Sunday, 10 March 2013

Modern life is rubbish

Dear Cerebus,
Then communists should oppose factories but not necessarily machines. Is that what you meant by 'soft-luddism'?
A general rule of conduct for thought, I would think, is that the world can take it. The world can handle the interruption of thought into its processive reverie. The world can take a pounding by communist consciousness.
I don't know what I meant by soft-luddism. But I will have a bash at some or other definition now. The point about consciousness is that it problematises the world by taking that which was subsumed into autonomic process and making of it a juncture where new, live decisions must be interposed. And the thing about machines is that they run in the opposite direction to thought, they compress chains of previous decisions into smooth process. Consciousness increases the number of live judgements and machines reduce (or perhaps we should say, defer) the number of live judgements. It is not the function of thought to consider how machines might run better, it must never enter the world positively... the only purpose of consciousness is to diverge from what exists, that is, its goal is always to stop the machines. That is not to say that thought should have that power, but even so, thought never affirms anything that is already present in the world.

Why would we want to bring the unconscious that is stored in machines into consciousness? I think for at least two reasons: firstly, because machines do not simply 'replace living labour' in the realm of necessity, they are also either accidentally or sometimes deliberately designed to be affectively seductive. Machines potentially and actually prevent thought. For example, when driving a car one is not simply being mechanically transported from A to B at a high speed, one's being is also subsumed into 'car time' and 'car-space'. If something goes wrong, e.g. with some 'idiot' cutting in, then the sudden deceleration from car-time, the immediate plunging into dealing with a human scale situation, often turns messy. Where there was smooth process or the immanence of 'traffic', suddenly there is snarl up, confrontation, interruption. Everything in society runs against thought, everything becomes traffic, and systematically converges into the instrumentalising smooth flowing of process – but this is precisely what communists wish to interrupt. They challenge that which otherwise flows automatically by placing thought in the place where process was. 

Similarly, another example, people are checking their phones on average 150 times a day. It might be good to 'stay in touch' (i.e. that is an argument from the 'realm of necessity') but there is also something pathological in modern communications technology, something self-comforting, something distancing within the act of connecting, which consciousness would seek to challenge with a 'what is going on here then?'. The reward pathways of communication technology operate at a pre-conscious level, it is difficult to reflect and step outside of the mind-machine interface; it is difficult not to check one's updates. And that in itself is sufficient reason for interjecting thought, to self-administer a splash of cold water to the face, to make things more bracing.

The second reason to bring unconscious chains of command out of machines is that they may literally dictate end of causal chain decisions. Its all very well to say, at the end of the production process, 'let's decide where this product is most needed and then send it there', but what about making decisions further up the line? For example, there are many productive processes (nuclear power is the obvious) where if human beings simply walked away, a disaster would result 'automatically'. If humans don't keep the machines running, the machines might blow up – thats extortion. A set of earlier decisions embedded into technologised production has got our balls in its unfriendly grip. This thingness cannot be turned off. Evidently, in such circumstances there is no possibility of making a decision against the continuation of nuclear process which is the reason why we must seek opportunities to do so. The only decision encoded into technology that should remain irrevocable is that all previous decisions should be responsive to alteration.

Again, this is not really a question of defining the boundaries of the realms of necessity and freedom, it is a question about the penetration of consciousness, i.e. live decision making capacity, into the immediate production of life. 

So there is a question about different models of critical consciousness. Deleuze and Guattari make a distinction between 'eccentric science' and royal (or state) science. The latter is 'theorematic' in that it seeks an accord between the theoretical and the physical, it is directed towards the 'stable, the eternal, the identical, the constant.' By contrast, 'eccentric science' seeks not to give an explanatory account of the world but rather aims to actively 'problematise' reality – it is directed towards 'becoming and heterogeneity'. It asks, 'what are the consequences when a flow is challenged here or here or here?' It is not satisfied to formalise an objective explanation but rather wants to directly narrate what happens

Eccentric science develops the capacity to make decisions and seeks to introduce a specific experimental judgment at this specific juncture in order that it might later thwart and rescind that very same judgment in circumstances of 'unexpected consequence'. Eccentric science realises the principle of 'decision making' by dismantling actual decisions made at an earlier stage. By definition, it supposes a retroactive practice of reaching back into the mechanisms of production. It engages the ground of its own appearance. 

