Franco Berardi and Akseli Virtanen
Goverment is the keyword of the European construction. Pure functionality without meaning. Government without any reason or end that could be distinguished from it. What does it mean? Automation of thought and will. Embedding abstract connections in the relations between living organisms. Technical subjection of choices to the logic compatability. Continuous recombination of compatible fragments. Cooperation without memory. Exhaustion of possible.
The European entity has been conceived since its beginning as a possibility of overcoming passion: nationalist, ideological, cultural passion, dangerous marks of belonging. Even the European aesthetics is marked by an intentional frigidity, distancing us from the romantic imprinting of European modernity. By this point of view Europe is a perfectly postmodern construction. By studying European Union we study power in its post-political operationality.
Having no cultural identity, Europe has founded its identity in prosperity. The European entity has identified with the cool image of bankers, not with political passions or great ideological visions, or charismatic leaders. So far it has worked. As long as economy guaranteed a growing level of prosperity, as long as the monetarist rule helped economy to grow, Europe thrived.
But what next? What if Europe is to lose its status of prosperity and growth? If the financial architecture has been its only support, will Europe survive the financial collapse and the upheaval that follows?
To be clear, EU is not a democracy: it is ruled by an autocratic organism, the European Central Bank, and by a financial class which does not respond to citizens or parliament. In Spring 2010 the Greek default threat gave to the Eurocraters the opportunity of creating a Directorate of Financial Terror. On behalf of the Maastrich rules, transformed into absolute dogmas, the living society of European countries is being subjected to a strict Neoliberal dictatorship: reduction of labor cost and of public sphere. The political unity, that many intellectuals and commentators have reclaimed during the last years, has emerged at last. For the first time the Euro entity is acting in a coordinated way. Unfortunately, the object of the common will is only a more rigid application of the neoliberal rules that already drive the economy of European society and are in the core of our problem. Politics took the lead only in order to make sure that economy is leading the union.
Here we see the logic of arbitrary power: the replacement of political will with a system of automatic technicalities forcing reality into a framework of unquestionable logic. Financial
stability, competitiveness, labor cost reduction, raise of retirement age, increase of productivity, cheap energy – this is the architecture of EU. Government is based on these dogmatic axioms, self-evidencies, that cannot be challenged or discussed. They can only be accepted. They are the starting points which can only be followed, repeated, exercised and obeyed. No thought or action is operational if it is not complying with these embedded rules of the dispositifs of daily exchange. That is why we can say that these “stopped beliefs” are not organizing our actual actions, but the conditions and possibilities of our action and thought.
For Aristotle, axioms (axioma) were precisely these common places shared by all, the most general principles, premises that prevent and put a halt to the endless regression of movement and signification, of causes and effects. Aristoteles says: “there must be a some stopping-point”.1 In mathematics, axiom means a premise that cannot be validated or justified in itself, but which instead functions as a foundation or justification for all the other steps and propositions: the choice of the axioms includes the choice of the technical base terms that are left unproven, because the attempt to prove them would lead to an endless regression. Modern debates on axiomatic revolve around this topic of preconditions and arbitrary premises. Modern mathematics can be said to have been born when axioms begun to be considered arbitrary postulates (stimulated by the discovery of non-Euclidian geometry). In mathematics axioms are not chosen accidentally but what is sought are the axioms with the right kind of consequences. Axioms are no longer thought to contain intrinsic truth (like still for Aristotle); now their validity, if there is any, results only from the utility of the structures they bear. This is what we need to understand now.
When we accept a ”stopped belief” we accept it, so to speak, as such, as the repetition of something already said or known, which does not bring anything new to the conversation or tell us anything new. Or, we actually accept the enunciator of the self-evidence – not because of what he says, but because of what he is: we accept the person as such. This power to transmit a “message” without content that does not refer to anything outside itself defines authority: the “message” without content is a pure order, it cannot be discussed; it can only be obeyed and followed. It says nothing, it tells nothing; it only orders and expects to be received as such.
Self-evidence shares the structure of a pure order, in which the means separate from the end and which is therefore in a relationship only with its own instrumentality. A pure order is like a mere appearance, a display of the word detaching from the thing that refutes the very idea of the referentiality of language: it severs the bond between an end, a reason or a particular meaning and the action. It does not do anything or say anything but only appears and functions; it is not able to say anything, it is not able to do anything but to appear and function. Pure government is pure command which does not refer to anything outside itself. It is arbitrary. It predisposes action and thought by establishing the conditions of action and thought that can only be followed. This may sound abstract, but we guarantee that its effects are tangible.
