Kathrin Longhurst

“In capitalism, all media functions as economic media.”
Jonathan Beller (Video lecture, Economic Media; the Decolonization of Money. Goethe-Institut San Francisco)

“Rampant narcissism surfaces as the final form of individualism; it at once negates the ego and perpetuates its mangled form.”
Russell Jacoby (Social Amnesia)

“As an active partisan of many left-wing causes and movements, I was amazed (as the expansion of radical or revolutionary groupings gathered force in the late sixties and the seventies) to discover that on the left the most popular attitude towards the mental illnesses was to deny their very existence.”
Peter Sedgwick (Psychopolitics)

“While negation, protest and critique are necessary, we also need to think about actively fucking up neoliberalism by doing things outside of its reach.”
Simon Springer (FUCK Neoliberalism, Acme Journal)

“ I believe that artificial intelligence will become a major human rights issue in the twenty-first century. We are only beginning to understand the long-term consequences of these decision-making tools in both masking and deepening social inequality.”
Safiya Umoja Noble (Algorithms of Oppression)

As one reads the mainstream news, or legacy news outlets, whatever word you like, the corporate news outlets, one will inevitably find a high number of pieces on AI, on trans rights or lack thereof, and of course almost all articles on almost any topic (including AI, transgenderism) will include the shadow of climate change. The word ‘climate’ itself is simply ubiquitous. What you will not find are stories about US/NATO war with Ukraine coupled to the word ‘climate’. And larger and larger numbers of people are awakening to the fact that nearly all media is (per Beller) *economic*. And this segues into the first topic, or maybe first two topics here, and that is media (and by extension technology) and second the subject of climate change. And when I speak of technology, I have in mind digital tech, and AI, and the relationship these *new* technae have with the old analog industrial tech of 150 years ago.

Portia Zvavahera

I have written about AI several times, so I wanted to approach it here from the the marketing direction, and as a part of this great overconfidence in science (which means marketed science, scientism, or whatever you want to call it). The public is told to believe in stuff like de-carbonization, and are warned 2 degrees will cause irreversible catastrophes. Except these dire predictions never seem to happen. Climate fear mongering is incredibly good at kicking the can down the road. And it serves, partly, to distract from issues of pollution. Here is one contra take:

The entire edifice of global warming (or climate change) has been created to instill a kind of existential terror in people (we will discuss later why existential terror is profitable). You will note the ruling class, the 1% of people who own most of the planet, are not scared. They do not alter their behavior in the least. Private jet travel is only increasing. They continue to buy beach front properties. Cutting across these topics is of course economics. For science itself has a sort of capitalist structural aspect, and certainly technology does. Jonathan Beller has investigated such questions for a while now, looking at capitalism in the digital age as the newest incarnation of colonialism, essentially.

“Racial Capitalism plus the notion of informatics as an extension and intensification of the dynamics of the value form diagrams a rudimentary notion of what I call Computational Capital. This term means not just capitalism as a computer, nor simply capitalism with or by means of the digital computer, it means capitalism as a digitally enabled program of accumulation and dispossession; capitalism as the deployment and intensive development of algorithms of inequality.”
Jonathan Beller (The Message is Murder)

Robert Morris

But two issues reside in this analysis. An analysis I think very important notwithstanding. The first is that what Beller calls ‘racial capital’ should include antisemitism, and antisemitism has structural differences even if it can be found in the same historical category. But it also cannot, I don’t think, be erased from this equation. The other problem is that homophobia is qualitatively different. The history and evolution of, and contemporary propaganda, around queer culture, queer dispossession, and queer liberation are starkly separate from racism. And this can easily fall prey to, or devolve into a semantics argument. The slave system that spurred the growth of capitalism operates in another register than prejudice toward homosexuals, or later the oppression of queer culture. And here again, the missing element is class. The psychoanalytic is also missing.

But, the germane issue is how technology, and today digital tech, and the world of algorithms, is an extension of the fundamental white supremacist scaffolding on which capitalism exists. Safiya Umoja Noble rather comprehensively dissects, for example, the anti-black racism of Google Search. This is but one obvious example. It does, however, beg a deeper question, one I think Beller wrestles with . And that is that the very invention of photographic technology was one that inscribed whiteness. It was not simply that people (with racist values) were making algorithmic decisions through code ( or taking racist photographs), but that the framework, the technological system that code sustained (and invented?) could be traced backward to the colonial empire of Europe. That the photograph privileged whiteness inherently. That such optical inventions had as their raison d’etre the sanctification of whiteness.

But before epistemological, or even ontological questions, there should be some clarity about science itself and class.

