alone towards the whole "social body."  It is, in the final analysis, a matter of inculcating the perspective of social reproduction in each individual, who should expect nothing from society, but sacrifice everything to it.  The social regulation of catastrophes and the unexpected can no longer be managed by simple social exclusion, as it was during the Middle Ages in the time of lepers, the logic of scapegoating, containment, and enclosure.  If everybody now has to become responsible for the risks they make society run, it's only because they couldn't exclude so many anymore without the loss of a potential source of profit.  Cybernetic capitalism thus forcibly couples the socialization of the economy and the increase of the "responsibility principle."  It produces citizens as "Risk Dividuals" that self-neutralize, removing their own potential to destroy order.  It is thus a matter of generalizing self-control, a disposition that favors the proliferation of devices, and ensures an effective relay.  All crises, within cybernetic capitalism, are preparations for a reinforcement of devices.  The anti-GMO protest movement, as well as the "mad cow crisis" of these last few years in France, have definitively permitted the institution of an unheard of tracking of Dividuals and Things.  The accrued professionalization of control - which is, with insurance, one of the economic sectors whose growth is guaranteed by cybernetic logic - is but the other side of the rise of the citizen as a political subjectivity that has totally auto-repressed the risk that he or she objectively represents.  This is how Citizen's Watch contributes to the improvement of piloting devices.

 

Whereas the rise of control at the end of the 19th century took place by way of a dissolution of personalized bonds - which gave rise to PEOPLE talking about "the disappearance of communities" - in cybernetic capitalism it takes place by way of a new soldering of social bonds entirely permeated by the imperative of self-piloting and of piloting others in the service of social unity: it is the device-future of mankind as citizens of the Empire.  The present importance of these new citizen-device systems, which hollow out the old State institutions and drive the nebulous citizen-community, demonstrates that the great social machine which cybernetic capitalism has to comprise cannot do without human beings no matter how much time certain incredulous cyberneticians have put into believing it can, as is shown in this flustered epiphany from the middle of the 1980s:

 

"Systematic automation would in effect be a radical means of surpassing the physical or mental limitations that give rise to the most common of human errors: momentary losses of vigilance due to fatigue, stress, or routine; a provisional incapacity to simultaneously interpret a multitude of contradictory information, thus failing to master situations that are too complex; euphemization of risk under pressure from circumstances (emergencies, hierarchical pressures...); errors of representation giving rise to an underestimation of the security of systems that are usually highly reliable (as might be the case of a pilot who categorically refuses to believe that one of his jet engines is on fire).  One must however ask oneself whether removing the human beings - who are considered the weakest link in the man/machine interface - from the circuit would not definitely risk creating new vulnerabilities and necessarily imply the extension of those errors of representation and losses of vigilance that are, as we have seen, the frequent counterpart of an exaggerated feeling of security.  Either way, the debate deserves to remain open."

 

It certainly does.

 


 

changed April 27, 2010