Dear Le Navet Noir
O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
Most organisms engage their surroundings as something of a personal challenge to themselves. They are obliged to actively draw on their ‘surroundings’ in order to realise their goals and life aims. According to their immediate circumstances, social conditioning, and their past experiences they recalibrate their life aims along the lines of the proverb you must cut your coat to suit your cloth.
Most organisms seek to live to their best advantage within existing conditions. A number of others seek to adapt to the world by thwarting themselves and redoubling the constraints of existence as if these were a punishment intended for themselves alone. These penitents, who are found in every workplace and social organisation, lay down reward channels along the stony path. They seek out suffering so as to endure it, and thus doubly master themselves.
However, only a very few, and then subsequent to encountering their own divergence of interest from that of their environment, are sufficiently audacious or maladapted to conclude that it is reality that must be adjusted. Even so, this conclusion in itself neither necessarily sets in motion that change of conditions which they desire, nor particularly clarifies the contradiction of interest between individual and reality... very often, he who would change the world, merely reproduces well established categories in slightly modified terms. Such is the problem, i.e. the difficult relation of the organism to its social conditions, which Marx called ‘second nature’
The process of domestication is sometimes brought about violently, as happens with primitive accumulation; more often it proceeds insidiously because revolutionaries continue to think according to assumptions which are implicit in capital and the development of productive forces, and all of them share in exalting the one divinity, science. Hence domestication and repressive consciousness have left our minds fossilized more or less to the point of senility; our actions have become rigidified and our thoughts stereotyped. We have been the soulless frozen masses fixated on the post, believing all the time that we were gazing ahead into the future.
Camatte, Against Domestication
Second nature is the learnt-self’s capacity to inhabit the learnt-world as if it were its natural home. The learnt-world, derived as it is from the accumulation of exploited labour and class domination, conditions those organisms born into it to adapt non-antagonistically to its procedures. The learnt-self affirms the values of its environment, even as it might attempt to assert itself against the constraints of that environment. It functions appropriately to the degree that even where it activates its separation from others, its unique qualities conform to the established pattern of qualities. The learnt-self competes against its contemporaries in its struggle to secure its distinct identity, but this identity remains environmentally integrated.
The act of indicating any being, object, thing, or unity involves making an act of distinction which distinguishes what has been indicated as separate from its background. Each time we refer to anything explicitly or implicitly, we are specifying a criterion of distinction, which indicates what we are talking about and specifies its properties as being, unity or object.
Maturana and Varela, The Tree of Knowledge
However, the precise mechanism of separation, or distinction, is always of most interest because that which has become distinct remains connected, or in relation to, its ‘background’. It is the nature of this connectivity, the vertical relations between environment and its organisms, that is the object of critical awareness. The learnt-self learns by autonomously implementing the general categories of the learnt-world on its own individualised terms – an orb-web spider weaves always to the same design in those conditions, comprising of optimum air currents and supporting architecture, most suited to it in the available territory. It does not make things up but develops to a set plan whilst introducing small modifications dependent upon circumstance.
The self auto-constructs from, and in its responses to, the surrounding materials which it incorporates into itself. The history-specifics of its self-producing autonomy simultaneously express its absolute dependence on, its non-separability from, its conditions. That is to say, the learnt-self emerges as a unique assemblage of standard issue components layered and interweaved with more or less scrupulous attention to detail: I go to Coney, the beach is divine/I go to ballgames, the bleachers are fine/I follow Winchell, and read every line...
The autonomous self-producing organism is always unique and yet also never exceeds membership of its class... the human, both in spite of and because of, its variety is always, all too human. In other words, the type of distinction by which an organism, or trait, or thing emerges from its environment is set by external constraining factors and variety occurs within those constraints. To this end, the capacity to reflect upon and criticise the self’s experiences as constructs imposed from the outside is severely limited specifically by the structural constraints placed upon experience by social conditions – it is a philosophical truism that sight cannot be seen but questions of category recursion become radicalised when applied to the problem of whether organisms might oppose or reject the environment in which they appear.
Here we meet a clear impasse. The role of the proletariat has been to destroy the capitalist mode of production in order to liberate the productive forces imprisoned within it: communism was to begin only after this action was accomplished. But far from imprisoning the productive forces, capitalism raises them to new heights, because they exist for the benefit of capital, not humanity. The proletariat therefore, is superfluous. The reversal referred to just now, whereby the productive forces are liberated by capital, rather than by the proletariat, which has been made possible thanks to the development of science, is a development in parallel with the domestication of human beings. Their domestication is their acceptance of the development of capital as theorized by Marxism, which is itself the arch-defender of the growth of productive forces. In the course of this development, the proletariat as producer of surplus value has been denied even this function by the generalization of wage labour and the destruction of any possible distinction between productive and unproductive work. The once revered proletariat has now become the strongest upholder of the capitalist mode of production. What does the proletariat want? And those who speak in the name of the proletariat and happily venerate its name - what do they want? If it is full employment and self-management, this would only ensure the permanent continuity of the capitalist mode of production since it has now become humanized. The left all believe that the process of production, being rationality in action, only needs to be made to function for human needs. But this rationality is capital itself.