“…many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer.”
Cathy O’Neil (Weapons of Math Destruction)

Jack Chambers

Safiya Umoja Noble quotes O’Neil, who is a data scientist, and a bit later writes “Our work, each of us, in our respective way, is about interrogating the many ways that data and computing have become so profoundly their own “truth” that even in the face of evidence, the public still struggles to hold tech companies accountable for the products and errors of their ways. ” (Ibid)

This is one of the key issues in contemporary marketing around AI. Technics are their own truth. Unassailable and immune to real challenge. And here loom questions of law. International criminal courts are largely pantomime performances to reassure the ruling class. Bush and Obama will never stand trial for war crimes. Tony Blair will never stand trial for crimes against humanity. And neither will the corporate ownership of internet platforms. Nor the defense industry that manufactures white phosphorous or cluster bombs. Athletes will be stimatized for using steroids. Pharmaceutical companies that wildly over manufacture these steroids will never suffer even a whisper of criticism. And such immunity, such invisible power, begins to resemble something Godlike.

“Deep machine learning, which is using algorithms to replicate human thinking, is predicated on specific values from specific kinds of people—namely, the most powerful institutions in society and those who control them. ”
Safiya Umoja Noble (Ibid)

Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (The Dutch Burghers, 1833)

Institutional authority operates on a number of levels today. And here I will sidetrack just a bit. I noticed Beller’s interview with Gary O’Bannon (on youtube) for the Goethe Institute, on the subject of the decolonization of money, was done one year ago. It had 80 views. Gwyneth Paltrow health tips had 18 thousand views in the first week. But I digress….

Beller makes an astute observation in that interview in which he says the growing precarity coupled to the Pandemic protocols and (what he terms) *climate racism* make long term planning very difficult. This of course is a part of the sense of isolation and loneliness that many feel. They are estranged from their own ambitions and aspirations, from their dreams. And these ideas, or values, are the basic ingredient of the entertainment industry. What people are almost completely cut off from having is exactly what Hollywood constantly tells them they can have. Should have. And if they don’t have, then it must be their own fault. It is their own failures that has cost them their dreams. (which is partly why Greta’s ‘you stole my dreams’ scold is so irritating, and probably so NOT accidental). The loss of freedom of movement (or partial but clearly this is the project for global governance) only intensifies this sense of loneliness. Just the mere threat of the loss of freedom of movement is sufficient to cause unbearable anxiety.

“Laing proposed taking an ‘existential-phenomenological’ approach to mental illness, arguing that people diagnosed with schizophrenia experienced a split within themselves and from the world around them.”
Hannah Proctor (Sedgwick, Laing, and the Politics of Mental Illness. *Radical Philosophy*, June 2016)

R.D. Laing

Proctor is talking about R.D. Laing, of course. And it perhaps time to revisit Laing. And it’s not that Laing is not highly problematic at a certain point, for he is, but because his insights, mixed amid the mistakes, were profound. And they signaled a deep necesary corrective to the ego-psychology that had taken root and flourished in North America.

“The intent of their psychology is political and critical; the psychology of madness seeks to indict, not absolve, a maddening society. Their work seethes with discontent. In this as well as in their serious philosophical interests they radically diverge from the conformist psychologies.”
Russell Jacoby (Social Amnesia)

Jacoby is writing of Laing and his associate David Cooper. And I should note again, Jacoby is the most neglected great writer on psychology in the second half of the century. And Social Amnesia should be required reading for everyone. But this was the starting point for why Laing still matters. Madness itself is seen as an indictment.

“thank you… for tolerating such intimacy, because that’s the one element, I would say, that has been lacking in our community, or our society, some common-sense awareness of each others sacred intelligence, or some common-sense recognition or acknowledgment of the emotions of the sacred world that we inhabit together, and of the delicacy and the sensitivity that we all bear…”.
Alan Ginsburg ( in conversation with R.D. Laing, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1980)

Marie Lannoo

Laing saw schizophrenia was a particular strategy a person employs to be able to live in an unlivable situation. And this was a keen insight, but the problem, as Jacoby observes, is that there is little investigation of what made that situation unlivable. In a sense the family, for Laing, was society. But the family was not seen as a victim itself.

“Sociology itself has often been defined as the study of how social groups influence each other and their members. The attraction of this approach for establishment sociology is not difficult to discern; as Adorno and Horkheimer comment, the concept of society disappears to make way for endless empirical observations on group dynamics. These empirical observations skirt the antagonistic relationship that is outside the laboratory – the individual and society -in favor of the safe, sound, and verifiable one of individual and individual.”
Russell Jacoby (Ibid)

Sociology is the quintessential American discipline. And it carries with it the residue of logical positivism. It also fits seamlessly (in its American form) with scientism. The manner in which algorithms has developed, even apart from its racial base, is tied into this adulterated sociological privilege.

