Docking the Ferry

Antoine Malliarakis (Mayo)

“Infinity renders impossible any solution to the problem of meaning.”
E.M. Cioran (The Heights of Despair)

“I argue that the AI industry demonstrates the increasing autonomy of capital from labour and not the other way around.”
James Steinhoff (Automation and Autonomy)

“The correct recognition that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding on an infinite time, but by removing the longing for immortality.”
Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus)

“People want to conform to a much higher degree than they are forced to conform, at least in the Western democracies.”
Erich Fromm (The Sane Society)

“In the eyes of a dialectical critic, fractures in form point to historical impasses’, ‘artistic weaknesses . . . no longer have their cause in the author’s limitations and point rather to aesthetic impossibilities, whose foundations lie in social questions.”
Roberto Schwarz (The Importing of the Novel)

The Schwarz quote is from a recent monograph on the Brazilian critic by Franco Moretti. And this quote looms as acutely relevant today. I have written before about the role of art in society today, and the seemingly shrunken space for it, the impossibility for artists to navigate the societal tensions that seem to neutralize all creative acts.

The erosion of meaningful culture, the domination of corporate and state media and the gradual collapse of public education has resulted in the loss of a knowledgable audience. And as one sees with the Russophobic response to Ukraine, the entire pandemic only served as a precursor to some complete mental collapse.

And perhaps the best place (or one of them) to start is with ideas of autonomy, AI, and tech (media). For automation and the internet have both, in their own ways, contributed hugely to the layers of mystification surrounding everything in the capitalist west today.

Klaus Pichler, photography.

“Marx’s main theoretical task is to explain how the social relations of capitalism necessarily generate appearances that distort what capital essentially is (appearances that none the less have material effects).”
Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations)

“…characters who appear on the economic stage are merely personifications of economic relations.”
Karl Marx (Capital, Vol. 1)

The current collective mental collapse can be seen firstly through the lens of capital; or rather through the fundamental mystification that is capital. At its foundation exchange value, in fact the production of value itself, is a kind of mystification, something Marx was at pains to remind his readers repeatedly.

Marx saw the process of valorization as a constant creation of ‘real illusions’ (Alfred Sohn-Rethel I believe coined that) and this means the exploitation of labour in order to create surplus value. This is where Marx referred to capital as dead labour. A sort of zombie form, or as he put it, vampire form that continued to suck the blood of the living (workers). Valorization needs labor and it needs raw materials.

“Since value is a non-physical real abstraction, the valorization process necessarily supervenes on the physical substratum of the concrete production of use-values. But while the valorization process requires a labour process on which to supervene, each labour process is determined in its nature by the exigencies of valorization. The machine is capital’s preferred means for determining the nature of the labour process.”
James Steinhoff (Ibid)

Lidy Prati

One can see that money is both real and unreal. That is always the dilemma or enigma of capitalism.

“Marx held that the alleviation of the burden of work is “by no means the aim of the application of machinery under capitalism”. On the contrary, the machine is a “means for producing surplus-value” by “cheapen[ing] commodities and, by shortening the part of the working day in which the worker works for himself, to lengthen the … part he gives to the capitalist for nothing.”
James Steinhoff (Ibid)

And these basic truths are the core of what is forgotten today. And forgotten, especially, in the realm of this new post Fordist immaterial labour theorizing. Its simply a newer layer of mystification, not a real change because I don’t think capitalism ever actually changes. Marx called machines the devourers of labour. They were again dead labour. And here one would necessarily launch into a long discourse on the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. A long debated topic among Marxists.

Steinhoff quotes the famous passage in the Grundrisse, ‘The Fragment on Machines’….“only when the means of labour has not only taken the economic form of fixed capital, but has also been suspended in its immediate form, and when fixed capital appears as a machine within the production process, opposite labour; and the entire production process appears as not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science. ”

This from 1857 must be seen as quite remarkable.

Josef-Bolf Hunt Kastner

But the germane issue here is that quality of the machinic that is contained in capitalism as a system. And despite all the ‘immaterial labour’ thinking of the Hardt and Negri variety, the basic relationship of domination remains.

“…the ideological importance of AI can best be understood as analogous to the role played by scientific management in the second industrial revolution … AI seeks to achieve the same control over mental processes that scientific management sought to achieve over physical labour through a process of rationalization, fragmentation, mechanization and routinization.”
Bruce Berwin (Artificial Intelligence and the Ideology of Capitalist Reconstruction)

And this seems correct. AI is developed under the aegis of capitalism. And perhaps the control is actually greater than it was under ‘scientific management’. There is an occult aspect to AI and its clergymen. And in some sense this was the pessimism that Horkheimer and Adorno both felt — that that legacy of the Enlightenment was going to eventually become the Terminator, Zombie apocalypses, and finally Brave New World (by way of Frankenstein and Nosferatu). (and one simply has to mention Moretti’s terrific essay on the latter, an essay I have mentioned on this blog as much as any single article).