To some extent, the theory of autopoiesis side-steps the problem of the possibility of an organism refusing its environment. The theory asserts that the autopoietic organism has no inputs or outputs, that is to say, it metabolises ‘perturbations’ from the outside, but always subordinates these to its defining purpose, the ongoing production of itself. This means only that external force does not howl through the organism as if it were a tunnel... there is no simple billiard ball style impaction of cause and effect. There is triggering of internal structural change from outside forces but no specification or instruction as to what that change should be. The autopoietic organism maintains the integrity of its outline until the point of its disintegration.
Ontogeny is the history of structural changes in a particular living being. In this history each living being begins with an initial structure. This structure conditions the course of its interactions and restricts the structural changes that the interactions may trigger in it. At the same time, it is born in a particular place, in a medium that constitutes the ambience in which it emerge and in which it interacts. This ambience appears to have a structural dynamics of its own, operationally distinct from the living being. This is a crucial point. As observers, we have distinguished the living system as a unity from its background and have characterised it as a definite organisation. We have thus distinguished two structures that are going to be considered operationally independent from each other: the living being and the environment. Between them there is a necessary structural congruence (or the unity disappears). In the interactions between the living being and the environment within this structural congruence, the perturbations of the environment do not determine what happens to the living being; rather, it is the structure of the living being that determines what change occurs in it. This interaction is not instructive, for it does not determine what its effects are going to be. Therefore, we have used the expression ‘to trigger’ an effect. In this way we refer to the fact that the changes that result from the interaction between the living being and its environment are brought about by the disturbing agent but determined by the structure of the disturbed system. The same holds true for the environment: the living being is a source of perturbations and not of instructions.
Maturana and Varela, The Tree of Knowledge
Even so, that which emerges into the environment from within the organism has also arrived from the outside. If the organism is itself, if it is generated from its own collateral energy, it is also always a conduit for outside forces, if not as a tunnel then as a labyrinth. That which is most essential to me, my allegiances, my attractions, my aversions, my blindspots and indifferences, are mine only to the degree that I give them voice. The specifics of my being in the world are, at best, second hand. I receive them from my world, I fix on them in states of desire and aversion, they pass through me, they trigger the processes of my presence in the world and I metabolise them. I add value to them. Part-objects re-emerge into the world, temporarily associated with my learnt-self, and then that bond between self and goods, perishes and the things escape, to pass through others.
I cannot chase down the tangled provenance of everything essential to me. My outline, like everybody else’s, blends its borders into the mists of an undifferentiated sociobiological complexity from which we are all drawn. From non-differentiation we are sucked into the world and realised in the form of members of a society of learnt-selves. As individuated components, we will fight, or if not fight, then we are still prepared to defend, the integrity of what we are, even if at some other level we understand that this is arbitrary and not ours at all. We are learnt-selves overlaying or integrated into discrete organisms which themselves are comprised from a system of autonomic processes. We are thus prepared to defend our individual essence because the loss of it would mean slipping back into undifferentiation, the submergence and loss of our outline.
The militant assemblage of outline and essence, triggered and triggering, porous and stable, produced and producing, inhabits the learnt-world in a particular operational mode. Deleuze and Guattari call this inhabitation, an eccentric or ‘ambulatory science’, by which they mean the process of learning through metabolisation, or by structural alteration of the self - which is reducible to neither simple causation nor instruction.
The learnt-self learns, that is, it changes, whilst also maintaining the integrity of its structure and outline. The process of learning is always set in motion by arbitrary existential convergences which behave as constraints – the variety of what may be learnt is set in the initial structure. ‘Ambulatory science’ is the code of conduct written into the contingent or ‘accidental’ essence of the learnt-self, it is the term for the process by which the learnt-self is reinforced even as it is also transformed by its encounters in the learnt-world.
The learnt-self conserves what it is spiritually (as Deleuze and Guattari say, in its espirit de corps) by means of the history of its gains and its defeats, whilst simultaneously, perpetually, relinquishing and acquiring new materials which cause it to be not fixed at all. The constancy of my learnt-self’s presence is finally dispersed upon the moment the organic processes into which it is embedded die. But the learnt-self has no particular organic constancy, and undergoes numerous transformations within the constraints that define it. Its essence is fixed by certain structural and environmental constraints but remains malleable and open-ended within the constraints.
Ambulatory or eccentric science records a doubled description of the relation between the self-producing organism and the specific environment which is producing its self-production. Double description is the term used by Gregory Bateson for recording (and overlaying or interleaving) events from, for example, the organism’s and the environment’s perspective. He defines double description in these terms: ‘two or more information sources come together to give information of a sort different from what was in either source separately.’
The two descriptions, naturally overlay in places (as well as radically diverging at points) and this overlying introduces a recursively different order of record – where the same is recorded from two different perspectives, a pattern is observable and the pattern necessarily operates at a recursively higher order than either the ‘environment’ or the ‘organism’. Double description, i.e. the ambulatory science of the organism, by which it produces the patterns of the environment through its self-production thus creates a new recursive level that is neither simply, environment nor organism but an organism-environment pattern:
In principle, extra ‘depth’ [‘an extra dimension’] in some metaphoric sense is to be expected whenever the information for the two descriptions is differently collected or differently coded.
