V

 

"The eco-society is decentralized, communitarian, and participatory.  Individual responsibility and initiative really exist in it.  The eco-society rests on the plurality of ideas about life, life styles and behaviors in life.  The consequence of this is that equality and justice make progress.  But also there is an upheaval in habits, ways of thinking, and morals.  Mankind has invented a different kind of life, in a balanced society, having understood that maintaining a state of balance is more of a delicate process than maintaining a state of continual growth is.  Thanks to a new vision, a new logic of complementarity, and new values, the people of eco-society have invented an economic doctrine, a political science, a sociology, a technology, and a psychology of the state of controlled equilibrium."

Joel de Rosnay, The Macroscope, 1975

 

"Capitalism and socialism represent two kinds of organization of the economy, deriving from the same basic system, a system for quantifying value added.  ... Looking at it from this angle, the system called 'socialism' is but the corrective sub-system applied to 'capitalism.'  One may therefore say that the most outdated capitalism is socialist in certain ways, and that all socialism is a 'mutation' of capitalism, destined to attempt to stabilize the system via redistribution - the redistribution considered necessary to ensure the survival of all, and to incite everyone to a broader consumption.  In this sketch we call a kind of organization of the economy that would be designed so as to establish an acceptable balance between capitalism and socialism 'social capitalism.'"

Yona Friedman, Realizable Utopias, 1974.

 

 

The events of May 68 gave rise to a political reaction in all western societies that PEOPLE hardly recall the scope of today.  Capitalism was very quickly restructured, as if an army were being put on the march to war.  The Rome Club - multinationals like Fiat, Volkswagen, and Ford - paid sociologists and ecologists to determine what products corporations should give up manufacturing so that the capitalist system could function better and be reinforced.  In 1972, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued a report commissioned by said Rome Club, called Limits to Growth, which made a big splash because it recommended stopping the process of capitalist accumulation, including in the so-called developing countries.  From the lofty heights of domination, THEY demanded "zero growth" so as to preserve social relations and the resources of the planet, introducing qualitative components into their analysis of development, against the quantitative projections focusing on growth, and demanding - definitively - that it be entirely redefined; that pressure grew until it burst in the 1973 crisis.  Capitalism seemed to have made its own self-critique.  But I'm only bringing up the army and war again because the MIT report, put together by the economist Dennis H. Meadows, was inspired by the work of a certain Jay Forrester, who in 1952 had been assigned by the US Air Force to the task of putting together an alert and defense system - the SAGE system - which would for the first time coordinate radars and computers in order to detect and prevent a possible attack on American territory by enemy rockets.  Forrester had assembled infrastructure for communications and control between men and machines, for the first time allowing them a "real time" interconnection.  After that he had been named to the MIT school of management, to extend his skills in matters of systems analysis to the economic world.  He applied the same principles of order and defense to business; he then went over cities and finally the whole of the planet with these principles, in his book World Dynamics, which ended up an inspiration to the MIT reporters.  And so, the "second cybernetics" was a key factor in establishing the principles applied in this restructuring of capitalism.  With it, political economy became a life science.  It analyzed the world as an open system for the transformation and circulation of energy flows and monetary flows.

 

In France, an ensemble of pseudo-savants - the eccentric de Rosnay and the blathering Morin, but also the mystic Henri Atlan, Henri Laborit, René Passet and the careerist Attali - all came together to elaborate, in MIT's wake, Ten Commandments for a New Economy, an "eco-socialism," as they called it, following a systematic, that is, cybernetic, approach, obsessed by the "state of equilibrium" everything and everyone.  It is useful, a posteriori, when listening to today's "left" and the "left of the left," to remember certain of the principles de Rosnay posited in 1975:

 

1. Preserve the variety of spaces and cultures, bio-diversity and multi-culturality. 

2. Beware not to open or allow leakage of the information contained in the regulation loops. 

3. Re-establish the equilibrium of the system as a whole through decentralization.

4. Differentiate so as to better integrate, since as Teilhard de Chardin, the visionary in chief of all cyberneticians said, "all real integration is based on prior differentiation. ...Homogeneity, mixture, syncretism: this is entropy.  Only union within diversity is creative.  It increases complexity, and brings about higher levels of organization."