Votive ear, 4th century BCE, Sanctuary of Asklepios.

Klaus Schwab and Bill Gates are the avatars of a digital dream. Or more accurately a digital nightmare. But here it is worth noting the reshaping of philosophy over the last fifty or sixty years. First, with that Steinhoff calls the ‘post-operaismo’ thinkers, most of whom are Italian and are constellated around Antonio Negri. Negri and Hardt ‘s Empire (and its subsequent three volumes, I beleive) represented an idea of Marxism that neglected the value theory of labour. They were also, at least aesthetically, influenced by Deleuze and Guattari and to some extent Derrida. Now I happen to think Deleuze has written some remarkable works — Difference and Repetition first and foremost — but in the context of the ‘post-operaismo’ anti Marxists (which they, strictly speaking, are not but they come close, I think) the influence is pernicious. And I wont here belabour this (sic) because I think writing about Negri is kinda tedious. But, Steinhoff wrote an important book, I think, and it certainly addresses something significant in the global economy and by extension in the western psyche collectively. And this right away raises a couple of issues. The first is that of social media and to some extent the internet altogether. For social media is a giant mirror of distortion. That may be its essential role, in fact. It is a constantly shifting fun house mirror that makes any attempt to grasp a fixed perspective on society nearly impossible. It has had a direct effect on society, on its shape and form, and not just its reflection. The current Russia/Ukraine crises speaks to this. For today governments of the West are openly censoring information. But this immediately raises another more critical issue, that of trying to define and/or make sense of ‘information’.

For this has become an idea (however amorphous) that is inextricable with ‘post-operaismo’ thinking. And, with most AI theorists, as well.

“First, people work in ever more flexible, mobile, and precarious arrangements … Second, labor is increasingly social and based on cooperation with others, embedded in a world of communicative networks and digital connections … Capital is valorized through cooperative flows in which language, affects, code, and images are subsumed in the material processes of production.”
Hardt & Negri (quoted in Christian Fuchs “ Reflections on Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Book ‘Assembly’. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique).

I would only say that ‘some’ people work in such ways. The majority of humankind do not. Secondly, I think these are wildly exaggerated claims, perhaps relevant and to a degree accurate, but only within a very narrow social strata. As Dean Schmid writes; “No one who has a choice, chooses data entry. It is boring, time consuming and unfulfilling work.” (Data Entry is Indentured Slavery2019). This is not cognitive capitalism, it is cognitive sweat shop capitalism. An anonymous data entry clerk in Nairobi wrote of his job: “Underpaid, Overworked, Subliminal & Constant infantilization of workflow process. Inflexible despite working from home. No Benefits whatsoever, Unnecessary pay cuts for Business process requirements. Non binding contract to employer in case of any litigation.”

Tjebbe Beekman

I took a ferry today here in north central Norway. Its one of a new fleet of electric ferries and its all very shiny and has fewer crew members and uses computer docking guidance systems, etc. However, I noticed at the end of the docking three crew were out there to help guide the captain as he approached windward. Thrusters were used (I guess electric) but it pretty much resembled how barges and ferries have docked for a hundred years or more. As one ferry company noted, docking is more art than science. You have to have a ‘touch’, and that takes years of apprenticeship. The point is, the simple waters of the fjord are still complex and dangerous enough to require human ‘art’.

” To speak thusly about the nodality of an object as a composed position—a wager—on value, is merely a rewording of the critique of reification in the context of computational racial capitalism and its financialized networks. The corollary confusion accompanying the movement from the commodity object to the dispersed, disbursed, distributed commodity—the digital object—regards the movement from factory production, in the case of the former “objectivity” of the commodity, to distributed production of the network-commodity in the social factory in the case of the latter. Industrial production created commodified objects in the factory to be sold at markets, while distributed (digital) production creates digital objects, what are effectively derivative “objects” in the social factory—network derivatives that are also “commodities”—to be sold on attention markets. They are also produced via attention in distributed fashion, meaning to say they undergo distributed production in a society that has liter- ally become a factory of the imaginary.”
Jonathan Beller (The World Computer)

Beller adds later: “Rather than saying that value has become immeasurable, we should say that a mutation of objects and subjects, and of labor and money, has been a requirement imposed by the scaling of capitalist production driven to innovate by the falling rate of profit.”

Larry Sultan, photography.

But this is, in a sense, obvious. And I think even Beller grants too much importance to the transformation of the commodity form. Or rather, the focus (at least for me) is in what Beller calls the ‘factory of the imaginary’. That the real changes were in the human unconscious, and in the more extensive indoctrination of the subject. Not the creation of ‘new’ subjectivities, but the repurposing of old ones. Reification remains a cornerstone or bedrock of what capitalism does.