Arbitrary power is about the control of the uncontrollability or about the government of a system which is too complex to be governed through a meaning or some other principle (reason, task, end, value) external to the government of action itself. When this reduction becomes impossible, when voluntary and meaningful control becomes aleatory, uncertain, impossible, power adopts the arbitrary mode. Its features include:
Abstract concatenation of technical functions VS. Conscious processing of an info-flow characterizing the old political government
Connection of a-signifying segments VS. Dialogic elaboration of an order in conjunction
Automatic adaptation to anything VS. Consensus and shared meanings resulting from dialogue and conflicts
Continuous modulation of disruptions VS. Anticipation and planning
Pre-formatted compatibilization of agents entering the social game VS. Political mediation of conflicting interests and projects
Organization of the possibilities of life VS. Organization of actual action (action taking place in particular time and space)
Means without an end: pragmatic functionality, i.e. arbitrary relation to any end, reason or institutional context VS. Means to an end: justification ofaction by the relation to law, norm, particular institution and its task
Rhetoric of system complexity VS. Rhetoric of historical dialectics
The limited ability to know, the information deficit, which is just another name for its overflow, has been in the centre of the equation of government and economy from the beginning.
The analysis of grain trade in the beginning of political economy in the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries was especially designed to indicate the point where government was always too excessive government. Whether it was a question of the physiocratic table (Quesnay) whose purpose was to make visible the formation of the cycle of value and wealth, or of Smith’s theory of the invisible hand, which presumed the natural invisibility of the connection between profit-seeking individuals and increasing general wealth, political economy was always trying to establish the fundamental incompatibility of the optimal progress of the economic process and the maximizing of (state) government. The French and English economists severed the tie with mercantilism and cameralism. The limitedness of the possibility of government was a direct consequence of its limited ability to know the economic process in its totality. For political economy, the economic regularities (discovered in the population/wealth relationship) expressed a fundamentally different rationality than the government of everything characterizing the earlier cameralist economic thinking.
Yet the statement that economy is leading the European Union catches something essential in the again changed relationship between economy and government. In the economy of knowledge and attention the mechanisms of valorization have spread into the entire time of life and entire space of society, into the production of subjectivity, that is, beyond and outside the limits of economy in its restricted sense as a semi-autonomous sphere of reality. If economy has become the paradigm of government, it is not in its modern sense (as a semi-autonomous sphere of reality with its own regularities) but in the original sense of economy as oikonomia. Economy has again become bare government, government without any purpose or end other than itself. That is why economy is the key to the central political questions of our time.
Also Michel Foucault located the particularity of the functioning of power in government, understood as economy in the sense of oikonomia (management of the household). For Foucault techniques of power did not emerge from politics, nor were they subordinate to economy in its modern sense, but they had their own particularity and they were to be approached as their own ”event”. The genious of Foucault was to be able to formulate a conception of a form of power, which was essential to the development of capitalism and to the society complying with it, but yet could not be conceptualized as sovereignty, ideology or repression. These new relations of power were functioning and productive and not only superstructural to relations of production. They could not be reduced only to the capitalistic mode of production, but had their own particular form, history and technogies. Power was not only economically functional, yet not only political in the sense that it would have been like a right, something that could be posessed like a commodity and thus surrendered, transfered, owned or sold. It did not belong to a particular institution or class, and could thus not be understood with means of the political-juridical theory of sovereignty. Foucault analyzed this change in the nature of government with his concept of biopower. He showed how the form of the exercise of power changed exactly at the moment when economy (oikonomia, the management of the family, its property and goods) and politics (the government of the polis) merged: the new order of biopower emerges at the moment that economy – i.e. the right way to govern one’s wife, children, slaves, and wealth and making the family fortunes prosper – enters politics and the minute attention of the father on the family becomes the way the “great family”, the state, is governed. This is the meaning of political economy in the original sense of the syntagma.