“The contradiction that inheres in all therapy turns into an antinomy. If the family is the immediate context of schizophrenia, it is not the context – society. Inasmuch as the limitations of family therapy are not acknowledged, the therapy begins to confuse itself with social change.”
Russell Jacoby (Ibid)

This same criticism can be applied, in a sense, to Beller’s remarks in that video lecture. For the racial embeddedness of racialism in capital still needs a clearer examination of why homophobia, say, or antisemitism differ and are still related. Now, there are protests across Europe this week, and France is shut down with work stoppages and walk outs, as well as mass protests in the streets. It is useful to recall Wilhelm Reich for a moment…

“usually an important social awareness begins to assume a more or less clear form among the population long before it is expressed and represented in an organized way. Today, 1944, the hatred of politics, a hatred based on concrete facts, has undoubtedly become general. If, now, a group of social scientists has made correct observations and formulations, that is, observations and formulations that clearly reflect the objective social processes, the “theory” must of necessity be in agreement with vital feelings of the masses of people.”
Wilhelm Reich (Mass Psychology of Fascism)

Ashton Thornhill, photography. (Marfa, Texas, 2010)

Cedric Robinson quoted this in a remarkable chapter in his book on racial capitalism. Writing of Marx…

“He {Marx} said, it is not the Jews who have made themselves, it is the society which required the Jews, which allows the Jews to maintain themselves. He was arguing then that the culture had conceptualized a people and a process in the wrong way, in an absurd way, in an irrational way, ultimately, in a very destructive way. He goes on to say in fact, that Judaism is the ideology of civil society, not of Jews, it is the ideology of civil society. He is making the argument that in fact the Jew has become the symbol of the society, a symbol that it cannot deal with directly, which it must project on to some thing, which must – in Marx’s term – alienate from itself. The society had developed a symbol for itself, but outside of itself. And it called that symbol the Jew. Marx was saying, it is no longer possible to understand German society unless you recognize it in the Jew, in its Jew. The first attack is an attack on culture. Marx refused to accept the terms, the language, the conceptualizations of the society which he was addressing. He could not accept them because he understood them[…]”
Cedric J. Robinson ( On racial capitalism, Black internationalism, and cultures of resistance)

Robinson astutely points out the dynamics of occupiers and occupied, of colonizer and colonized, and the way in which the colonizer’s first tactic is to destroy the culture of the occupied. From Haiti to Algeria to Vietnam the first move by the French was to destroy the indigenous culture. In all three cases, though, the colonized reacted with a revolutionary counter attack on the culture of the colonizer (in the cases cited that would be France). The colonizer eventually develops a cultural dependency on the colonized. The colonized culture is now, however, a synthesis of sorts –Voodoo, was as CLR James put it, the ideology of the revolution — and Voodoo was a synthesis of Amer-Indian and Black African cultures. This is very much the strange dynamic of master/slave mediated by the perverse psychology of colonialism. A recent poll in the UK asked people their favorite food for dinner. The most popular answer, by a wide margin, was curry.

“The sympathies which some business interests in this country held for Mussolini and his “Corporate State” assumed financial form. “The J. P. Morgan Company,” for one, “lent over one-hundred million dollars to the Fascist government in 1926.” Jules Archer has gone even further, maintaining that elements of the Morgan interests (the assemblage of bankers, insurance companies, utilities, railroads, steel manufacturers, and mine-owners whose interests were interlocked by Morgan’s machinations into a determinant power on Wall Street) actively pursued the imposition of a Fascist administration in the U.S. in the mid-1920s. Within only slightly less important circles of American capitalists, James Pool and Suzanne Pool, among others, have reconstructed similar sympathies with German Fascism.”
Cedric J. Robinson (Ibid)

Marianne Breslauer, photography (Paris 1936)

Historian John Diggins notes that Fortune Magazine devoted an entire issue to praising Mussolini and the Italian state. And warned readers to avoid glib generalities about fascism, and to remember that Mussolini was imbuing the society with ‘Discipline, Duty, Courage, Glory, and Sacrifice’. And here it is worth underscoring Robinson’s points about Fascism appropriation of Zionism (and vice versa). And of course in the U.S. the fascists were seen as a defense against Soviet communism. In all this the sense of ‘racial destiny’ looms and hovers above the machinations of business and religion.

“The videotape of the beating of King microcosmically rehearsed in specular form and ideology the political character of what Andy Rooney dubbed “the best war in modern history”: the ‘Desert Slaughter’ of the Iraqi masses which the leaders of the most powerful Western/Christian/civilized nation had initiated and choreographed only a few months earlier. And in the original and its copy, in the fevered imagination of the dominant, the horror descending upon the inferior was deserved, the warrant for the act issued by natural law. White-American might was its own raison d’être.”
Cedric J. Robinson (Ibid)

All is allegory. But here, again, one has to circle back (as CEOs like to put it) to both Beller and Jacoby.

“The reduction of a social configuration to a concrete and immediate one explains a striking feature and irony of much of the radical and existential psychology: the omission of a class analysis of mental illness. { } The critique of a quasi-biological psychology in the name of society forgets that biological medicine is not outside the social dynamic.”
Russell Jacoby (Ibid)

Nor is technology.