Mind and Nature
Where CLR James, writing of his influences in Beyond A Boundary, states that ‘Thackery not Marx bears the heaviest responsibility for me,’ the reader is relieved to find, as when reading Orwell, that the writer is not a simple fanatic. Evidently, James may be understood in other ways than as a marxist, the reader finds that James' fascination with all ‘36 volumes’ of Thackery lays out a second description of his character – it is because of this second description that James may be read against his Leninism.
However, the learnt-world of institutionalised relations has itself recently learnt how to strategically penetrate the outline of the learnt-self as it pursues the goal of reproducing the same single description of the world over and over again – in effect, the learnt-world seeks to suppress ‘depth’, or at least to capture it. All collected information serves to confirm the same tendency in practice. The self’s autopoietic mechanisms of self-defence and self-conservation now play host to ‘psychological’ mechanisms, switches, circuits, triggers, thresholds which have been deliberately inserted from the outside and are run from remote power sources. Counter to the theory of autopoiesis, institutions of strategic social planning, have learnt to insert machines into the human organism and thereby instruct them from the outside in order that the learnt-self’s autopoietic unity produces something else.
The explanation for this is to be found in the domestication of humanity, which comes about when capital constitutes itself as a human community. The process starts out with the fragmentation and destruction of human beings, who are then restructured in the image of capital; people are turned into capitalist beings, and the final outcome is that capital is anthropomorphised. The domestication of humanity is closely bound up with another phenomenon which has intensified even further the passivity of human beings: capital has in effect "escaped". Economic processes are out of control and those who are in a position to influence them now realize that in the face of this they are powerless: they have been completely outmanoeuvered.
This phenomenon indicates the narrative called, ‘capital as subject’, by which the environment (capital) behaves as if it were the autonomous agency whilst living beings (proletarians) behave as if they are a passive terrain. An automated strategic intervention, moving from the outside to the inside, has captured the learnt-self’s organic codes of flourishing to the degree that the event which under other conditions might register as an injury, a ‘perturbation’, or even a crime, is otherwise tolerated or even embraced as belonging to the self. As an example, perpetual surveillance as a crime strategically committed against the integrity of the learn’t-self’s project, i.e. its ‘ambulatory science’ (its unique means for learning of its learnt means for self-flourishing), is also lost (along with the origins of its accidental essence) in the mists at the edge of what the learnt-self knows of itself – the perturbation is integrated into the process of self-production and far from triggering an immune response it comes to resemble that category, sight, which cannot be seen.
For this reason, in moments of controversy and crisis, the strongest argument is always in favour of such remote mechanisms, if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. The learnt-self naturally defends that which is most intimate to it, which it cannot distinguish from its own interest. It responds to any interrogation of the character of the environment as if such questioning were attacks on itself. It naturally seeks to reassert system stability. To this end, it defends its own exploitation because it perceives that the mechanisms of exploitation emerge from itself. Of course, it is capable of second order rationalisation: long life and relative personal safety are a positive outcome of perpetual institutional surveillance, but this anti-critical reflection is not fundamental to the process of autonomous self-production. The core mechanism of self-production is located in the learnt-self’s narcissistic love for its injuries, because its injuries are inseparable from its self-production.
We have got to remember that capital, as it constantly overthrows traditional patterns of life, is itself revolution. This should lead us to think again about the nature of revolution, and to realize that capital is able to take control of social forces in order to overthrow the established order in insurrections directed against the very society which it already dominates. Never before have vision and understanding been more vitally necessary; every separate revolt now becomes a further stimulus for the movement of capital. But people have been robbed of their ability to think in a theoretical way and to perceive reality as part of the outcome of an historical process - this has happened as a result of the process of domestication. And in a similar way, this capacity for theoretical thought has been prevented from ever taking root in the material development of our planet and in us as a species due to the existence of a split between the mind and the body, and the old division between physical and intellectual work (which automated systems are now in the process of surmounting to capital's benefit).
The environment, which is ordinarily understood as the ‘background’ or ‘stage’, against, upon, within which actors have performed the story of their struggles, is itself acting upon them. The revolution is now not a process set in motion by human action but is undertaken by the environment, and against human action.
i. All autopoietic organisms are contained within a porous membrane or outline which only marginally distinguishes them from their background. ii. Their self-production is only a relative internality, involving the metabolisation of externally available materials. iii. All autopoietic organisms belong to the forces bound into the environment which produces them, and are thus specifically marked (injured) by the particular composition of those forces. iv. All autopoietic organisms appear marked or injured within their environment (and society here must be understood as an environment within an environment) which is established before their appearance and to which they are held by a long chain. v. The appearance of organisms is inseparable from the particularity of their injury. In other words, all environments claim their organisms, causing them to return home. vi. However, a threshold of singularity is crossed where anticipatory and intelligent design is included into the process of constructing such organisms. Where consciousness appears as a strategic awareness within the environment, organisms become patterned onto a ‘meta-project’ of production – specifically, they are produced to produce. Where, in 'nature', the immanent relation of environment and organisms is structured on an accumulated 'history' of conserved traits, i.e. a relation moving from the past always into the present, the capitalist social relation, by contrast, is directed towards strategic assurance of the future by capture of behaviours in the present.