“Modern culture impoverishes experience by “identifying” the experienced object with the abstract concepts that subsume it in thought and erasing more complex connections and potentialities.”
Andrew Feenberg (Realizing Philosophy:Marx, Lukács and the Frankfurt School)

What Adorno and Horkheimer did was to extend Lukacs’ notion of reification and to elucidate the regressive tendency in capitalist science. That human experience was being shaped to accommodate the class structure, and in scientific thinking (instrumental reason) they saw the neutralization of revolutionary thought — the revolution would only arise from a radical ‘experience’ of the world. That praxis is knit together with psychoanalysis. But let me return to the problems of the digital empire for a moment.

William Hoare, (self portrait, late 1745)

The indoctrination against Russia, as the current example, can be traced back to WW2 and Stalin, but in its recent form…

“Some of the funding went to help swing Russia’s 1996 election to Boris Yeltsin, who acquiesced to rapid privatization (aka “shock therapy”) that devastated Russia’s economy and to NATO expansion in Eastern Europe.
Yeltsin’s disdain for democracy had been evident three years earlier when he ordered troops to storm the Russian parliament after he faced impeachment for selling out Russia to foreign interests and corrupt oligarchs.
When Yeltsin’s successor Vladimir Putin (2000-present) made clear that he would reassert Russia’s economic sovereignty and not be bullied by the U.S. The NED sprang into action with a campaign to undermine him. In 2020, $10.67 million was given to Russian civil society and opposition media groups and politicians for this purpose.
In April 2015, the NED supported a symposium honoring Boris Nemtsov, a former Yeltsin adviser and mafia connected oligarch associated with the shock therapy policies of the 1990s who had been accused of embezzlement of public funds.”

Jeremy Kuzmarov (If the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Is Subverting Democracy—Why Aren’t Some of the Left Media Calling It Out?, Covert Action Magazine)

You could point to the series House of Cards, and its season three portrayal of Putin as fictional Viktor Petrov (played by the Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen). In fact Hollywood has released a dozen films and series which feature evil Russian government actions. (See Air Force One, Hellboy, Red Dawn, A Good Day to Die Hard, Golden Eye, Jack Ryan – Shadow Recruit, The Hunt for Red October, and on and on and on).

Rochell Feinstein

The entire Kuzmarov article is here

An interesting sidebar on Hollywood is that Russia is always, and I mean always, depicted using exaggerated color correction (i.e. its never sunny in Moscow). The films are tinted grey/green, and desaturated of primary colors.

So, in a sense the NED and other state department front groups are helped enormously by the entertainment industry. Associations are already in place. I suspect a good percentage of Americans see Lars Mikkelsen when the name Putin is mentioned.

“Hollywood’s ties to the Pentagon, the CIA, and American foreign policy interests, are absolutely direct, and no effort has ever been made to hide the fact. It has been proven time and again – just Google it. A recent story from 2017 points to a Freedom of Information request that yielded documents exposing no less than 1,800 cases of movies and TV series that had direct involvement from Washington. { } What sets Hollywood’s Russians apart is that we’re not a genuine place or people. Hollywood Russians hardly exist in reality. We are, instead, a set of tropes. One could argue the same about Islam, but you’ll never see an American ‘Progressive’ stand up for Russia.”
Daniel Chalyan (Russia Beyond, 2019)

It should be noted that the same racialist cliches and one dimensional tropes are employed against the Chinese. If anything they might actually be worse. The Chinese, however, in keeping with Western white supremacism, are simply opaque. US intelligence is notoriously bad with regard to the Chinese. There are few Chinese language experts in the state department and even fewer in the CIA, actually. The fact that both the Russians and Chinese use different alphabets is probably not an accident.

Josef Žáček

“Hardt and Negri’s claim amounts to a contention that the real subsumption of labour to capital is retreating, making capital parasitically exploitative of autonomous production. They do not attempt to reconcile this with their contention that the real subsumption of society as a whole to capital has taken place”.
David Camfield (The Kangaroo and the Multitude)

The subsumption of society to capital is well past complete. But I think over the last three years, say, the effects psychologically, are becoming glaringly obvious. The so called immateriality of labour has really been more about the hyper reification of labour, and more, the infantilization of the subject.

The Covid narrative included a conditioning for helplessness (masks, social distancing, etc) and a new form of learned helplessness. One that feels much like what children learn from their very first days at kindergarten. But here I wanted to point out another aspect of this subsumption, or absorbing of society into, essentially, the mechanics of capitalism (more on that in a second) is that dissent has been subsumed. This is obvious, but it has probably never been more acute and problematic. The various ecological movements all seem to suffer from a lack of imagination. I can think of no area in which statistical models (computer models, really) are so intwined with the ethics and goals of the movement. The euro Green Parties are uniform in their near fascistic imposition on personal/individual restraint. Like Puritans the Greens believe Earth will punish those outside the covenant. Transgressors are anyone not acting in accordance with the Book of Ecology. And of course it doesn’t matter who wrote the book, really. For this, at a certain point, is about race and class. In the US black voices of the left are consistently on the side of the state. Now, some of this is the Trump factor. (so called Trump derangement syndrome). But at a certain point the insistent reformism of the social justice groups begin to sound surprisingly reactionary. None of them are taking a position vis a vis Ukraine for example. Just as most avoided the Covid lockdowns. The majority of the visible environmentalists are white bourgeoisie and from the West. Those not from the West (from the Amazon basin for example, or Patagonia or Siberia) are nearly invisible. And that is because media is a white supremacist system of control.