Jacob van Ruisdeal (The Jewish Cemetary, detail. 1650)

Allow me one more quote here from Jacoby —

“While there is neither identity nor complete separation between the psychic and the somatic, the disjunction of theory and therapy is valid in both; the therapy in each leaves untouched the social roots -which does not mean that the therapy is unnecessary. The damage from “accidents,” psychic and physical, needs to be healed. The battered driver is to be cured so as to return to the expressways, this time to die. Psychic transfusions are to be given to the schizophrenic so that he or she can be released into the madhouse called society. This contradiction is contained in therapy of each kind; it is to be elucidated, not veiled, as if some new treatment, be it for broken bones or broken souls, can magically escape from it.”
Russell Jacoby (Ibid)

The bourgeois error is to see a specific issue and imagine it is universal. Today one hears constantly about communication, and rarely if ever the historical evolution of the techniques (as it were) that allow for communication. But Adorno noted that occultism is the compliment to reification. When the real world is intolerable, the psychological solution (found in mysticism) is to decide that the world one sees is not the *real* world. There must be one behind it. And this is found in the western trivialization of Eastern thought. And it becomes its own form of Orientalism. The most popular genre in Hollywood today is fantasy and in particular stories that suggest or discover deep unknown worlds behind the ordinary daily boring life of the middle class.

Tina Bara, photography.

At the end of his chapter on Laing and Cooper, Jacoby write a summation that I think resonates on multiple levels today:

“To read successively Freud, the neo-Freudians, and the post-Freudians is to witness the effect of social amnesia: the repression of critical thought. The vital relationship between mind and memory turns malignant; oblivion and novelty feed off each other and flourish. Psychoanalytic and critical thought is sloughed off in the name of progress which is regression. What has been called the “death and rebirth of psychology,” referring to the reemergence of a spiritualized psychology since the demise of the “old” Freudian materialism, is exactly the reverse: the loss of a critical psychology. { } The madness and irrationality of the whole are so apparent, so evident, and so total that those who glimpse its full unreason are struck dumb by it. Their failing is not to understand what is not to be understood. It is left to the others to talk for them. No one is immune. Madness haunts the working and sleeping hours of even the most “healthy” and “normal” as society loses even the appearance of rationality.”
Russell Jacoby (Ibid)

This was written in 1972.

The eclipse of reason, to use Horkheimer’s term is complete today. And this should, honestly, be obvious.
Here is a recent piece by Paul Haeder….https://paulhaeder.substack.com/p/persistent-vegetative-states?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

That Jacoby quote is, again, from nearly a half century ago. Today the irrational has been cognitively cemented in place, and the circus-like quality of electronic representations of reality; or more, really, of the values handed down by the most wealthy and insane humans on the planet is indeed the material of a clinical haunting. There is almost no longer an attempt to duplicate reality in entertainment, nor in news reporting. Today the constant circulation of memes and click bait, the constant frantic virtue signalling and self branding takes place in a *nowhere*, a non-reality, and this non-reality is sold to the populaces as something of value. But perhaps this is the by-product of pharmacological trauma. The western world today, and especially the U.S. resembles nothing so much as a Phillip K. Dick novel.

Francesco Scaramuzza (illustration of Lucifer, Dante’s Inferno)

“Rather than seeing an abatement of racism in the play of “color-blind” technologies, we experience its automation. What I am calling computational colonialism means an extractive and violent mediation at scales ranging from the sub-atomic to the planetary that result in the devaluation and dispossession of people(s). “
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

Beller points out that digital technologies, in their ongoing development from monetary instruments to computational computing are furthering the logics financialization. And this is evident today in the Great Reset notion. It is evident in the desire for a cashless society. As Beller asks….’you want to talk to your friend? It’s going to cost you’. Everything is for sale now. Cory Morningstar has been unpacking this trend for a decade now. But it is important, too, that not *everything* is yet for sale. As the protests in France indicate there is much starting to happen that can’t be bought. The ruling class project is to sell you literally everything. Breathing, in their mind, should have a price tag, too. So it is important to take notice of what isn’t yet for sale.

That’s the first point. But the second is to study and educate yourself and others. Discuss. Question. I saw an article on how drinking coffee is racist. This is a typical sort of confusion (albeit a rather stunningly stupid one). The take away was to protest coffee, and now, apparently milk (never mind). One wants to scream EVERYTHING is racist. And yes that includes gentrification. But it also includes the technology you use to express your protests. And this is exactly where Beller is so crucial.

“You want to tweet your revolution? That’s fine so long as your neuronal function helps the platform make money for my shareholders. You want to get rid of “man?” No problem, welcome to networked computing! With the colonization of communication, the means to an end logic imposed on work by mandatory wage labor has become the means to a means to an end imposed on discourse and images by mandatory unwaged labor (paid in informatic-social currencies such as likes). We work to communicate to commune but must do so in a circuit of graduated expropriation.”
Jonathan Beller (Ibid)

Jean Marc Bustamante, photography.