This hold over the future is what distinguishes capital from all other modes of production. From its earliest origins capital's relationship to the past or present has always been of less importance to it than its relationship to the future. Capital's only lifeblood is in the exchange it conducts with labour power. Thus when surplus value is created, it is, in the immediate sense, only potential capital; it can become effective capital solely through an exchange against future labour. In other words, when surplus value is created in the present, it acquires reality only if labour power can appear to be ready and available in a future (a future which can only be hypothetical, and not necessarily very near). If therefore this future isn't there, then the present (or henceforth the past) is abolished: this is devalorization through total loss of substance. Clearly then capital's first undertaking must be to dominate the future in order to be assured of accomplishing its production process. (This conquest is managed by the credit system). Thus capital has effectively appropriated time, which it moulds in its own image as quantitative time. However, present surplus value was realized and valorized through exchange against future labour, but now, with the development of the "future industry", present surplus value has itself become open to capitalization. This capitalization demands that time be programmed, and this need expresses itself in a scientific fashion in futurology. Henceforth, capital produces time.
Those injuries that are deliberately inflicted below and before the threshold of what may be registered as injuries are a necessary moment in the process of domestication. The mass cultivation of learnt-selves is directed towards a constancy of yield in self-production – domesticated organisms are engineered to autopoietically self-produce for the environment, which captures one element of their natural product and accumulates it. To this end, domesticated selves are displaced from the immanent temporality of self-production and are hooked up to an optimally regulated climate where increased yields result from externally prompted optimised metabolisation. The free-range organic proletarian produces that which comes most naturally to it – its self, as a strategically planned quantity. A qualitatively different relation between environment and organism is thus established – a closed and integrated total system, which is analogous to factory agriculture.
In such circumstances, where the organism is grown to yield its self at its fullest amplitude, and where the growing medium is so sympathetic to its requirements, it is nigh on impossible to gain sufficient purchase on the world to express personal dissatisfaction. If the organism grows by complaint (by negative moves against the world) and if the environment facilitates the process of complaint, then a perfect positive feedback is established. Where all possible demands have been met by the world in advance, the self lacks the capacity to set its complaints outside of established complainant discourses.
The material of complaint is always drawn away from registers of alienation so as to be reactivated (and part-validated) within, for example, bespoke discourses of health, human relations, and personal growth. It is built into the domesticated self’s design that it will find it unrewarding to theorise frustrations and setbacks beyond its personal life-goals. Would it be worth the effort, and might it not prove too costly, even dangerous, to consider the self’s circumstances in general terms when there are so many established outlets and models to absorb the energy of dissatisfaction? It is in the interest of the environment, and thus contributory to its reproduction, that the self-producing organism does not direct its attention to, or try to transform, its environment, but restricts its goals and activities to its own flourishing.
The learnt-world has strategically developed consciousness so that it structurally anticipates and deflects disaffection with structure before it appears. Autopoietic organisms are so immersed in their personal existence that they never get to the moment where the learnt-world appears as it really is before them. They never perceive it from the outside as a general mechanism structured to persuade the constant production of dissatisfactions back into the environment’s process of regulation and containment. Everything has already occurred before consciousness appears, nothing can be said or done that has not been said or done before. At every point the accumulated forces of the learnt world, exceed and overwhelm the individual organism’s faculties.
The leftists persist in their well known cycle of provocation-repression-subversion which is all supposed to bring about revolution at some precise time in the future. But this conception of revolution is totally inadmissible because it means sacrificing men and women in order to mobilize others. Communist revolution does not demand martyrs because it does not need to make any demands. The martyr becomes the bait which attracts the followers. What would then be the use of a revolution that uses death as a bait in this way?  But then there is always someone who dies at just the right time (or the victim's demise may even be "facilitated"), and someone else goes around shaking the cadaver in order to attract the revolutionary flies. Since the communist revolution is the triumph of life, it cannot in any way glorify death, or seek to exploit it, since this would be putting itself once more on the terrain of class society. There are some who would compare or substitute "those who fell in the revolution" with those who died in the service of capital: but it's all just the same old carnival of carrion !
As has been noted above, where environmental manipulation of organisms develops to the point of including the organism’s natural tendency to seek escape from its constraints as a contributory factor in reproduction, i.e. to the point where the subject-organism feels at home within the environment’s processes, the condition is termed ‘domestication’. At the threshold of domestication even the conventional framings of second nature are exceeded. The qualitative separation of the domesticated environment from the natural environment depends upon the introduction of a recursively higher level of strategic intelligence into the production of living organisms – a dominant intelligent agency appropriates the role of environmental pressure and deliberately manipulates the internal processes of subordinate organisms’ self-production for its own gain.