So what kind of a particular form of goverment is economy? For Aristotle oikonomia is not an epistemic paradigm so it could never become a science. Oikonomia is not an episteme but a praxis: its procedures and decisions can be understood only in relation to a particular situation and particular problem. In other words oikonomia is not bound to truth or to permanent rules but to continuously changing circumstances and the varying and even contradictory measures required by them. Xenophon uses a metaphor of a sailing ship (the word government comes from the Greek word kybernetes which means the pilot of the ship, to guide the ship) where all members of the crew are responsible for everything and they modulate their actions according to the changing circumstances: there is never an incessant truth in oikonomia, its ad hoc actions depend always on the situation. Absolute truth or good life (political life) are not essential to it. Pragmatic functionality and operationality is always a priority to oikonomia, not truth. That is why from the Greek perspective politics can never be reduced to economy. For Aristotle and Xenophon economy differs from politics just like oikos differs from polis: oikonomia is never governed by law or truth, it is indifferent to truth.
That is why we can say that economy as government is fundamentally lawless, anarchic or without foundation (an-arché). It is anarchic, it does not have a foundation, a beginning or an end separate from itself. When an action does not have a foundation or a purpose, its politics and ethics become very problematic. It becomes arbitrary. It is through this an-archic nature of oikonomia where we find the path to the essence of the question of government, the question of its possibility and necessity. Oikonomia has no foundation (in being). If a human action had a permanent reason, purpose or meaning (founded in being) which guided it, it could not be governed. There is a secret solidarity between anarchy and government. The possibility and necessity of government is in its groundless or anarchic nature. Economy exists only because the elements that constitute this government are groundless and anarchic.
This should be good to remember now in the middle of the European economic crisis, when the economic Bull of the rational North tries to again rape the Europa maiden in the name of economic truths and laws, in the name of “no alternative”. Yet the lying, degenerated and corrupted catholic South and of course the orthodox East which are pragmatically flexible and do not care about the truths or laws or agreements, express much more accurately the mechanism of valorization in the economy of knowledge and attention, where truth is relative and the grounds of action vary from day to day and week to week. The protestant North knows this very well in the middle of its own gropings, financial scandals and ignorance of rules. It is hypocritical and cynical. There are no “economic laws” anymore! Economy operates in a state of anomy! And yet the “conformance to economic laws” forced on the Greeks and Portuguese is accompanied by Pan-European muttering consensus. We are here dealing with bare government which demands to be received as such, without any explanations. The European crisis is economic only in this sense. Its solution will never be found from the level of “economy”.
By an epistemological point of view the notion of complexity is nothing but self-evidence. In the sentence “the world is complex” the predicate does not add anything to the substantive. Yet the notion of complexity acquires a meaningful relevance if we think not in epistemological terms, but in terms of information, in term of relation between the semiotic flow (the world intended as a flow of info-stimuli received by the brain) and mind as receiver and as decoder.
In the concatenation between the brain and the world chaos appears, as the interference between different levels of speed makes it impossible for any human intelligence to govern the proliferation of semiotic flows. The word “chaos” stands for an environment which is too complex to be decoded by the explanatory grills available to us. It means an environment in which fluxes are circulating that are too quick, dense, intense and speedy for our mind to be able to elaborate and decipher. We speak of chaos when this kind of indetermination, arbitrariness and insecurity is spreading in our environment.
The process of mathematization of the world, which is the core of the modern scientific methodology is also an act of measurabilization of the environment (proportioning and
reduction to the measurement). The Latin root of the word reason (ratio) refers to the possibility of measurement. This act cannot be accomplished without a reduction which cuts the extension of what is relevant out of the infinite flow of signs of the world. The problem of relevance is crucial in the passage from chaos to order, and therefore in the process of civilization. Scientific mind cannot produce knowledge without posing limits. Similarly the political mind cannot decide without posing limits. Only what is relevant by the point of view of knowledge and only what is relevant by the point of view of government is actually elaborated by the modern mind. Forget the irrational, forget the mythology, forget the craziness, the foolishness, the de-lire. All these multiple dark facets of mind will be closed up into the madhouse built by psychiatric science.