The one problem with Beller, however, is in his own failure (at times) to distinguish or recognize the non-identical. Or perhaps to just not be dialectical enough. The system is racialized, but not everything in it succumbs to this logic. Or rather, on one level it does, it is organized within. Capitalisms’ coming into existence fed and was nourished by a racialized belief system designed to justify subjugation of other humans. Slavery. Those Google search results can be corrected to be less glaringly racist. Maybe even to not be *racist* at all. Google doesn’t care. And the implicit racism will remain anyway. It is historically embedded. It is foundational. The reformed version of Google Search may end up far more racist that the original. For this product of a white supremacist consciousness, is one that has repressed their own desires for exactly that which they stigmatize. (think how Hitler began to incorporate more and more stereotypical Jewish gestures during his speeches, or think ‘Mandingo’, etc.) This is precisely why the Frankfurt School wanted to marry Marx with Freud. And here questions of art and the imagination enter the discussion. For within this analysis the question of meaning arises. The western imagination is not yet totally colonized. Society is in the midst of a frenzy of bowdlerizing classic texts. From Agatha Christie to Roald Dahl. Of course it is stupid and everyone knows this. The frenzy will retreat. But as the value of meaning recedes, there are increasing absurdities injected into public discourse. Much of this, of course, happens in social media. And the internet is a profound medium of distortion. And in a way, all cyber discourse resembles the problem with much of computer science. It is mediated by the irrational algorithms of the system, and it is woefully incomplete and inaccurate. But it pretends as if mistakes are, by definition in AI, impossible. An example is climate science. I am coming to understand that computer models are no more meaningful than the lego models of the world my six year olds build. Look, Papa, when these blocks have water in them, everything gets wet and my city is ruined. I am not being hyperbolic here. Anything can be said to be anything in public discourse. Men in women’s swimsuits can win races against biological women (real women), and be handed awards while scratching their balls on the podium. The woman of the year in 2021 (for Time Magazine) is a man. He is the surgeon general. You can choose to perform the role you desire. You cannot, however, expect people to willfully blind themselves to reality. *Your* subjectivity and pain is not a societal struggle. Oppression is to be resisted and corrected. But pretending to be a part of bourgeois irrationality is only a deeper circle of insanity. Demanding assimilation to a sort of Norman Rockwell regressive imaginary of bourgeois satisfaction and fulfillment is irrational. Meaning has been drained away.

And Beller’s lack of insight into the pandemic is a bit discouraging, too. (if I am nitpicking Beller). But it does go along with a lack of credulity regards tech altogether. Western society today, cutting across all classes and demographics, has a stunning overconfidence in science. And with it a stunning overvaluation of scientists and technological experts (sic). Remember the Nazi’s final solution was the product of the German medical establishment.

Bruce Nauman

“The legalized practice of state-controlled breeding started in the United States. Beginning in 1907 and continuing until the 1970s, most states passed laws permitting the involuntary sterilization of those deemed “unfit” to reproduce. This resulted in sixty-five thousand forced sterilizations in thirty-three states. One-third of these occurred in my home state of California, where the practice continued until 1964. Most of these involuntary operations were endorsed by psychiatric physicians working in the system of state hospitals (a system in which I served as ethics committee chair from 2017 to 2021). Doctors served as the gatekeepers of forced sterilization. Among the victims, Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, the mentally ill, the physically ill, and the poor were overrepresented. Women were involuntarily sterilized three times as often as men, even though tubal ligation is medically riskier and more invasive for women than vasectomy for men. The last forced sterilization under U.S. laws occurred in 1983. The regime continued even longer in the penal system: after revelations that dozens of women were forcibly sterilized in the California prison system between 2005 and 2011, the state finally passed a law banning this practice.”
Aaron Kheriaty (The New Abnormal)

“A sign will stand in for a system, a proxy will stand for the real, and a toy model will be asked to substitute for the infinite complexity of human subjectivity. By looking at how classifications are made, we see how technical schemas enforce hierarchies and magnify inequity. Machine learning presents us with a regime of normative reasoning that, when in the ascendant, takes shape as a powerful governing rationality. { } The military past and present of artificial intelligence have shaped the practices of surveillance, data extraction, and risk assessment we see today. The deep interconnections between the tech sector and the military are now being reined in to fit a strong nationalist agenda. Meanwhile, extralegal tools used by the intelligence community have now dispersed, moving from the military world into the commercial technology sector, to be used in classrooms, police stations, workplaces, and unemployment offices. The military logics that have shaped AI systems are now part of the workings of municipal government, and they are further skewing the relation between states and subjects”.
Kate Crawford (The Atlas of AI)

It is important to consider what AI means in all this. And partly this is because the term *AI* is now a full on brand.

“Artificial intelligence, then, is an idea, an infrastructure, an industry, a form of exercising power, and a way of seeing; it’s also a manifestation of highly organized capital backed by vast systems of extraction and logistics, with supply chains that wrap around the entire planet.”
Kate Crawford (Ibid)

AI is a technique more than it is a technology, actually. And I would argue its not actually revolutionizing anything per se. As I say, it is a brand. It is marketed the way all brands are marketed. From detergent to Tomahawk missiles.

Wolfgang Mattheuer

I have written on AI several times on this blog (https://john-steppling.com/2022/05/the-comfort-of-the-metropole/) and here (https://john-steppling.com/2022/07/unknowable/).