5. To evolve: let yourself be attacked.

6. Prefer objectives and projects to detailed programming.

7. Know how to utilize information.

8. Be able to keep constraints on the system elements.

 

It is no longer a matter - as PEOPLE could still pretend to believe in 1972 - of questioning capitalism and its devastating effects; it is more a question of "reorienting the economy so as to better serve human needs, the maintenance and evolution of the social system, and the pursuit of a real cooperation with nature all at once.  The balanced economy that characterizes eco-society is thus a 'regulated' economy in the cybernetic sense of the term."  The first ideologues of cybernetic capitalism talked about opening a community-based management of capitalism from below, about making everyone responsible thanks to a "collective intelligence" which would result from the progress made in telecommunications and informatics.  Without questioning either private property or State property, THEY invite us to co-management, to a kind of control of business by communities of wage-workers and users.  The cybernetic reformist euphoria was at such extremes in the beginning of the 1970s that THEY could even evoke the idea of a "social capitalism" (as if that hadn't been what we've had since the 19th century) without even trembling anymore, and defend it as did the architect ecologist and graphomaniac Yona Friedman, for instance.   Thus what PEOPLE have ended up calling "third way socialism" and its alliance with ecology - and PEOPLE can clearly see how powerful the latter has become politically in Europe today - was crystallized.  But if one had to refer to just one event that in those years exposed the torturous progress towards this new alliance between socialism and liberalism in France, not without the hope that something different would come out of it, it would have to be the LIP affair.  With those events all of socialism, even in its most radical currents, like "council communism," failed to take down the liberal arrangement and, without properly suffering any real defeat to speak of, ended up simply absorbed by cybernetic capitalism.  The recent adherence of the ecologist Cohn-Bendit - the mild-mannered 'leader' of the May 68 events - to the liberal-libertarian current is but a logical consequence of a deeper reversal of "socialist" ideas against themselves.  

 

The present "anti-globalization" movement and citizen protest in general show no break with this training by pronouncements made thirty years ago.  They simply demand that it be put into place faster.  Behind the thundering counter-summits they hold, one can see the same cold vision of society as a totality threatened by break-up, one and the same goal of social regulation.  For them it is a matter of restoring the social coherence pulverized by the dynamics of cybernetic capitalism, and guaranteeing, in the final analysis, everyone's participation in the latter.  Thus it is not surprising to see the driest economism impregnate the ranks of the citizens in such a tenacious and nauseating manner.  The citizen, dispossessed of everything, parades as an amateur expert in social management, and conceives of the nothingness of his life as an uninterrupted succession of "projects" to carry out: as the sociologist Luc Boltanski remarks, with a feigned naiveté, "everything can attain to the dignity of a project, including enterprises which may be hostile to capitalism."  In the same way as the "self-management" device was seminal in the reorganization of capitalism thirty years ago, citizen protest is none other than the present instrument of the modernization of politics.  This new "process of civilization" rests on the critique of authority developed in the 1970s, at the moment when the second cybernetics crystallized.  The critique of political representation as separate power, already co-opted by the new Management into the economic production sphere, is today reinvested into the political sphere.  Everywhere there is only horizontality of relations, and participation in projects that are to replace the dusty old hierarchical and bureaucratic authority, counter-power and decentralization that is supposed to defeat monopolies and secrecy.  Thus the chains of social interdependence can extend and tighten, chains which are sometimes made of surveillance, and sometimes of delegation.  Integration of civil society by the State, and integration of the State by civil society more and more work together like gears.  It is thus that the division of the labor of population management necessary for the dynamics of cybernetic capitalism is organized - and the affirmation of a "global citizenship" will, predictably, put the finishing touches on it.

 