Max Regenberg, photography.

The environmental movement is enclosed (subsumed) by technological rationality. Whatever the actual revolutionary imagination of Paris 68, or the Vietnam anti war movement, the underground press from the sixties, et al — none of it remains. Or, very little, let’s say. Very very little of that qualitatively different radicalism remains. And even then, most of the sixites (with significant exceptions) were already at least partly ensnared within a structural process of thinking that allowed little real revolution. Today, the Euro greens are more concerned with repackaging tobacco (the better to stop young people etc) than they are with the now permanent state of emergency or the mass surveillance that cuts across every country in the EU. There has been a new cyber technology developed by men and women who deeply believe in capitalism, and their technology is exactly one that has come from that ideological background. The internet, social media, and computational analysis is, all of it, part of this instrumental vision, this instrumental rationality that the Frankfurt School so warned against. But not just the Franfurters, but Debord and quite a few others.

“If form is objective, so are its fissures, and recognizing the constraints that world capitalism imposes on the development of the imagination (and of much else, of course) becomes the first step in the analysis.”
Franco Moretti (Ibid)

Moretti here is speaking about Claudio Schwarz and he makes a profound observation vis a vis aesthetics and politics.

“The progression ‘from an involuntary reflex action to a careful elaboration, from incongruity to artistic truth’ was in fact the great achievement of nineteenth-century Russian literature: ‘the psychology of rational egoism and the ethics of Enlightenment’, observes Schwarz in a famous passage of Misplaced Ideas, ‘appeared in the Russian Empire as a “foreign” ideology, and therefore, a localized and relative one. Sustained by its historical backwardness, Russia forced the bourgeois novel to face a more complex reality.”
Franco Moretti (Ibid)

Alex Dordoy

This is remarkably perceptive (sustained by its historical Moretti notes…is an elegant equation). But looking at the West today, at Silicon Valley and the new technologies of the screen, it is interesting to note the sensibility of Russia, as a culture, and how deeply it offends Western minds. The Chinese, too, but that was more expected. Islam certainly, too. But Russia, the country that produced Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky , and which remains recalcitrant in terms of all projects of the western ruling class, retains much of its Soviet recent past. And this catalyses the voices of western capital.

Moretti quotes Schwarz here: “under the sign of a political radicalization verging on pre-revolution, experimentalism became a part of, and metaphor for, imminent social transformation…Caetano’.. characterizations of fellow artists…constitute a lively contemporary gallery, in which the figures interact to produce a vivid panorama of the ‘64 generation’ as a whole: his sister Maria Bethânia, a famous singer in her own right; the film-maker, Glauber Rocha; musicians like Chico Buarque and Caetano’s close collaborator, Gilberto Gil; the theatre director, Augusto Boal; the modernist poet, Augusto de Campos; and many more.”
Roberto Schwarz (‘Political Iridescence’, NLR, 2012)

This is Brazil, and the fascist coup of 64 crushed all this (and forced many artists, including Schwarz, into exile). Moretti then concludes this short study on Schwarz…“Literary knowledge is deposited in Machado’s texts, yes—it is, remember, an objective form—but is just as clearly encrypted in them: it is, indeed, an objective form. To become truly visible, it needs to be liberated by the catalyst of critical work. { } As in Benjamin’s famous line on monuments of culture being always also monuments of barbarism, Machado’s novels contain both, and can be reduced to neither. Having recognized the culture and the barbarism with equal clarity, and having traced them to the class structure of modern Brazil via a profoundly rational style of aesthetic reasoning: having done all this is what makes of Roberto Schwarz the greatest Marxist critic of our times.”

This is important because, in particular, that line about literary knowledge, and objective form. Knowledge that is, finally, encrypted. So, firstly, you need critics who understand that form exists, that form is in fact where the most radical imagination exists. In any culture the form of expression will either liberate it or foreclose it.

Eric Zammitt

And this leads to a discussion of allegory. And this I have written about a good deal this last year.

“This is the kernel of the allegorical view, the baroque, earth-bound exposition of history as the story of the world’s suffering; it is only significant in the stations of its decay.”
Walter Benjamin (Origin of German Tragic Drama)

But the question here is, if we choose to use Benjamin for the moment, how these quasi religious plays (crypto religious) of 17th century Germany, reflected the mythology of nature as fragmented, as littered with relics and architectural ruins. This found expression in death’s heads, skeletons, and decay. But you see a not dissimilar critique in Schwarz (on 20th century Brazil), and in Moretti himself in his book on the U.S. The problem today, however, is that under the aegis of a hyper secular and hyper rational (scientific) value system, the expression given to Nature is one of removal, it is a cleaning-up operation. In a sense this is what the new Green capitalists are doing. And because it is driven by ruling class interests this clean up job targets the poor of the global south.