Our Marxist and anarcho-syndicalist frenemies tend in their theories towards a 'royal science' approach. They are still cursed by their adherence to a prescriptive axiom: 'the real must be rational and the rational must be real'. They seek to make their thought fit reality and reality fit their thought. Their first priority is to technologically secure what they call 'the realm of necessity' and imagine that once they have done this, they will have also secured a correlate realm of 'freedom'. They think necessity comes before freedom... and that, after all, is superficially quite a rational approach. 

In reality, things don't turn out that way. Reality and its human beings, are not 'rational', and nor is rationality very realistic. That is to say, necessity is not an easy thing to know, except morally. As soon as one doubts necessity, the Marxist responds, if you knew hunger you would know necessity. But there are structural requirements in life above food which communists could never hope to command. Marxists do not speak for hunger, they do not know immiseration, they only wish to appropriate it to legitimise their 'solution'. The royal science of Marxism depends upon the hypothesis that once the fetter of value is removed from the productive process, need is realised as a true measure of what it is to be human. 

This assumption introduces a conservative, even reactionary, form of prioritisation into Marxist communist theory. Consciousness ought never to supply solutions, its function is to identify problems, to establish the ground for temporary decisions. Marxism is double-bound not just to accurately describe the existing world but to describe it in such a way that the principles/assumptions which shape its interpretation may also be realised 'as' reality at a later state. What a terrible burden for a 'science', a burden that far exceeds mere prediction. Marxist thought is forever cooking its own books so that it can come out with non-problematic (but highly falsified) categories such as rationality, planning, history, necessity, freedom. It aspires to that which consciousness cannot be, an apparatus of solutionism. 

One of the reasons Marxists respond so hysterically towards those who disagree with them, is that they have substituted subjective prescription for objective prediction in their science. They are so convinced that reality corresponds with their thought and that it is objectively imperative that their thought should be realised in the world that they tend to respond to divergent arguments as if they have been exposed to blasphemy. It seems, from the vehemence of their response, that whoever says the wrong thing thereby endangers all of history, when actually, 'wrong thinking' is always socially beneficial (that is, as long as it is not institutionalised). Anyway, it seems the prescriptive component of Marxism (what may be thought may also be) is, essentially, a hang-over from magical thinking 

In reality, 'value' is not the only pathology in the categories of production and necessity. As the Anabaptists discovered in the strict tedium of commune stability, there is also 'the state'... there is always an immanent centralising, interiorising, authoritarian drive which causes the realm of necessity to overrun the realm of freedom even where survival has been well-secured. All communists are mentalists, that means wherever their ideas dictate reality, things are going to go very badly – one only needs to peruse our message boards for proof of their incompatibility with the world. 'Necessity mania' is a latent virus in all strands of communist thought, and is activated within communising experiments of realisation. As a prophylactic against realisation sickness, we communists should DIY tattoo the instruction, 'for god's sake don't hand me the reins of power' onto each other's foreheads as a sort mnemonic for our proper relation to the world. 

By way of contrast to 'royal science', 'eccentric' or problematising science seeks to challenge process and to introduce interruptions and questions into processive flows at every possible juncture. 'Nihilist communist' thought does not wish to settle issues in the way that Marxism does... it does not see any possible identity at any moment in future human development where the 'realm of necessity' will be a done deal and flocks of humans could thereby happily release themselves, skipping lambily, into the 'realm of freedom'. 

That is to say, they see no point in human development where it would be a good idea for communist consciousness to actively direct the production of human society - they see no prospect for a successful outcome for 'planning'.  Thought should not coincide with the world. The world should not coincide with thought. In fact, that would be their definition of hell. Humans must dictate to communists, not the other way round. (Isn't a communist a human? No, plainly, no.) 