In both cases, as I re-read this pieces I find I instinctively emphasized the racial aspect (and made use of both Beller and Crawford, and Yarden Katz as well). But I did not really address the nature of antisemitism. And yet they are clearly linked. But for the moment, first, Crawford’s remarks above need to expanded upon. The key is that final clause — a manifestation of highly organized capital. And with that the vast systems of extraction that go with highly organized capital. The extraction overwhelmingly takes place in the global south. As Yarden Katz noted

“These capitalist visions rest on the idea that AI will provide an unmatched form of “slave” labor. It would supposedly “free” people from their own labor, if only we let it. Although experts tend to refer to the “slave” in generic terms, or link it in passing to slavery in antiquity, the slave metaphor is always racial and gendered— especially when invoked by white professionals in North America. The persistent and unselfconscious appeals to slavery highlight the whiteness of the AI expert industry, and the racial capitalism that animates experts’ visions.”
Yarden Karz (Artificial Whiteness)

The first part of that quote (from Crawford) is worth unpacking a bit, too. It is a form of power. As she said elsewhere, a registry of power. And a way of seeing. Ah, well, yes but with an asterisk. It might be better to say it is a way of NOT seeing. (those Lego cities my kids build become allegories). Climate *science* is tied into prediction. And Crawford observed (from my earlier post) AI emphasized the predictive as a way of reducing the complexity of the world. And this reduction would allow for, so the thinking went, finding the meaningful detail amid all the noise. But deciding on the meaningful detail is purely subjective. And in a society of waning *meaning* that is likely to be ever more difficult. There is, additionally, a growing normalizing of anticipation to the official answer. The experience of the anticipatory now provides a soothing familiarity.

As Yarden Katz remarked in an interview (Digilabour Jan 2020): “What agendas are served by this preoccupation with “AI”? And which conversations are silenced by this loud industry?”

Andreas Muller Pohle, photography.

State violence is obscrued (as Katz notes), and by extension these sorts of brands, techno-brands, often serve to absolve capitalism and the state. They absolve the most privileged, the people who exercise enormous influence in terms of policy and state decision making.

“The bias framework is good for the class of professional experts who want their share of the big AI pie. They can raise lots of money for research on the bias of AI and get media attention for the work. Since the concept is, and as I argue has always been, nebulous and shifting, you can stick “AI” with anything. So, the experts can say they’re doing “AI and X” (where X could be policing, journalism, national security, environment, etc.). And this has led to many small industries around the “bias,” “fairness,” and “transparency” of AI in the academic and policy circles that corporations like Google and Microsoft have long dominated. Experts can debate whether this algorithm is more or less “fair” than that one, without asking whether computing should have a role at all, let alone questioning the institutional envelope in which computing is applied. These discourses dance around the obvious truth that algorithms are inert; they can’t jump out of the computer and throw someone in prison. And computers can always be unplugged.”
Yarden Katz (Digilabour, Jan 2020)

If you Google Search anything *academic* or what might be considered *intellectual* the algorithmic response will be to flood your social media feeds with stories about Jordan Peterson or Steven Pinker. If you try to Google Search misinformation on digital currency, say, or why Bill Gates owns so much American farmland, you will not get answers to your query. It is remarkable, actually. You will get stories about how *conspiracy theories* are bad, how Bill Gates is a victim of said conspiracies, etc. But as I have said before, there is a deep anthropomorphizing of AI and robotics in general. Katz’s points about conjuring the image of *slave* is very accurate here. And one of the points Katz makes is that AI is a useful veneer to lacquer over institutional violence. AI is the Lone Ranger riding into a conflict zone to reform it, and more importantly to provide a progressive optics.

AI functions as, and to a large degree, *is* simply a marketing tool.

“…the recent wave of “ethical AI” is promoted and sponsored by some of worst profiteers from imperial and colonial projects, whether it’s Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group, or the consulting firm McKinsey, or even Henry Kissinger. They promise to “do good” for the world with “ethical AI,” and elite universities embrace these sponsors and their plans. This configuration helps to ensure that whatever goes on in newly funded “AI” centers won’t challenge the sponsors’ agenda. Meanwhile, the projects of dispossession and wealth extraction that elite universitieid)s and their patrons are invested in continue.”
Yarden Karz (Ibid)

Ruth Bernhard, photography.

Now, of course there is also a register of AI that is more theoretical. One that works toward something like creating sentience. And it is interesting that I found an interview with Chomsky, from 2012, actually conducted by Katz. In it Chomsky addresses why AI has failed, or seemed to fail. Failing in terms of discovering or manufacturing consciousness. In this interview Chomsky says…“So if you want to study, say, the neurology of an ant, you ask what does the ant do? It turns out the ants do pretty complicated things, like path integration, for example. If you look at bees, bee navigation involves quite complicated computations, involving position of the sun, and so on and so forth. But in general what he argues is that if you take a look at animal cognition, human too, it’s computational systems. Therefore, you want to look the units of computation.” (The Atlantic, 2012).