Machiavelli distinguishes the sphere of Fortune from the sphere of Will. The prince is the (male) person who subdues the Fortune (female) to the will, to measurement, order and predictability. But Fortune is Chaos always hidden in the folds of the human possibility. If the Prince wants to govern, he has to previously cut out a narrow string of events in the infinity of Fortune. The dark infinity of un-reducible Chaos lies at the border of the established Order. Rhythm is the key that makes possible the synchronization between Fortune and Will, reality and reason. But only a tiny part of reality sphere can be synchronized with reason, and only a tiny part of Fortune can be synchronized with political will. This tiny part is named “understandable” and “relevant” by the ruling intellect of Order. The pretense of government is always an illusion, because the multiplicity of the events of the world is ungovernable. But this illusion can work, when the infosphere is thin and the info-flow is so slow that political consciousness cuts out a small space of relevant social events, and tries to protect this space (the civilized space) from the surrounding ocean of non governable matter. But the kingdom of civilization is in crisis today. The acceleration of media flow – the flow of semiosis that is affecting the collective brain – is breaking the frame of the rhythm that we have inherited from the modern age. Chaos is resurfacing when the refrain of mechanic theory and of political will, become too slow for the elaboration of the global flow of digital information. The protecting fence of relevance is broken, because we can no more discriminate what is relevant and what is not, in the electronic flow which invades our attention and time.
Meaning can be viewed as a reduction of reality to a finite enunciative concatenation. When the infosphere is slow enough to be screened and scanned by mind we can extract meaning, we can find a common rhythm, a harmony: retournelle in Guattari’s parlance. When the infosphere is saturating our attention time, when the semiotic flow is going too fast for our mind to process information in a rational way, we speak of complexity. Within certain conditions of speed – when the flow is slow enough – a rational model (an algorithmic machine) can control the info-flow. But when infosphere overruns mind’s rhythm of elaboration then psychosphere is affected and meaning fails to be constructed and shared. Then meaning can no more be grasped as a finite explication and as a workable tool for social interaction and understanding. It is exactly from this flight meaning, from the chaos, that the new forms of government and control emerge.
Government without meaning/Organization of desire
How can there be government without meaning?
In Mille Plateaux, the second volume of Capitalisme & Schizophrénie, Deleuze and Guattari complete their analysis on the functioning of the meaningless sign and its difference with the despotic sign.
The despotic sign is a decoded primitive sign, i.e., a sign that signifies only a sign, but one that is overcoded with the despot which functions as a kind of “centre of signification”: the decoded territorial meaning is reterritorialized in the body of the despot. The despotic signification is as if a spiral that starts at this center, spirals around it, and finishes in a wall. In Mille Plateaux, Deleuze and Guattari specify that the body of the despot (the center of signification) is above all a “face” onto which all decoded signs will ultimately attach (Christ, the White Man).
The a-signifying sign in its turn is not characterized by a meaning and a face or suppression and a face, but instead by subjectivation and a face that has been turned away. When the despot’s transcendental signifier stabilizes significations from its center of signification, in the era of meaninglessness and floating meanings, signification is infinitely open to subjective meanings: the despot has turned away his face, one sovereign signifier no longer rules, there is no center, we no longer know what this or that means. Without the promise of an end or a final point, formerly guaranteed by the system thoroughly saturated with the centralized meaning, interpretation becomes senseless and infinite. Everything is set in motion, nothing seems to stay put, values float. Thrown into language without a divine word that would guarantee an exit from the endless game of meaning claims, we find ourselves alone with words, lost in language and signification, already abandoned by every future base. Cynicism means this abandoning of God and the experience of the vanity of all reasons and meanings. But how can the a-signifying sign act as the “semiological form” of government? What is the principal of its organization after God’s death? What is government without meaning?
Deleuze and Guattari explain that when the despot turns away his face, we deal no longer with the government of meaning, government through meanings, but directly with government of desire. It does not seek to communicate or transmit information and meaning but to directly create a relationship with the world. There is no longer need for the transcendental center of power, only for the immanent and “factual”, which function through inner subjectivation and normalization.
The relationship between the face turned away and government is like the relationship between a prophet and God. A prophet is not a despotic priest interpreting the word of God, but a person possessed by God, a person whose relationship with God is more authoritarian and passionate than despotic and signifying. God turns away his face, no one is allowed see his face, and gripped by a great fear of God the prophet turns his own face in turn: “The averted faces, in profile, replace the frontal view of the radiant face”.2 This relation or this double turning away opens up the possibility of escape or betrayal that must be controlled through something else than signification. The prophet needs a guarantee of the word of God, and he himself is marked – marked with the mark of Cain.3 Cain carries the mark of Cain as a mark of an alliance with God. Double betrayal, or a mutual betrayal: Cain turns away from God and God turns away in favor of Cain, who, despite his terrible crime is saved from death by God’s declaration of a permanent, yet postponed, judgment. These are the most important principles of organization of the mark of Cain, of governing that functions without meaning: the double turning away (the loss of faith), betrayal (the line of flight), and permanent state of emergency (reterritorialization).