The imagination of the average westerner is now one that has been exposed to post internet indoctrination, for almost three generations. And this is the critical issue here. The screen technologies have brought forth a highly regimented and restrictive moral world view. And one that is undeniably amendable to fascism. The Third Reich was the pinnacle of western fascist thought, and it has never gone away. It has been carried forward through Heidegger and Walt Disney, through the rabid anti-communism of Reagan and his progeny. The work of Elliot Abrams, for example, is perfectly in line with that of Goebbels and Hitler. There is scant separation. The US backed deaths squads that ravaged central America share a direct lineage to the fascists in the Third Reich, and to collaborators such as the Croation Ustashe and Ante Pavelic and the extreme nationalists in Ukraine under Stepan Bandera. Pope John Paul, the CIA pope, beatified a Croation fascist priest. A war criminal saint. Today the Ukrainian far right is bankrolled by western capital. Meanwhile Hollywood works to portray evil as Russian, communist, Red Chinese, or Serbian. That is the mythology of the internet epoch.

And I want to suggest that this is not mere happenstance somehow. Capitalism itself inculcates the idea of a deserving few and the unhelpful (and dirty) many. Eugenics was the original scientific justification running alongside this myth. And Silicon Valley is the scrubbed sanitized and very white (with the occasional westernized Asian) engine for the architecture of the internet — one that expresses in its aesthetics the pastel sentimental and sex negative kind of kitsch you might find in velvet paintings, or in Thomas Kinkaide (heavily influenced by Disney).

Ante Pavelic (photographer unknown)

The creators of media today have sampled heavily, aesthetically, from 50s sitcoms and Madison Avenue of the same period. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and all the celebrity billionaires so visible on their screens, are white and uniformly cheering the fascists in Ukraine just as they cheer-led the bombing of Belgrade twenty some years ago.

“Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed… the quicker you succeed the better.”
Henry Kissinger, in conversation with Argentine foreign minister Guzetti.

Of course the Argentine junta promptly went out and slaughtered thirty thousand civilians and stole thousands of children from their families.

Lets just glance at who the US supports, those of you cheering on President Zelensky, recipient (as prez of Ukraine) of billions in US aid. Others who got such aid include General Castelo Branco (who led the Brazilian military coup that drove Roberto Schwarz into exile, and initiated twenty years of brutal oppression). Or El Salvador, where a later truth commission put 90% of violent deaths at the feet of US backed Atlacatl Battalion. Or, oh, Albania, where the US lavished money and assistance to Reich collaborator Xhafer Deva, who worked with the Nazis to set up a pro Reich and anti communist government in Kosovo. Now Deva also oversaw in February 1944 the massacre of forty four suspected anti-fascists and personally saw to the deportation of Jews, communists, and *suspicious persons*. Most were sent to Auschwitz. Interestingly, Deva in later years worked as a post office official in northern California. Again, one of many war criminals employed by the US. Or Haiti, Guatemala, Zaire, the Philippines, and Honduras. This is just a fraction of the fascist dictators hosted and funded by the US. Find me a case in which the US *actually* was on the side of democracy.

End of that digression.

Václav Boštík

The point is that during the protest era against the Vietnam war, most people I knew, most young people, understood the US was an imperialist nightmare. A class divided and deeply racist nation that never took the side of the underdog. NEVER.


Today, that seems not to be the case. America still backs fascists mind you, but younger people react with indifference. The generations of the screen look at authority without skepticism. They also identify deeply with authority, whether its their immediate bosses, or the symbolic figures in national politics. Or simply with the most frequent faces that appear on their screens. There is something in the screen effect that encourages a kind of consensus. It manufactures consensus (to borrow a phrase).

The screen presidents began in earnest with Clinton, then Bush Jr, and Obama, Trump, and Biden. Its safe to look at Clinton and Obama as the real avatars for ‘generation screen’. Bush, certainly, but he was more outlier and also something of a throwback. Obama was the completion of the package that began with Clinton.

“Every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.”
McCarthy, et al (A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence)

The above was a statement from a group funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and US Office of Navel Research, in 1955. It was at the first beginning of AI research and of course the Rockefeller Foundation had its stinky rotten fingers in it. But that is over half a century ago. And it was housed at Dartmouth. Throughout the 50s and 60s research on AI took place at major universities, but also at the Office of Navel Research and at various military labs and research centers. The Rand Corporation was a leader, and so was Bell Labs. There are a lot of histories written on this period. The point is, think tanks and the military worked hand in hand developing AI and always always always with the goal of domination and control. Their goal was never freeing the imagination. The goal was never self fulfillment, but rather profit and societal control.