The subordinate organisms respond to intelligent manipulation as if to the stimulation of the natural environment. The subordinate organism is manipulated to self-increase the yield of one or two features, milk and flesh, at the expense of its more fully realised autopoietic presence in the world. The production of domesticated commodities would still be dependent on the organism’s self production as a complete entity, but its other organs and faculties are increasingly subordinated at the expense of the cultivated product. The proletarianised individual’s self-production thus conforms to the process of fetishisation by which the part not only stands for the whole, but supplants it.
The ultimate purpose of domestication is the subordination of the whole to the valued part, i.e. the process develops its valued products to the point where the organism is not autonomously sustainable, hence the idea of the featherless chicken (and self-carving meat). The milk of the domesticated worker is complaint, i.e. self-separation, or the activity by which antagonism and difference is produced in a recuperable form. The constraints of the doubled relation (à la Bateson) between natural environment and organism, in which the self-producing organism immanently defines its place within the whole, and thus as aggregate, participates in the reproduction of the whole, are overcome by the farming of social units from nations, ethnicities, genders, ages to individuals.
There is, in the learnt-self’s domesticated character, even as it expresses a resistance to its environment, an overriding pressure, a pull, a weight, an attachment, an orientation, an unbreakable attraction that is directed towards acting in the learnt-world, which even if it were to be disrupted by some tractor-beam of revolutionary consciousness, would soon become sick with nostalgia for the home planet. The capitalist social relation is powered by the the stuff of captured resentment which appears in its system as the momentum within harnessed ‘activity’.
It seems, therefore, that the most insurmountable obstacle faced by communism, of all the insurmountable obstacles raised against it, is that its demands, at least as these are presented in the tradition of Marx, have been anticipated on learnt-world terms in the form of domestication. That which could be demanded as a radical departure has been realised as yet another enclosure. Within the productivist frame: communism is to humanity as self-carving meat is to wild animals.
Marxism has extended the logic of the revolutionary bourgeoisie (grounded in its specific field of reference, ‘the individual’, ‘society’, ‘rationality’, ‘organisation’, ‘history’, ‘change’, ‘power’, ‘means and ends’) as another variation on the theme of efficiency and use (supposing the subordination of the whole in the production of the part). In capitalism, the productive process is now generated from within the domesticated organism where before this was imposed as an external antagonistic measure (in the class conflicts implied by second nature). The nature of autonomy has shifted from the natural organism’s eccentric or ambulatory science (i.e. the working out of its own accidental essence) in relation to the world, to a free range production of quantities of the self within and for privately managed space.
The theory of marxist-communism pushes to its natural limit the continuity in historical technological innovation as environmental conditioning (i.e. a touch-sensitive realisation of the high concepts of need not profit) and thereby gives further scope to deliver stripped down radical reductionism as the perfected values of ‘revolutionary reformism in its greatest amplitude.’ This process of immanent, or internalised, abstraction (marxist communism tends towards a theory of what ‘need ‘ and ‘production’ really are in their for-itself guise) is best realised by and within the self-producing, autopoietic, non-alienated, organism. That which does not experience injury as injury, is thereby not injured... that which contentedly produces its own conditions through its own activity is thereby, necessarily, non-antagonistic. The critique undertaken by marxist communism of capitalist privation is losing its grip as it engages the technological suppression of scarcity. The most recent example of this that I am aware of is found in this formulation:
There is, in fact, no relation at all between the needs of the workers (association) and their activity (capital) — none whatsoever. It is important to emphasize the point that in capitalism the needs of the workers play no role whatsoever in the activity of the capital. This is true not because the capitalist is greedy — which he may very well be — but because capital is, from its very inception, [b]a communist movement of society.[/b] Most communists do not realize the higher stage of communism is exactly the point where there is no longer any connection at all between the activity of the worker and her needs. This bizarre outcome can be restated in a more familiar fashion. Communism is that point where society operates according to the principle: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” In other words, society operates according to the principle that the needs of the individual have no connection to their contribution to the social labor of the community. This communist form of society would be impossible unless capitalism already contained the germ of this mode of existence. For this reason, labor theory assumes that with the emergence of capitalism, the material premise of communism already exists. It exists in the form of the wage labor relation itself, which severs the needs of the worker (association) from her activity (capital). http://pogoprinciple.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/wage-labor-capitalism-and-communism/
The content (and some of the form) of the communist field of reference, i.e. material abundance, is thus established on the terrain of capitalism, and this leaves the descendants of Marx (historical continuity communists) defending rather than refuting the efficiency of social institutions. All that now stands in the way of further extensions in the logic of rationalising production, and thus ever-expanding abundancy, is, from the marxist perspective, the inefficient fetter of the profit motive. But quantity does not establish pattern, and no further addition to plenty, may overcomes the loss of natural autonomy in the individual’s doubled relation to environment. In other words, communism absolutely must relate activity to necessity. The natural path of change is clearly elucidated by Gregory Bateson, and it is useful to record it here as a contrast to the single descriptive model of marxism:
For change to occur, a double requirement is imposed on the new thing. It must fit the organism’s internal demands for coherence, and it must fit the external requirements of the environment. It thus comes about that what I have called double description becomes double requirement or double specification. The possibilities for change are twice fractionated. If the creature is to endure, change must always occur in ways that are doubly defined. Broadly, the internal requirements of the body will be conservative. Survival of the body requires that no-too-great disruption shall occur. In contrast, the changing environment may require change in the organism and a sacrifice of conservatism.