After the 1970s socialism was just another democratism anymore, now completely necessary for the progress of the cybernetic hypothesis.  The ideal of direct democracy and participatory democracy must be seen as the desire for a general expropriation by the cybernetic system of all the information contained in its parts.  The demand for transparency and traceability is but a demand for the perfect circulation of information, a progressivism in the logic of flux that rules cybernetic capitalism.  Between 1965 and 1970, a young German philosopher, presumed to be the inheritor of "critical theory," laid the foundations for the democratic paradigm of today's contestation by entering noisily into a number of controversies with his elders.  Habermas countered the socio-cybernetician Niklas Luhmann, hyper-functionalist systems theoretician, by counterposing the unpredictability of dialogue, arguments irreducible to simple information exchanges.  But it was above all against Marcuse that this project of a generalized "ethics of discussion" which was to become radicalized in the critique of the democratic project of the Renaissance.  Marcuse explained, commenting on Max Weber's observations, that "rationalization" meant that technical reasoning, based on the principles of industrialization and capitalism, was indissolubly political reasoning; Habermas retorted that an ensemble of immediate intersubjective relations escaped technology-mediated subject-object relations, and that in the end it was the former that framed and guided the latter.  In other words, in light of the development of the cybernetic hypothesis, politics should aim to become autonomous and to extend the sphere of discourse, to multiply democratic arenas, to build and research a consensus which in sum would be emancipatory by nature.  Aside from the fact that he reduced the "lived world" and "everyday life" - the whole of what escaped the control machine, to social interactions and discourses, Habermas more profoundly ignored the fundamental heterogeneity of forms-of-life among themselves.  In the same way as contracts, consensus is attached to the objective of unification and pacification via the management of differences.  In the cybernetic framework, all faith in "communicational action," all communication that does not assume the possibility of its impossibility, ends up serving control.   This is why science and technology are not, as the idealist Habermas thought, simply ideologies which dress the concrete tissue of inter-subjective relations.  They are "ideologies materialized," a cascade of devices, a concrete government-mentality that passes through such relations.  We do not want more transparency or more democracy.  There's already enough.  On the contrary - we want more opacity and more intensity.




But we can't be done dealing with socialism (expired now as a result of the cybernetic hypothesis) without mentioning another voice: I want to talk about the critique centered around man-machine relations that has attacked what it sees as the core of the cybernetics issue by posing the question of technology beyond technophobia - the technophobia of someone like Theodore Kaczynski, or of Oregon's monkey-man of letters, John Zerzan - and technophilia, and which intended to found a new radical ecology
which would not be stupidly romantic.  In the economic crisis of the 1970s, Ivan Illich was among the first to express the hope for a re-establishment of social practices, no longer merely through a new relations between subjects, as Habermas had discussed, but also between subjects and objects, via a "reappropriation of tools" and institutions, which were to be won over to the side of general "conviviality," a conviviality which would be able to undermine the law of value.  Simondon, philosopher of technology, used this same reappropriation as his vaulting stick to transcend Marx and Marxism: "work possesses the intelligence of the elements; capital possesses the intelligence of groups; but it is not by uniting the intelligence of elements and of groups that one can come up with an intelligence of the intermediary and non-mixed being that is the technological individual... The dialogue of capital and labor is false, because it is in the past.  The socialization of the means of production cannot alone give rise to a reduction in alienation; it can only do so if it is the prior condition for the acquisition, on the part of the human individual, of the intelligence of the individuated technological object.  This relationship of the human individual to the technological individual is the most difficult to form and the most delicate."  The solution to the problem of political economy, of capitalist alienation, and of cybernetics, was supposed to be found in the invention of a new kind of relationship with machines, a "technological culture" that up to now had been lacking in western modernity.  Such a doctrine justified, thirty years later, the massive development of "citizen" teaching in science and technology.  Because living beings, contrary to the cybernetic hypothesis' idea, are essentially different from machines, mankind would thus have the responsibility to represent technological objects: "mankind, as the witness of the machines," wrote Simondon, "is responsible for their relationship; the individual machine represents man, but man represents the ensemble of machines, since there is no one machine for all the machines, whereas there can be a kind of thinking that would cover them all."  In its present utopian form, seen in the writings of Guattari at the end of his life, or today in the writings of Bruno Latour, this school claimed to "make objects speak", and to represent their norms in the public arena through a "parliament of Things."  Eventually the technocrats would make way for the "mechanologues," and other "medialogues"; it's hard to see how these would differ from today's technocrats, except for that they would be even more familiar with technological life, citizens more ideally coupled with their devices.  What the utopians pretended not to know was that the integration of technological thinking by everybody would in no way undermine the existing power relations.  The acknowledgement of the man-machines hybridity in social arrangements would certainly do no more than extend the struggle for recognition and the tyranny of transparency to the inanimate world.  In this renovated political ecology, socialism and cybernetics would attain to their point of optimal convergence: the project of a green republic, a technological democracy -- "a renovation of democracy could have as its objective a pluralistic management of the whole of the machinic constituents," wrote Guattari in the last text he ever published -- the lethal vision of a definitive civil peace between humans and non-humans.

 


 

changed April 27, 2010