It must be understood that the prophet is a not a priest. The prophet cannot speak, God puts the words in his mouth. God is feeding him with words. Unlike the seer, the prophet does not interpret anything. His relationship with God is not signifying and despotic; it is authoritarian and strongly emotional. God does not reveal himself in some place but to someone. God’s announcement does not belong within the field of meaningful expression, it has nothing to do with meaning, of government through meaning, but with government that does not seek to communicate or transmit information, but to create directly a relationship with the world.
We are therefore no longer dealing with signification. Let us think about an idiot who, upon encountering a meaningful word surely understands that it is a linguistic event and that a human voice exists, but he simply cannot comprehend the sense of what it is uttering. The idiot is not thinking of the sound itself, the sound of letters and syllables, which is real in a way, but the meaning of the sound he hears. However, the idiot does not think of the meaning of the heard sound in the same way as the person who knows what is usually meant by this sound. Rather, he thinks about it in the same way as the one who either is not familiar with the meaning of the sound, or like the one who finds himself in the midst of a helter-skelter of excessive signification (attention deficit, information flood).
Both of the aforementioned have to react based on the most general self-evidencies of thinking and action. In other words, as Agamben says, they have to understand “according to movements of their soul”. This is a question of understanding without meaning or understanding beyond meaning. It does not belong to the realm of meaningful representation, it is not a statement that makes sense; it a pure linguistic event that lies beyond all particular meanings. The voice says nothing to the idiot; it only appears, or, in Agamben’s words, “without signifying anything, signifies signification itself”.4 The prophet intuits and senses, or knows without knowing the powers of the future, rather than uses any past and present power.
Now we can also understand the place of Oedipus in Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of capitalism. Just like God, Oedipus averts his face. Oedipus wanders, but this wandering is not about crossing specific boundaries or crossing boundaries that one is not allowed to cross (hubris). Instead, it is a secret, an internal line or a subjective trajectory that pulls Oedipus towards himself. Oedipus, “his name is atheos: he invents something worse than death or exile […] the outcome is no longer murder or sudden death but survival under reprieve, unlimited postponement”.5 And how does Oedipus cope with the permanent state of emergency? It is Nietzsche who provides the answer: “in his purely passive conduct achieves [Oedipus] his highest activity, which reaches out far over his own life; whereas, his conscious striving in his earlier life led him only to passivity”.6 For Nietzsche, Oedipus, unlike Prometheus, is a celebration of pathos, passivity. Oedipus is a form of the organization of destiny, a creation of a subjective “second nature”, submitting to someone else. The subject reduplicates, and “in the end, you are only obeying yourself! You are the one in command, in your capacity as a rational being. A new form of slavery has been invented, namely, being slave to oneself”.7 For Deleuze and Guattari, Oedipus is not a psychoanalytical construction, but a model for arbitrary power. It is faith injected into mind, it gives us faith while predisposing the possible. It teaches us to desire our own oppression.
Multitude is a plurality of conscious and sensitive beings sharing no common intentionality, and showing no common pattern of behavior. Crowd is shuffling in the city going to countless different directions with countless different motivations. Everybody goes his way, and the intersecting of those displacements makes a crowd. Sometimes the crowd is moving in a coordinated way: people run together towards the station because the train is soon expected to leave, people stop together at the traffic lights. Everybody moves following his/her will, within the constraints of social interdependency.
Notwithstanding the current critical fortune of the notion of multitude in neo-spinozian milieux, we don’t think that this word is explaining much of the present social subjectivity. It does not capture or explain the subjectivity nor the organizational problematic we are dealing with very well. As a concept it is perhaps too weak to catch the real problem of political organization – what we have called, paraphrasing Buñuel, the discreet charm of the precariat – and on the other hand it is as a concept perhaps not weak enough in order catch the nature of the problem of political organization of post-conscious-collective-subjectivity. If we want to understand something more on this problem, network and swarm are perhaps words that can function as better tools.
Network is a plurality of organic and artificial beings, of humans and machines who perform common actions thanks to procedures that make possible their interconnection and interoperation. If you do not adapt to these procedures, if you don’t follow the technical rules of the game, you are not playing the game. If you don’t react to certain stimuli in the programmed way, you don’t make part of the network. The behavior of persons who are part of a network is not aleatory like the movements of a crowd, because the network implies and predisposes pathways for the networker.