Mind and Nature
Technological apologism, which necessarily precludes a discourse of privation and powerlessness, has drawn the left into the blind alley of victim’s complaint. Over the last 40 years it has sought to rebuild the workers’ movement by stitching together numerous complainant discourses, i.e. discourses grounded in specific gender, racial, cultural identities. Unfortunately, this has not established a ground for critique outside of established social relations but has extended those relations and their conventions into ever more specialised modes of existences.
Within the capitalist social relation, complaint (and not conformity) is the event of self-distinction, as Maturana and Varela define it, by which the outline of the self-producing organism becomes distinguishable from its background. Complaint defines any ‘activity’ by which the self-producing organism produces itself as distinct... and as this state of distinction is, by definition, also a condition of relation to the environment, complaint is thereby also the means by which the self-producing organism’s activity is re-integrated as an exploitable trait. Complaint thus functions as an affirmed negative reaction – it is the corporate suggestion box as a way of life.
If customer feedback is always to be valued, mere Conformity has lost its sheen. In contrast to the action of self-distinction in an environment optimised for growth, conformity (achieved by repression) is a state of non-activity and thus not readily exploitable. The conformist remains opaque in the process of domestication – it dredges up no exploitable difference. On the other hand, characteristics of race, gender, sexual preference and age as these are asserted as facets of self-production, are no barriers to efficiency but extend the logic of production into all separations and categories.
The discourse of special pleading, having not altered the basis of established power, has set up a crypto-objective framework for the advancement of every reactionary cause which also may project itself as a persecuted minority. At the level of optimised complaint, he who works 100 hours a week and pays his own way, he who has fought for his country, he who upholds traditional values may now present himself as an endangered species. He is transformed by his heroic victim status (i.e. by what he has sacrificed for the productive relation) into the most compelling ideological mouthpiece for the domination of the world by labour (i.e. self-production) – his privations are used strategically as a pretext for attacking the ‘workshy’, the ‘liberal’, and all non-useful activity. As an archetypal figure, his commonsense presentation of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, of what may be reasonably expected as the constraint on life experience, and of nothing to fear if you keep your nose clean is the most frequently amplified conceptual framework used by the media – and stands in the place of what was once called ‘the man in the street’. The domesticated organism thus yields the single description, complaint, as required by its environment.
The discourse of integrated complaint has secured the male hero-soldier-worker as the measure of ideological worthiness. Where the discourse of victimisation is institutionalised, it is these hard-workers and other heroes, such as armed forces personnel, nurses and policemen, i.e. the array of disciplinary archetypes, and not otherwise marginalised social minorities, whose motifs of what they have to put up with are most recurrent in the media – hence charities such as Help for Heroes. The discourse of victimhood has institutionalised the most reactionary and abject apologetics for the established order as a minority and marginalised constituency – the American model of the right has perfected the technique of portraying the reactionary as victim.
This tendency reaches its apogee in the ‘not racist’ fascist and nationalist organisations – the 'United Kingdom Independence Party' is the realisation of an absurd category error (what exactly oppresses a system of domination?) In all such examples, the alleged radicalism of ‘fighting for ourselves’, of a solidarity based in the self-engineering of an autopoietic ‘unity’ of traits, necessarily minimises the claims of others as others (i.e. it suppresses the requirement for a doubled description) and culminates in a spiral of self-promotion and a logic of exclusions. As non-relatability, and the militant defence of self-specificity, are also the defining formal characteristics of every variant of bigotry, it is not surprising that the model deployed by identity politics must result in those with the most invested-in identity (i.e. dominant social formations) ending up most successful in realising it.
Identity politics is also inclined to misrepresent the nature of repression and exploitation as a hostile policy and as such tends to caricature the designated enemy as a legitimate target. This preference for identifying and personalising ‘whites’ or ‘Jews’or ‘men’ or ‘bankers’ as not only beneficiaries but also the instigators of repression, is an example of a truncated critique of conditions. It fails to identify the more fundamental relations beyond the interplay of archetypal identities which feed into patterns of privilege. For example, the outline of vulnerability called ‘woman’ around which a historical arrangement of domination, hostility and exploitation is organised is only converted by the ideology of feminism into a fortress. The militarised outline itself contains other vulnerabilities which are, at best, minismised.
Even so, as a proviso to this, complainant-type politics do pick up on certain otherwise obscured patterns – this often occurs where new minoritarian outlines are asserted within already established minoritarian outlines. For example, the recent exposure of sexual violence instituted within the SWP and other left organisations has illuminated, or put into words the pathological internal relations characteristic of such structures, as previously these had, for too many, passed unremarked upon.