I don’t want to drift off into this discussion again, but aspects need to be addressed. First off, describing what bees do as computation is stretching the meaning of that term. Insect navigation is innate in the insect. It is instinct. Now, Lars Chittka has written a good deal on bees. And much of it is fascinating, but there are issues here. And they are the issues were address in this post. Chittka writes that he and his team (of scientists) have determined that bees can picture things in their minds. They illustrate this by experiments they conducted with shapes of sugar cubes etc etc. The short version is that bees remember (sic) where certain things are located. The problem with this should be obvious. The scientists have no fucking idea what a bee mind is like. They can only show that (predict!!) bees will find ways to the sugar. Do they do this with some form of what humans call memory? Who knows? Not Chittka or his team. This is a very profound problem with contemporary science. We humans will never know what it is like to be a bee. I doubt humans really know what it is like to a dog. Or even a chimp. The primates exhibit stuff that feels similar and recognizable to us, but we cannot know. Humans advance use of language is something very worth pondering. It is remarkable. And even physiologically, the human eye, for example– it is very hard to calculate just how many movements the eye makes. First, which kind of movement? Smooth following, or Vestibulo-ocular to stabalise the eye if the head is shaking, or vergence etc etc etc. And the eye does this for dozens of years every second of every day. And optical science has been pretty remarkable and I am glad my reading glasses work, but, the eye is something I feel is best approached through theology, maybe. It is miraculous. And AI is not doing what the human eye does, nor is it even doing what the bee does. The problem with AI and with the data collections and processing of data and the predictive algorithms is (besides being insanely energy inefficient) that they are not even remotely as accurate as the adherents claim.

I think Jordan Peterson is a cretin, and Pinker is only very minimally less cretinous.

Catherine Murphy

“Gas chambers, those hyper efficient technocratic mechanisms of mass killing, were not initially established by the Nazi government; they were initiatives of the German medical community. Like the involuntary sterilizations in the United States, each of the T4 euthanasia death warrants was signed by a German physician. Even after the lethal regime turned its attention on Jews and other ethnic minorities, the government continued to deploy quasi–public health justifications for the killing machine: the Jews were routinely demonized by the Nazis as “spreaders of disease.”
Aaron Kheriaty (Ibid)

AI, and computational capital has helped counter the anti conformism that arose and drove the sixties counterculture. And this has been intentional. But again, here, it is important to regain a connection to art.

“Mark Rothko shared Cornell’s aspiration to make art a form of material grace, some point of contact with transcendent reality, not, as middlebrow aesthetics would have it, a vehicle of self-expression. Despite the fame lavished on his color-field paintings, Rothko always angrily resisted categorization as an “abstract expressionist.” As he told a gathering of art students at the Pratt Institute in 1958, he had ‘never thought that painting a picture has anything to do with self-expression.” Self-expression, he warned, “often results in inhuman values.’ While any artist was inevitably expressing a self, that self should never be stripped of ‘will, intelligence, civilization.’ A painting was, to Rothko, not a revelation of one’s innermost being but rather ‘a communication about the world to someone else.’ Thus, a painting had to be, above all else, truthful, and “truth must strip itself of self, which can be very deceptive. { } Rothko theorized that modern artists had inherited the vocation once performed in antiquity by priests, prophets, and bards: the creation of mythology, the construction of narratives in which human beings discovered their possibilities through contact with ‘intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods and demigods.’ Fearful that a demonic business civilization had crafted its own fables of destiny, Rothko aspired to paint a mythology for a democratic, corporate age.”
Eugene McCarraher (The Enchantments of Mammon)

The Enlightenment served, it is now increasingly apparent in retrospect, to both serve as corrective to a sclerotic dogma of a corrupt church infrastructure, but also as that which washed away enchantment. The Puritans, Calvinism, and the need for rationality to put in the service of planned subjugation ushered in an age absent genuine rituals and sacraments. But McCarrher is right when he also notes that Capitalism may actually be the greatest force of enchantment in history. But a negative sacrament, if you will. Writing on Marx and money in 2019….

“Thus – like the vocation whose effective existence depends on the size of one’s bank account – ‘value’ is not only assessed but determined in the ontological crucible of money. Money is what anthropologists might call the mana of capitalism: the spirit that inhabits all material things, and whose departure decrees oblivion. Purchase, sale and investment become acts of mercenary divination; Marx describes ‘all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour’. Commodity fetishism is the equivalent, in capitalism, of the Roman Catholic sacramental system: where the latter conveys divine power and grace through material objects and rituals, the former channels the power of money through the pecuniary transubstantiation of objects.”
Eugene McCarraher (Mammon, Aeon Magazine 2019)

David Salle

This leads back to Beller at the top, in a sense. What Beller calls ‘Racial Capitalism’, he describes as a violent extractive system functioning on the historical production of social difference. What the marketing term *AI* is primarily doing is a form of mystification. It is like all secret documents that nobody can understand but the high priests. AI is the device that drives the Reset, it drives the Pandemic protocols, and it drives the US/NATO war machine, too. And it slipped into a perfectly fitting seat on Wall Street. And most of all it justifies the Climate emergency in the same manner science was employed to justify slavery and colonialism.

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  1. Regino Robainas says:

    John, a further in-depth, W. Reich or Adorno like
    exploration of what lies at the roots of the
    neofascist entrails of the American working
    class stiffs, in the farms or in the urbs.