Swarm is a plurality of living beings whose behavior follows (or seems to follow) rules embedded in their neural system. Biologists call swarm a multitude of animals of similar size and body orientation, moving together in the same direction, performing actions in a coordinated way (like bees building a hive or moving towards a plant where they can find what they need in order to make honey. In conditions of social hyper-complexity, human beings tend to act as a swarm. When the infosphere is too dense and too fast for a conscious elaboration of the information, people tend to conform to shared behavior. This is the meaning of the sentence Bill Gates wrote in a letter to the semiologist Thomas Seboek: “Power consists in making things easy.”
In a hyper-complex environment, where meanings don’t stay still and which is impossible to be properly understood and governed by the individual mind (wandering of Oedipus), people will follow pathways of simplification, and will use complexity reducing interfaces. This is why social behavior seems to be trapped into repetitive, self-evident and inescapable patterns of interaction (destiny of Oedipus). Techno-linguistic procedures, financial obligations, social needs and psycho-media invasion – all this capillary machinery is framing the field of possible, and incorporating common cognitive patterns in social actors’ behavior (organization of destiny). Arbitrary power does not operate at the level of actual action or plain intimidation but on that of anxiety and inadequacy; not by confinement or demanding obedience to the rules and being afraid of their violation, but by setting expectations, moods, opinion climates, standards of communication and cooperation.
This why we may say that social life in the Semiocapital sphere is becoming-swarm.
In a swarm it is not impossible to say “no.” It’s irrelevant. You can express your refusal, your rebellion and your non-alignement, but this is not going to change the direction of the swarm, nor is going to affect the meaningless way swarm’s brain is elaborating information and by which it reacts. Multitude does not express itself as autonomy, but as dependency on automatisms and self-evidencies which the arbitrary power builds everywhere in our everyday life, in our senses, sensibilities, and psyche. This is the discreet charm of the precariat which turns wealth into misery, potentiality into anxiety, creativity into dependency. Swarm does not have a political soul, but an automatic soul.
In a text titled “Networks, swarms, multitudes” the biologist Eugene Thacker studies the analogies and differences between collectivity and connectivity.8 He observes that collectivity implies always a certain degree of connection, while the contrary is not true: connectivity does not imply the existence of a collective. For Thacker swarm is an organization of multiple, individuated units with some relation to one another: a swarm is a particular kind of collectivity or group phenomenon that may be dependent upon a condition of connectivity. A swarm is a collectivity that is defined by relationality, by being in a certain form of relation. “This pertains as much to the level of the individual unit as it does to the overall organization of the swarm. Relation is the rule in swarms.” That is why, as Thacker writes, “a swarm is a dynamic phenomenon (following from its relationality). This differentiates it from the concept of a “network,” which has its roots in graph theory and spatial modes of mathematically understanding “things” (or nodes) and “relations” (or edges). A swarm always exists in time and, as such, is always acting, interacting, interrelating, and self-transforming. At some level “living networks” and “swarms” overlap.”
Thacker continues: “Studies in network science, swarm intelligence, and biocomplexity all define self-organization as the emergence of a global pattern from localized interactions. This paradoxical definition is what makes swarms interesting – politically, technologically, and biologically – for it imputes an intentionality-without-intention, an act-without-actor, and a heterogeneous whole. In swarms there is no central command, no unit or agent which is able to survey, oversee and control the entire swarm. Yet the actions of the swarm are directed, the movement motivated, and the pattern has a purpose. This is the paradox of swarms. In fact, the tension within swarms, as both political and biological entities, is a tension between pattern and purpose. Organization does not necessarily imply a reason for its own existence, unless organization itself is the reason.”
Connectivity does not imply collectivity: collectivity in fact is a relation of bodies who share a common analogical understanding, who negotiate continuously about the semantic relevance of their linguistic exchange, about the meaning of the interaction, in a condition of affective inclusion. Collectivity requires an opening of the time or interspace of “slow” shared encountering, where I and non-I may dwell together without repression or symbiosis (becoming one), held by com-passion, as Bracha Ettinger would say.