Valay Shende

Capitalism is only directed toward profit. It is only ever about that. Indirect benefits accrue to maybe 4% of the populace but even that is optimistic. “The machine learning (ML) approach to AI has existed since the 1956 Dartmouth workshop but it was not commercialized until the 1980s and did not become commercially widespread until after 2010 when it became the main force of the AI industry’s second era.”
James Steinhoff (Ibid)
In 87 the PDP Group moved to Toronto and to The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). At that time there were not more than a dozen researchers who specialized in neural networks. Then …“The financial crisis of 2007–2008, spurred by subprime mortgage lending and the consequent housing bubble in the USA, and amplified by high-frequency algorithmic trading and diverse high-risk lending practices by banks, culminated in a global economic meltdown.”
James Steinhoff. (Ibid)
After 2009, in the wake of hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, income inequality between the richest and poorest increased and labour’s share of national incomes fell. But AI saw a rebound born of the desire, in those at Google and Microsoft et al to deal with the data of daily online interactions. By 2016 most of Silicon Valley was in the AI business (well, research, really). And this trend has continued with results that are to be debated. Stuff like facial recognition and voice recognition have had moderate success, but only within limited contexts. But that has not stopped the promotion of AI.

“It has shown that AI has been implicated with capital, state and military since its inception. AI has not led a purely conceptual or academic life; it has continually been mobilized as an automation technology, though it has yet to provide the full wealth of recursive power hoped for by its advocates. ”
James Steinhoff (Ibid)

And finally, one more point…
“An often-invisible part of the AI labour force is the service workers who provide the perks for Silicon Valley-style tech workplaces. These include shuttle bus drivers, cooks, security and janitorial staff. They are often direly underpaid. According to a report by Working Partnerships USA (2016), in Silicon Valley, service workers earn a yearly average of $19,900 while local rent averages $21,444 USD. Beyond often dismal pay, most service workers are employed by subcontracting agencies that offer minimal, if any, job security and benefits.”
James Steinhoff (Ibid)

The numbers of so called data scientists is modest (and their salaries relatively large). Same for data engineers. And there is much to be said about the labour conditions within the AI industry (and Steinhoff is exhaustive on this topic). But my concern is with what I will call the societal psyche — the populace that exists in the shadow of big media and AI. And importantly AI has done little that is remarkable save for automating most industries and rarely has such automation benefited anyone other than the owners of these industries. The truth is that automation has reduced the quality of life globally. Nothing has been made better by automation since the washing machine.

Mobutu and Reagan (photographer unknown)

Data collection is a massive industry now. All those so called security procedures one has to endure to play online chess, for example. where you identify a ‘boat’ from among a dozen photos of many things, including boats, is used for driverless vehicles. The chess player is working for free. Millions upon millions of images. And it is estimated that data scientists spend 20% of their time collecting images, another 60% preparing those images, and then 6% of their time building models. It is a strange and ultimately irrational industry. And it speaks to another aspect of the contemporary psychology of advanced capitalism and that is the ruling class is every bit as indoctrinated as the poor. In fact, no doubt more indoctrinated. And all one has to do is listen to, say, a Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli historian and social theorist, to grasp the level of unreality operative in the corridors of power.

The reality is that Automated machine learning (ML) still requires supervision. Just as does data collection (at least the cleaning up of the data). Like those ferries on the fjord, there is always a captain on whom everything is dependent.

“Here, however, to attend, if only briefly, to another conversation situated in a different quarter and finally to answer those who claim that in post-Fordism value has become immeasurable, one need go no further than Marx’s discussion of “the price- form” in chapter 3 of Capital, “The Circulation of Commodities.” He writes, “Things which in and for themselves are not commodities, things such as conscience, honour, etc. can be offered for sale by their holders, and thus acquire the form of commodities through their price [emphasis added]. Hence a thing can, formally speaking, have a price without having a value. The expression of price is in this case imaginary, like certain quantities in mathematics. On the other hand, the imaginary price-form may also conceal a real value-relation or one derived from it” [emphasis in original].”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

Hynek Martinec

It worth one more quote from Beller here…from the same book:

“Whether the Higgs boson is real or not is somehow beside the point, since mathematics mediated by technics of its own design stages “nature” to produce mathematical effects that are internally consistent—verifiable in their own terms (and then photographed, of course). Here we say that the derivation of value in finance is both an instrument of measure and a means of production; mathematicians use imaginary numbers to produce real (or is it virtual?) solutions. No doubt these solutions work, but as Gödel and Derrida both have shown, internal consistency is not “truth” in the classical sense. Bringing things back to Earth, we might say simply that, in the context of capital circulation, the price-form posits the commodity-form. “

A few final observations here, and this has to do with a situation in which there are two generations raised by post internet parents. I suspect this has had an enormous influence. Western culture has entered a new phase, essentially. And what is worrisome is that over the last two years an unelected very tiny group of insanely wealthy men have attempted to carry out several social and political projects globally. (see Great Reset). They will never be successful, but they will certainly have influence and effect. Such projects are not possible in a pre-internet age, both because of the effects of digital tech, but also because of this unprecedented inequality.