It is through minoritarian discourse in relation to institutions, that the imperative of conformity in cult-like structures is exposed – in these cases, the minoritarian critique does establish a doubled description and thus sets in motion an ambulatory science. As a result of these critiques, we are now in a better position to understand that the ostensible motive for political agitation obscures more fundamental but unexpressed drives. None of this is very surprising, Camatte exposed the nature of the racket and gang form 40 years ago. However, very often, as in the SWP’s denunciation of the institutionalised cruelties of the Catholic Church against children and women, this capacity for understanding is more often than not merely externalised.
At present, leftists of both the marxist and anarchist varieties are still looking to reform their organisations and reform them to health. They are still driven by the bourgeois ideals of institutionalised transparency and accountability as if these terms were themselves transparent and not overdetermined by instrumentalist, abstracting and reductive forces. The healthy institution has been the ideal of revolutionary reformism since the Eighteenth Century... it is imagined, even by anarchists, that the implementation of a ‘safe spaces’ and accountability processes will free up their organisations to do what they are designed to do, when in reality it will plunge them, as it has plunged all bourgeois institutions, into a mire of over-coded denunciation rituals and semi-submerged feuds.
At some point perhaps the leftists will grasp that there is no purpose other than establishing a safe space. That is, if ‘safe space’ is the current jargon for ‘human community’. The safe space, by definition, structurally includes a place for the presence of the stranger, and by definition, the stranger, through its presence, undoes the codes by which the organisation operates, releasing it from itself. If minoritarian complaint has significance at all, it is to inhibit single description process. The structural purpose of the stranger is to cause an encounter which will produce a third category that is drawn from the overlay between stranger and institution.
All organisations, being artificial constructs, are host to pathologies which breed in those structures which do not know, and thus cannot master, themselves. In reality, there is no struggle against the world which is not also a struggle against the self as an embodiment, as a carrier, of the values of that world. The first institutionalised pathology is always externalisation which is supplemented and exacerbated, abstracted and amplified in political discourse. The learnt-world microcosm of radical politics, where submerged codes of frailty and humiliation are overridden by loud denunciations, finds no problem in forensically establishing the profile of an enemy to whom all its own involvements and complicities may be attributed. There is a point in politics where all means are countenanced in pursuit of the necessary preservation of the organisation, all means but reappraisal, relinquishment, apology before the stranger. Even through, especially through, the discourse of complaint and resentiment, the same patterns are re-established as institutionalised malice.
And so the process is set in motion by which the reformed institution as safe space breeds that which it seeks to suppress. Where we set out to deliberately create worlds we only reproduce the constraints of the same world. If however, we seek to leave the world, we are caught up in a worldmaking against our will. All departures from the world create new constraints – and proliferate new worlds which bind us to them. By thrashing our limbs in the water we are caught up in the pondweed. As we leave by the door we re-enter the same room. As we seek a return to an earlier state, we find only change.
We are drawn towards Ixtlan but it is not there – the overlaying of our science of departure and the found objects which surround us in that moment combine to create a terrain where Ixtlan is absent. Why? Because, leaving for the last time is the self-produing organism’s only authentic act in the learnt-world. But that is only to say, authenticity is next to impossible, there can be no successful departure as the world does not allow us to leave – it injures us.
We prick ourselves, we fall asleep, we wake up somewhere else in the same place. And so, upon our return, we find things otherwise, the departure is doubled over as a constraint. We are half way down the street and we are struck by the doubt, did I turn off the gas? Did I shut the lights? Did I lock the door? (of course in other circumstances it might be, did I cover the campfire with earth, and sweep the ground so the pursuers cannot find clues?). We are compelled to return because we are leaving for the last time and the world is preventing us. There is nothing outside its boundaries, we would be stepping into the void.
Why can we not remember if we have shut off the gas? Because our mind was on the act of our leaving for ever – we were caught up in the image of gesture. So we go back. We unlock the door, we check everything. Everything is fine. We leave. But as we checked, our mind was on leaving and not on checking. So we did not really check. So, we did not return at all just as we did not really leave. So, we take another twenty steps and our mind again returns to what we have left and we are uncertain again. We return. We go back. We leave. We go back. We leave. It is as if some invisible Ariel touches us and causes us to adopt forest consciousness whilst traversing the heath, and valley consciousness when walking in the mountains.
Worldmaking is thus an accidental accretion of thwarted world departure and incomplete world return; of the build up of over-layerings of departure and constraint in an emergent pattern of some new terrain. Somewhere in there, causal relations are passed from the old world to the new, from the first territorial description to a third via the overlayering of the second (the learnt-self’s anxiety relating to where it should be). The various rituals of locking, sweeping, shutting, closing down are the rituals by which we accidentally introduce new worlds. We do not invent worlds by design but encounter them as unintended consequences within other activities. Simone Weil perceived something of the eccentricities inherent to ambulatory science and the process by which an accidental essence could be materialised:
'To see a landscape as it is when I am not there.'
Weil could see how the land, the new world, paradise, may only be 'seen' through a process of abstraction of the self, i.e. from God’s perspective alone, and yet the self also cannot not be 'there' and thus must return to the ‘landscape’ (doubly described) but only for trivial motives, locking, sweeping, shutting - the true activity of saints (abject and ecstatic). In the event of Exodus there is no designated promised land, and yet return is built into the departure... in the great act of leaving there is implied a small return to the same but transformed place on new terms, and for insignificant motive. The renunciatory event of leaving is undercut by the falling back into old patterns of the return.