'Nihilist communists' would not like to see machines running 'necessity' so that humans are then free to go and chase the ball thrown for them in freedom's field. Humans are compelled to complain, they have to get stuck into the world's mechanisms and worry at it - for this reason, communism must be realised as a complaint facilitating machine, or as nothing. 

Yes, in our eccentric science we must challenge both machines and factories. This is a luxury activity, a threshold establishing activity. There is no possibility of winning the war against privation first, and then staging the revolution, there is no point in the accumulation of productive forces more appropriate than any other. It is possible and permissible to challenge reality because communist 'consciousness' does not either produce reality or make decisions on the reality of machines and factories. These become real, or are de-selected from necessity, by other social and natural forces which are not directly subject to communist consciousness. 

That is as it should be. Communists should not take charge of communism. And yes, an eccentric science also challenges and problematises 'the proletariat' as well as communist 'organisation'. Whatever it is, it should be subject to 'whoa, hang on there. What do you mean by that? What is the point of this?' Wherever it is agreed that we should 'just do it', that is precisely the point where questions should be interposed. 

But then, how should such consciousness to be integrated into the 'communist movement?' It shouldn't. Consciousness is problematising and divergent by its nature. Thought serves thought, it seeks to expand itself as thought – it does not address the physical constraints of necessity. It doesn't attempt to think the reality that we must then try and live. Thought should always think what is not the case. And whatever reality is, thought diverges from it. To put it another way, thought is unreal and the unreality of thought is the price it pays for its problematising role of asserting non-identity. 

But what about the 'realm of necessity'? Who could deny its priority and all its lovely turbines and pumps and pistons? But this is precisely the role of communist thought. Life does not seek to establish necessity, or to manage it. Life aims towards, to use a problematic term, its own 'blooming', or to cite Bataille, its own flourishing. Life must flourish, and to flourish it must act audaciously. From this axiom, and all admirers of Wilde will appreciate this, we must assume that communist consciousness finds that necessity (aka workers' control of production) is really only a trivial subset of human flourishing. I think this is such a problematic, even paradoxical, proposition for communist 'science' (royal or eccentric) that in its very assertion it thereby establishes what consciousness must attempt to do... i.e. it ought not think what reality should be but must think against whatever it is now. 

Voilà! A Sunday afternoon stroll around the definition for 'soft-luddism', whatever else that term might mean. Feel free to hotly disagree. 

May Monday morning never dawn,



  1. This is not meant to detract from the more important points that could be discussed. It is merely a slight diversion.

    Yes, and when you say, ‘The royal science of Marxism depends upon the hypothesis that once the fetter of value is removed from the productive process, need is set free to truly express what it is to be human.’….

    I am instantly drawn to an attempt to compare humans being set free from value in terms of dogs being set free…

    If humans are no more or less than dogs, only different in some ways, then what does the freedom of dogs look like? If humans are no more or less than dogs, only different in some ways, what does the freedom of humans look like? What is it to be human? Are we animals or are we supernatural beings? In which category does our freedom reside, through which gate should we pass? And this quite in respect of the fact, as it seems to me, that the willing passing through any gate is absolutely impossible for individuals as well as masses, as the will, like everything else, is contingent: a slave to environment, biology and gene-inherited character. Where I live the old myth is that if one is born of certain parents, who are born of other certain parents, then ones character is predetermined. This is one reasonable way of giving primacy to character over the notion that we can do what we want. Of course, the notion of freedom is tied irrevocably to the notion of the supernatural being. The notion of the supernatural being in our time - that is, the notion of the developing human being - it seems, is derived entirely from the Augustinian thesis that God gave humans free will in order that they should prove their worth to God. It is not surprising that some science fiction writers have postulated that humans will eventually evolve into lights of pure mind. Our evolution is written in the Christian past, as is the Marxist ideal.

    Tonight I will attempt to free my dog…

    1. Show me who is set free of gravity and I’ll show you a person with a whole other set of problems. Similarly, elephants are free from the capacity to jump whilst most insects are free to enjoy getting stuck up in ‘surface tension’.