Whereas swarm is a connective body with no conjunction, with no conscious affective collectivity, collectivity happens in condition of conjunction, in a space of simultaneousness where one does not merge with others but which immediately affects every body within it. Conjunction emerges from an unmotivated, unnecessary and aimless attraction. Conjunction has nothing to do with belonging. Whilst belonging always entails necessary implications and establishes the fixing of an identity, the process of desire which defines collectivity is not something given, embedded or natural. It is not lack, but creation of linkage or bridging which fragilizes and opens the process of subjectivation and becoming. In collective conjunction, knowledge is creation not recognition. In connective systems there is not knowledge, but merely syntactic recognition. Conjunction is a process of becoming other. In contrast, in connection each element remains distinct and interacts only functionally. Singularities change when they con-join, they become something other than what they were before their conjunction. Love changes the lovers and the conjunction of a-signifying signs gives rise to the emergence of a previously inexistent meaning. Connection entails a simple effect of functionality, not a fusion or change of meaningful bodies or gestures.
In connective conditions, communication is implicit in the functional modeling that prepares them for interfacing and inter-operability. In order for connection to be possible, segments must be linguistically compatible. Connection requires a prior process whereby the elements that need to connect are made compatible. Indeed the digital web extends through the progressive reduction of an increasing number of elements to a format, a standard and a code that makes compatible different elements. Network is penetrating the social body converting it into swarm.
The exchange between conscious organisms is changing its nature: it is shifting from the conjunctive to the connective mode. The effect of this change is a transformation of the
relationship between consciousness and sensibility, and the increasing de-singularization in the exchange of signs.
Conjunction is the meeting and fusion of “round” and irregular shapes that are continuously weaselling their way about with no precision, repetition or perfection. Connection is the punctual and repeatable interaction of algorithmic functions, straight lines and points that overlap perfectly, and plug in or out according to discrete modes of interaction that render the different parts compatible to a pre-established standard. The shift from conjunction to connection as the predominant mode of interaction of conscious organisms is a consequence of the gradual digitalization of signs and the increasing mediatization of relations.
Conjunction entails a semantic criterion of interpretation. The other, who enters in conjunction with you, sends signs that you must interpret the meaning of, by tracing if necessary the intention, the context, the shade, the unsaid. Connection requires a criterion of interpretation that is purely syntactic. The interpreter must recognize a sequence and be able to carry out the operation foreseen by the ‘general syntax’ (or operating system); there can be no margins for ambiguity in the exchange of messages, nor can the intention be manifest though nuances. The gradual translation of semantic differences into syntactic differences is the process that led from modern scientific rationalism to cybernetics and eventually made the creation of a digital web possible.
Collectivity takes shape in the sphere of conjunction, when conscious and sensitive organisms enter in a reciprocal relationship that changes, is negotiated and renovated and also interrupted and contradicted and denied and removed. Connectivity, instead, is an automatic interdependency, a logical implication embedded in the bio-info interfaces and self-evidencies of the techno-language. It does depend on affectivity, sensibility or conscious will.
And there is already a whole generation that has learned more words and stories from machines, TV:s, computers and play consoles than from their mothers.
Our main focus here is social morphogenesis, the creation of new social forms.
In the modern political world the collapse of a system was considered as an opportunity of radical change. The concept of revolution has always been deceiving, because it was based on the illusion of a total control of social reality by rational will and by linear project of transformation. Nevertheless in the past time of modernity this illusion was working. Revolution was doomed to give birth to violent and totalitarian systems, but it was effective. Revolution did not fulfill its utopian project, but it turned social collapses into radical system changes, shift of political power and creation of new forms of economic and social life styles. Neoliberalism has been the last effective revolution in human history. It has turned the social turbulence of the ‘70’s and technological evolution of the ‘80’s into a radical system change, it has created a totalitarian political system, abolishing modern bourgeoise democracy, and replacing it with the dictatorship of the financial corporate class. But it hasalso increased social complexity and arbitrariness up to a point of irreversibility, it has produced an effect of fragmentation of the economy, a de-subjectivation of political power, and a mutation of the social body, which is the seal of the irreversibility of the change.
The more a system grows complex the more it gets inclined to disruption. At the same time the more a system grows complex, the less it is susceptible to voluntary control, and therefore to conscious and intentional change. In 1917, when the Russian political and military system was on the brink of a collapse, Lenin called for the transformation of the imperialist war into revolution. As we know, his call was effective, Soviet Revolution followed, and social morphogenesis took the form of communist dictatorship. Today the collapse takes the form of disruption, but it is no more giving way to revolution, rather it is giving way to consolidation. Morphostasis follows disruption, so that we don’t know anymore how to open the way to morphogenesis.