There is an oscillation, an instability – seeing when not present, returning when in the act of leaving, leaving when in the act of checking. We have to be there to think of this place without us but if we are there, then the place is not materialised, or rather its appearance before us is prevented by our presence. If communism is already established, then we self-producing organisms, we learnt-selves, we proletarians, must have already abstracted our categorical presence. There cannot be communism where we are. And yet, how can we conceive of change without our presence within it? There must be communism before communists; there must be communism before there is communism. If we are moving towards it, we are moving in the wrong direction. If it is very distant, then we have a better idea of it. If it is the place from which we are excluded, and by paradox, as the excluded, then may we thereby gain access?
Of course, part of Weil’s doubling mechanism (by which the landscape is seen but the seer is absent; echoing the category, sight which cannot be seen) supposes the self merely wishing to see by not seeing (a small seeing), but it also introduces the possibility of a further category of recursion created by non-comparison, or the subtraction of layers of information from the event (i.e. reversing Bateson’s model of double description). It does not seem that a progressive peeling of layers of description would necessarily result in a single or institutionalised description of an object– nor would it get to its kernel. Presence and significance are merely circulated through different registers – iconoclasts do not suppress the presence of God by smiting off the faces of holy statues but relocate Him to a minimalist aesthetic register. After all, Weil understands that if she is present, then what she can see is not the new world – hers is not a domesticated discourse of successfully increasing the yield.
In order to accurately write on the eccentric science of creating other worlds, which necessarily requires an account of doubled description (i.e. the interleaving of both composed and random components), the writing itself must conform to this model and thereby include an other ‘description’ in contrast to itself. It must seek out noise. It must invite the most unlikely person to supper.
Similarly, if communist theory is to adequately describe its new world, it cannot simply perfect itself from its own propositions, shedding extraneous matter, and arrive at some hypothetical lived moment of clarified statements. On the contrary, the realisation of theory assumes a structural adulteration of its conceptual categories by lived human error. That which is not sullied is not real – if Weil seeks her own abstraction as this will enable God’s uninterrupted perception of the landscape, the presence of her imperfection is therefore necessary in the event of that abstraction.
For reason of its own socialisation, communist writing is now at the juncture where it must bury the purity of its own tradition. It must veer off and hunt out the accidental in its essence. The writing that is layered within the writing must perform the world that it describes. This writing too, must write something else. It must activate a performance of the overlaying of that deliberate and random material which relate to the same event, i.e. to the creation of other worlds... the writing within the writing may only create its world by encountering accidental essence at the centre of mechanistic process. It must depart from itself. It must perform a dogleg.
At this point, we are impelled, as it were, to descend (further) into purposelessness in order that the random might overlay our more coherent arguments with its own descriptions. Nonsense, in moments inappropriately dominated by the logic of instrumentalism, stands as placeholder for the ‘random’. That is not to say it is random, but if we set a place at the table for nonsense, we shall not be so surprised by the arrival of the human (whose own placeholder is the stranger).
Bowing to convention, we can assume that in producing written argument the writer seeks to persuade his readers. The most logically effective proposition is always that set within the frame of nonsense, as nonsense convinces all its readers of what it is. And to be certain that he really has written persuasively, the writer must, as it were, catastrophically lose readers from his arguments. Only those readers who refuse him outright demonstrate an insight into the profundity that may be found at the threshold of what is tolerable. Similarly, communist thought must drive itself to confound practice both at the level of thought, and in the categorical register of communism – if it fails in this, it is not ‘thinking’ generally, and it is not communist ‘thinking’ specifically.
Nonsense is a boundary genre, typically excluded, but if other worlds are to be created, we must allow it, or what it stands in the place of, for what it brings in with it. Nonsense refers both to meaning in rationality, and meaning in human affect – but from outside of these. In its historical moment, the phenomenon of nonsense introjected that affective material of sociality, of social cohesion, which was, in still earlier times, exteriorised in the form of gargoyles and grotesquery. The discursive recourse to nonsense, even in radical discourse, is an expression of the need for flourishing as this occurs between the planned and the unknown – it marks the point before real need is properly articulated, and before that need is headed off, paraphrased, by utilitarian provision. In spite of so-called communism’s ‘material requirements’, as evidenced in productivist ideology, purposelessness is fundamental in the formation of the human community.
In order to bring about the non-intended patterns of other worlds at a third level of recursion, which requires an opening towards purposeless, we must cause an overlaying between the above and the below, the deliberate and the random, the meaningful and the nonsensical, between signal and noise. That which belongs, that which resonates in both registers, as meaning and meaningless, is thereby indicative of a relational subset called meaning-nonsense. This subset, ordinarily excluded in the discourse of instrumentalisation, captures and recycles that material recorded in the encounter at the edge of permissible thought content in those milieus specially oriented towards worldmaking.
In consideration of the difficulty you might encounter in the digesting of the above: May God bless your belly,