      The faustian protagonist of the Dutch film, The Vanishing gains the knowledge, ‘what happened’, about which he has become obsessed, at the expense of his own life. He is not freed by the knowledge, quite the opposite. We get what we want at a price we cannot comprehend until the moment we have to pay it, and then we are brought face to face with the unexpected, all those forces we had given no thought to. A life of freedom would be the life of the eloi whilst ‘necessity’ becomes a moralistic club to beat people with. In other words, the marxist categories of ‘necessity’ and ‘freedom’ are intellectually weak. We do not know what they mean.

      However, I think the way I formulated my sentence which pricked your interest was not well written. I should have said ‘realised’ rather than ‘set free’. However, I would say that we do implicitly understand what ‘freedom’ means, it has a fuzzy sense (which does not bear too close an examination) that reamins grammatically useful. For example, when it gets to Friday evening, I feel released from work, even though this is only relative and also inaccurate. Still, I feel it. And when the biggest billy goat gruff had finished with the troll, he trip-trapped over over the bridge and frolicked in the green meadow on the other side. He was ‘free’. The story ends in that moment. In reality of course, the story only begins at that point. We have bent the world to our will, and then what? Maybe closure is a better word than freedom.

      I think all this probably means that freedom is not a useful reference point, not a good concept, not a useful political ideal but is still an alright word for everyday experience. I tend not to use it ‘theoretically’, in fact I am not sure I have ever talked about ideals such as freedom as I know the day after these have been achieved the same old squabbles begin again over petty trivialities. We all turn out to be intransigent and uncooperative in the end. And nothing is more de-motivated than a commune where tomorrow has just dawned. Upon that day, we won’t have sprouted wings, we won’t have perfected telepathy, we won’t b singing all day. We will just be the us. For me, communism is not the achievement of heaven on earth but a better containment of natural born foolishness.

      To draw some sort of theoretical point out of my drivel, I would say that Marxism is very bad at describing communism, it is very bad at thinking about constraints and conditioning in social relations, and is altogether too clumsy for expressing what humans are and can be. The significance of this is that it is fine for someone to sing, ‘I’m set free, to find a new illusion’ (i.e. to talk about whatever is dragging them down and how they wish to get rid of it) but it is a very dangerous concept where it becomes a reference point in the structural planning of social forces. But this is true of any word. I think the word communism should be made to wait, Kafka-like, outside the door to communism and be refused entry by a surly gatekeeper.

      My favourite image of someone lost before the idea of freedom is Pip in Great Expectations, who when asked to describe his experiences at Miss Haversham’s house, and not wanting to disappoint his eager listeners invents carriages and a game of waving coloured flags. Freedom is a ‘Great Expectation’, i.e. a desire that is born only to be frustrated.

      Good luck with your dog, but dogs will never be free until they understand the principle of hammocks. Maybe Cassius Marcellus Coolidge had the right idea of what freedom would mean for a dog.

  2. This text, intended as a mere 'comment' has gained a higher than usual number of views. For this reason, I have slightly re-written it. I mentioned earlier, that as I wrote it, I became aware of flaws in my argumentation but could not remember at that moment what they were. I think I have now remembered. Firstly, I seem to be making an argument for the primacy of consciousness (an idealist position). Secondly, I am asserting the negative role of consciousness in relation to autonomic/automatic process but what about the process of thought itself (its own pathologies)? Again, this could be read as idealism. For me, these are trivial objections but I record them, even so. Below is a partial engagement with the first objection which I have included in the text:

    'Eccentric science develops the capacity to make decisions and seeks to introduce a specific experimental judgment at this specific juncture in order that it might later thwart and rescind that very same judgment in circumstances of 'unexpected consequence'. Eccentric science realises the principle of 'decision making' by dismantling actual decisions made at an earlier stage. By definition, it supposes a retroactive practice of reaching back into the mechanisms of production. It engages the ground of its own appearance.'