Complexity, we have argued before, is a relation between time and information. A system is complex when the density of the Infosphere saturates the receptivity of the Psychosphere, and the speed of info circulation overcomes the human ability to elaborate signs in time. When infosphere is saturated and becomes too dense and fast for sensitive consciousness of the humans, society needs automatic interpreters that can be labeled automatic complexity reducers.
A disruption is the effect produced by the irruption of an unpredictable event that interrupts a chain or a flow. In 1973 the Yom Kippur war provoked a disruption in the oil-chain supply that spread its effects worldwide. But in the sphere of connectivity, disruptions tend to proliferate because the infosphere overload makes human actors unable to govern the systemic complexity of social and technological structures.
Disruptions can happen because of the unpredictable interference of nature in the techno- sphere, like the Icelandic vulcano’s cloud that blocked the European air traffic during the month of March 2010 (just when we were to start the Exhausted subject, impossible community workshop in Suomenlinna, Helsinki). Disruptions can happen because of the limits in technological control, like Chernobyl in 1986 and Chernodrill (or Chernospill?) in the Mexico Gulf in late spring 2010. Disruptions can happen because of the interference of social psyche in the field of automatic information flow, like the effect of panic in the financial circuit.
In the past age of political government and of slow circulation of information, disruptions were considered triggers of social morphogenesis. In a disruption power was weakened, social forces were mobilized and this was an opportunity for revolution. In conditions of low complexity (situations where the speed of the information flowing in the social circuit was slow enough to be consciously elaborated by human will) political reason was able to change the social organization in such a way that a new pattern could emerge. But in the present conditions, when the density and the speed of information is too high to be consciously elaborated, the disruption tend to be morphostatic, and to reinforce the pattern which has produced the disruption itself.
Why so? Why systems become more resilient when their complexity and arbitrariness grows? The logic of the arbitrary power is the key to understanding this paradox.
Commenting the many disruptions of the year 2010 (Greek financial collapse, Icelandic cloud in the European skies, and the gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico) Ross Douthat writes: “The economic crisis is producing consolidation rather that revolution, the entrenchment of authority rather than its diffusion, and the concentration of power in the hands of the same elite that presided over the disaster in the first place….The panic of 2008 happened, in part, because the public interest had become too intertwined with private interests for the latter to be allowed to fail. But everything we did to halt the panic, and all the legislation we’ve passed, has only strengthened the symbiosis… Eighteen months after the financial crisis, the interests of America’s financiers, chief executives, bureaucrats and politicans are yoked together as never before….This is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn’t matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it. But their fixes tend to make the system even more complex and centralized, and more vulnerable to the next national- security surprise, the next natural disaster, the next economic crisis. Which is why, despite all the promises from Washington, this isn’t the end of the too big to fail era. It’s the beginning.” (Ross Douthat: Consolidation, in International Herald Tribune, May 2010).
The struggle against chaos demands another, even more important struggle on its side: the struggle against the arbitrary power which pretends to protect us from chaos.
How to create a new refrain, a new rhythm there where we today see incomprehensible darkness. This is the political question we face today.
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1 Aristotle Metaphysics, 1070a 4; 997a 7, 1005b 33. In Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vols.17, 18, translated by Hugh Tredennick. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1933, 1989. Available at Perseus digital library: http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0086.tlg025.perseus-eng1:1.980a
2 Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Felix (1980): A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Tr. By Brian Massumi. London: The Athlone Press 1988, p. 123.
3 Even if Cain had murdered his brother, God called upon him. Why? Because there is no such crime and sin that would cause God to forget and forsake a human being. This is the brilliant play of Christianity: God turns away his face but not his back. Cain had committed such a terrible deed, that the curse fell upon him. He had taken the life of another human being for whom God had given it. Cain had to flee. He did not receive anywhere a refuge, because he could not escape the curse. The punishment for murder was the fear which made him flee. But God did not totally forsake him. He had told Cain to stay away from sin. But when Cain had committed his crime, God listened to his plea that anyone he met would now have the right to kill him. So God put in him a mark, a seal of protection, the mark of Cain.
4 Agamben Giorgio (1984): The Idea of Language. In Potentialities. Tr. By Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press 1999, p 42.
5 A Thousand Plateaus, p. 125.
6 Nietzsche Friedrich (1872) Die Geburt der Trägödie, § 9. [http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7206] 7 A Thousand Plateaus, p. 130.
8 Thacker, Eugene (2004): ”Networks, Swarms, Multitudes”. CTheory. [www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=423]