“While never before have ordinary people been regularly subject to this sheer size and breadth of peer evaluation enabled by our new ICTs, people have additionally never been subject to this frequency of collective evaluation. We are literally plugged into our devices from the moment we wake until we sleep. Nearly three-quarters of all Americans sleep by their smart- phones with 90 percent of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds reporting they have slept by their smartphone. Over 80 percent of all consumers check their phones within an hour before going to sleep and nearly 90 percent check their phone within an hour of waking up. And once awake, we check our phones constantly. Gen Zers check their phone on average every three minutes, while phone users as a whole check their phones on average over 150 times a day.”
Jeremy Weissman (The Crowdsourced Panopticon)

Anthony Hernandez, photography.

The notion of reputation is a tribal carryover. Hunter/gatherers were connected by tribal ties whose importance were matters of life and death. Cyber tribalism is the sort of end game for tribalism, and it is an unequal fetishized version of the tribe, with a pathology version of reputation. It is also the legatee of Calvinism and Puritanism. There is a kind of SnapChat reformation under way. Morality is appearance, and appearance is mediated and suspect. The idea of counterfeit has undergone changes, too, as a result.

“Dopamine is one of the main neurochemicals responsible for motivation and reward. Some Silicon Valley developers have been quite upfront about the use of findings from behavioral psychology and neuroscience to induce desired behavior. Probably the most blatant company was originally called Dopamine Labs. Their website touted up front: “Connect your app to our Persuasive AI and lift your engagement and revenue up to 30% by giving your users our perfect bursts of dopamine.” The headlines on their website went on to say that, “User behavior isn’t luck: (it’s (neuro)science). A burst of dopamine doesn’t just feel good: it’s proven to re-wire user behavior and habits.” When you clicked on a link that said “Learn the Science” on their site, it took you to the Wikipedia page for Operant Conditioning.”
Jeremy Weissman (Ibid)

The founders of Facebook, Zuckerberg and Sean Parker, both knew how dopamine worked, how the social media platforms they were designing would operate. And as Parker said in an interview ‘we did it anyway’.

Joachim Bandau

“…we might say that the alienated person on social media becomes like a personality machine, emptied out and programmed by society, watching oneself do as society signals one to do. The former is a cog in an economic machine, the latter a cog in a social machine. The necessity to brand ourselves as a condition of economic and social “success” in the modern world encourages us to view ourselves as things, our identities projected into the hands of the crowd, shaped, and reflected back upon us. We watch ourselves on a screen, judge ourselves based on how others judge us on the screen, and act out the desired roles as directed accordingly. We lose ourselves to the crowd in the process. This in turn leads to a sort of nihilism or meaninglessness.”
Jeremy Weissman (Ibid)

Now, generations of parents have been brought up under the sign of the screen, as it were. Children are born into a social machine in which they can only see the role of cog. The impetus, driven by fear of shaming, is to develop your personal brand. But there is also a corresponding resignation at work. A resignation generated by the endless sense of the same. Even what is different has come to ‘feel’ the same.

“Frank-Lothar Kroll reaches after a detailed comparison of the world-views of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, Walter Darré, Alfred Rosenberg, and Heinrich Himmler on the basis of substantial primary- source research. One important conclusion he draws is that Nazi ideology is not to be dismissed either as cynical camouflage for the heinous deeds of the regime or as a mere tool for the manipulation of the masses: ‘All the leading ideologues of the regime believed in their respective Weltanschauung and worked for its enactment.’ Another is the existence of a common matrix underlying the extreme divergence of their thinking on a number of key issues. This he identifies as ‘the category of renewal manifested through the deliberate intention to inaugurate a fundamental turning-point in history through the establishment of National Socialism, and culminating in the related vision of the demiurgic act of creating a “new man” and a “new world”’. It is this ‘category of renewal’ that in Kroll’s assessment makes National Socialism a ‘concrete utopia’ conditioned by the drive towards ‘possibility and realization’, and a ‘genuine concern […] to transcend and transform the material conditions of the existing order into a substantively “different” future world’.”
Roger Griffin (Fascism and Modernity)

If this sounds suspiciously like The Great Reset, and the rhetoric of all those young global leaders who want to ‘build back better’ — that’s because it is.

Gaspar Becerra (1560)

So what we have, in broad strokes, is the continuation of Nazi ideology, the continuation of a western science deeply imbued with sensibility that advocates for class domination. What Beller refers to as racial capitalism. And this is also an ideology feverishly anti-communist. Property rights are sacrosanct. It is the aesthetics of a Disney cartoon lacquered over the basic ‘volkish’ Weltanschauung of the Third Reich, but re-designed as pastel cardigans and warm friendly TED talks rather than torch lit parades or stadiums designed by Albert Speer. The crudity of Leni Riefenstahl is replaced by the slick revisionism of Ken Burns. The message is the same.