    I can speak of my own experience. My first
    vote in 1980 was for the GE drone & Nicaraguan
    as well as Guatemalean and Salvadorean butcher, the
    beloved Gipper. Almost schizophrenically ambivalent
    about life & politics, I had to play the part of
    another anti-Castrostalwart while fighting the pigs
    at the educational and working institutions. So, I
    feel the Amerikan guajiro is a more convoluted
    person that imagined. I hope that person transforms
    into a fellow liberator once she/he finds their

  2. George Mc says:

    Hi John, In you latest podcast you mention a poll to gauge the “community” feeling in the general public (presumably the American public?) and, predictably, the much touted “good citizenship” of the West is now in decline as less and less people would appear to be as tolerant as they once were. You mentioned e.g. the decline in birth rates as one example of a collapse in hopefulness re: the future.

    I note that, amongst the proliferation of an apparently interminable line of zombie apocalypse movies and TV programmes (which itself signals a growing sense of pessimism – probably deliberately encouraged) there is a further darkening. “Black Summer” is the latest addition and seems to have stripped the genre down to a basic mock documentary cartoon level. But what is most evident is that, in this new show, the minimal nod to some kind of sustainable community that a piece like “The Walking Dead” signalled has now been completely trashed.

    I’m nearing the end of the first season (because I’m addicted to this kind of nonsense!) and there have only been two communities shown so far. One is a bunch of youngsters who have commandeered a school and, in Lord of the Flies style, lure adults in to play sadistic psychopathic games with them. The other is some kind of permanent night club in which the women are used as sex slaves to the accompaniment to a constant ear-splitting rave beat.

    The general feeling is that “We are all dead anyway so we might as well have a few thrills before we go!” It seems that we are now arriving at the ideological bottom of the bourgeois barrel.

  3. John Steppling says:

    Good notes. The rise of those post apoc narratives were always reconstruction stories. Until recently, that is. The zombie trope is the most overdetermined in all of film. There is a desire FOR apocalypse, but of the hollywood type (water is readily available etc), but they are also about real estate. They feed aspirational fantasies about owning a brownstone on washington square. And it’s an expression of ruling class fear. Zombies as the lumpen proletariat. But i think you’re right, they are at not even representation of some bourgeois fantasy now, they are just their own version of what they show….torturing sex slaves to a rave beat.

  4. It seems to me that the unspeakably vile deeply pornographic snuff/splatter movie reviewed below in which the “hero” representing every single human being and humankind is systematically beaten to death signaled all of the horrors to come.
    At the time it was touted as a excellent vehicle for spreading the “good news” of the Gospel

  5. George Mc says:

    The zombie apocalypse vision is always reactionary and consists at least partly of a rosy “regaining” of some supposed state of pristine innocence. The most visceral part of that is the customary early scenes in which the survivors plough their way cheerfully down empty highways and through deserted supermarkets grabbing whatever they wish.

    Stephen King’s “The Stand”, though not a zombie tale, is pretty much an “Ur-text” for the post-apocalyptic scenario as he decimates 99% of the population thereby “reversing” history to that fabled “pioneer” age which, this time round, has been conveniently cleared of troublesome native Americans.

    If you add in the zombies, then you have a metaphor for the furiously unproductive but ever consuming “useless eaters” who, in typically Malthusian style, can never be killed off and even somehow seem to grow in number. It’s revealing how most of the food demanded by these zombies happens to be living human flesh. It is taken for granted that the survivors are PERSONALLY under attack – presumably because they are “the important ones” i.e. the productive ones.

    But, as I noted, nothing ever stays the same and it could be taken as a dialectical issue that the zombie genre is itself declining further as the entertainment sector struggles to maintain an ever-heightened veneer of novelty. I admitted to having a “guilty pleasure” in this rubbish and I am at a loss to explain that. You can only go so far with an emphasis on the “cathartic effect” of “facing up to the worst” – which, to be sure, isn’t precisely what I’m doing here. Perhaps these fantasies of the undead are temptations to join in with the self-deception that the viewer can share in the “comfortable” position of the powerful? But it is clearly becoming less comfortable.

  6. Regino Robainas says:

    It is not so rare- in truth, it should be expected/routine
    for our civilizations. Gentrification has ever
    been a derivative form of genocide, e.g. driving the poor
    out of urban spaces to make room for aspiring
    barristas of all shapes. Or the predominant replacement
    of Neanderthals by better smelling neoliberal Homo
    elisaic uprights with near-AI cranial cavities.

    But here in Florida we are used to dark Summers and worse, paradosical
    cold and hurricane prone Aprils. And governors straight
    out of a hyperzombie feverish imagination-re.
    The Bush or DeSantis. Amen.

  7. John Steppling says:

    Yeah, they are always reactionary and the reconstruction is mediated by a freedom *from* the daily frustrations of advanced capitalism. No lines, no mortgage payments, no parking tickets, no rules…..one gets to make up new rules. Its a weird deformation of the idea of freedom. But the zombie trope itself is something having to do with the sadistic hatred of the poor. (often zombies are kept as slaves being one version). But I think your point about *personally* under attack is insightful. Also, these narratives never look at what would be required for even basic survival, in a real sense, for survivors. There is little discussion of water or waste or disease. They are manichean and sort of fables of bourgeois virtue.

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