It is the feverish doubling down of smart phone addiction and compulsion. And there is a new mystification of class struggle. It is practised cynical anti Marxism, anti Freudianism, and it is anti-culture. And in the corporate corrupted halls of science there is now near desperate attempt to model the world in a way that will explain climate change (without having to mention the US military for one). Such modelling has never worked, as so much –or nearly all– AI technology doesn’t work. But not working means, in a certain cynical sense, that it IS working. For working is relative in the new dystopia of endless repetition. Progress has come to resemble a treadmill.

“Much more than war films, Westerns were the great postwar form, not just in a chronological, but in a symbolic sense; films for which violence and death constituted the great problem—the “dissonance,” in Lukács’s metaphor—that asked for an aesthetic resolution. The Western, of course, was not “caused” by the war: it had been in existence, first in literature and then in film, for almost a century. But the war offered it the opportunity to activate all its symbolic potential.“caused” by the war: it had been in existence, first in literature and then in film, for almost a century. But the war offered it the opportunity to activate all its symbolic potential. As one generation (and one war) earlier with Hemingway, a mostly European trauma found an answer in an American form; but this time, instead of a cautious recovery from the ferocity of history, violence was incorporated into the story, becoming one of its indispensable ingredients. And with this, American cultural hegemony began in earnest.”
Franco Moretti (Far Country)

Troels Worsel

And the current coverage of Ukraine speaks to the authority of movies. News is now absorbed like a Hawks western, or maybe Sam Fuller. The US masculine is one that remains shaped by the conventions of genre. In particular (per Moretti) by the western.

“Driven by society to a state of mere survival, the ego, according to Adorno, can only cope with the surrender of its autonomy and the renunciation of the libido by deflecting, in an unconscious manner, the perpetual narcissistic injuries inflicted upon it by this state of affairs. Such a defense against threats to the ego’s sense of self-worth, already weakened by social forces, runs counter to any conscious analysis of social repression. Because the renunciations and often senseless behavioral demands are less feared by the ego than failure to survive in the social context, the bourgeois subject does not rebel against them. Thus, the integration accomplished by the ego remains tied to external authorities, and the ego’s resistance against them is largely crushed. The bourgeois self is a priori in an aporetic situation: it desires self-consciousness, but this cannot be attained under the conditions of omnipresent social pressure and the narcissistic injuries that they reproduce. It desires self-assertion in society, but that is not to be had without, on one hand, blind submission and a hardening of the ego and its libidinal foundations and, on the other, dissociation and domination vis-à-vis the concrete other.”
Lars Rensmann (The Politics of Unreason)

Kissinger…we want it done quickly.
Sean Parker…we did it anyway.

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  1. Regino Robainas says:

    Eternal Hellish Collapse of the AMERICAN Reich

    Or Green Redemption?

  2. I think all of the above fascist measures are increasingly desperate and useless, since purchasing power (and, so, profitability) is declining everywhere. Not only is it despicable to pay service workers so poorly, it also mediates capitalism’s demise. There are no new markets to expand into and exploit. There is now only increasing immiseration and war until . . . . we either kill each other off or try working together. (We could join the great Irish elk as species who go extinct precisely as they achieve success.)

  3. John Steppling says:

    agree, although there are ‘some’ new markets. Not many, but deep sea mining for example. But its monopolized. The rest are sort of faux markets at best and there aren’t too many of those.

  4. George Mc says:

    Re: depiction of Russia as sunless, this doesn’t just come from Hollywood but also from TV as in the Eastern set sequences of “Killing Eve” in which Russia, at least the urban part. is depicted as not only grim and monochrome but also run-down and filthy. Though it’s interesting that in one episode we see a rural Russia as a backdrop to a moment of Western style “redemption”.

    The character Villanelle is one of those “cute and cuddly” psychopaths so beloved in Western entertainment media. She has an extremely low boredom threshold, screams in impatience at an art gallery and just wants to go and get high and basically kill people.

    But in the rural episode, she goes back to her family home and finds a cast of generally repulsive “backwood” figures. Some of them tell her that the Americans are trying to fool them, that the Earth is flat and there is a secret organization influencing every government in the world. She meets only one “worthwhile” member – a young boy fixated on Elton John.

    The episode ends with Villanelle causing an explosion that kills her entire family apart from the boy. She leaves a ticket for him to “go see Elton”. And what is the boy supposed to do after that? The question never arises since Villanelle, the role model for rationality as opposed to those backward peasants, is someone who lives in a depthless “NOW”.

  5. John Steppling says:

    brilliant comment george. Killing Eve is deserving of a deeper dive I think. I never got to the end of it because it was so irritating (though i like that danish actor).

  6. Klaus von Berlin says:

    The more politico-economically liberal our citizens are,the more intellectually fascistic they usually tend to be.

  7. Regino Robainas says:

    Existing is a forceful swimiming ’round & about
    currents, countercurrents, underground
    caves and all sorts of species. Brave, but not
    so much dominating like a brute, we must become.

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