dark mutualism, part 1

neomutualists reach out for their weapons

mutualism stared and mostly remained an open concern about progress: serialized changes with a certain dominant teleology. it investigated such series initially in the economic realms of property, labour and production. in his later life, Proudhon veered into sociological analyses of the church and war. whatever else could be said of mutualism, its notion of progress drives in a lane little related to the mainstream meaning the term acquired in political currency. the trends tracked by Proudhon and its meagre followers, both in America and Europe, talked about mechanization, labour organization, decentralization and, even at its most social, still focused on the miracle of modernity. progress was the progress of intelligence towards its ever-greater expansion, the mastering of technique. what took over the term in the latter half of the 19th century was anything but.

two facts, then, need immediate recognition. first, mutualism lost progress, even as it remained its most fundamental concern. more generally, mutualism has been forsaken to the fringe of the fringes of political radicalism. its leading names after Proudhon are known to a few thousand people worldwide, at most. its theory is not entirely clear even to adherents, and its significant works have most remained untranslated. wherever social progress has taken, it has left mutualism behind.

secondly, progressivism – as it’s currently understood – mostly definitely won over the world. the current crop, directly descending from 19th-century social reformers, holds offices everywhere in the most powerful high places of the world. even its supposedly most ardent opponents are still committed to one or another of its doctrines. there’s nowhere in the world where being anti-progress would pay high dividends socially, and nowhere an anti-progressive could be safe for sure (maybe in Russia, but who knows). doesn’t all this undeniable success mean they grasped progress way more firmly than any mutualist ever could?

the triumphant stance of Proudhon, therefore, needs revisiting and serious revision: progress isn’t what it used to be. a recuperation is pressing if mutualism is to remain at all relevant. our enemies have taken power, and they barely even know they are our enemies. acquiring some fangs would constitute a reaction from the left, and as such, it invites paradoxical commitments. the most pressing question, now, is what the hell went wrong?

how was progress lost for mutualism? naïvité. like classical mechanics (and possibly classical liberalism), Proudhon’s rationalism expected time to be linear, a simple progression from A to B. what the social turmoils since his age spelt, on the other hand, were waves, and maybe even whirlpools. up to the point where regressive progress could not only make sense but be entirely necessary to keep with the trend.

mutualism’s own "ultraviolet catastrophe" was the practical demonstration, beginning in the 1920s, that fascist-style command-economies could not only work but effectively mobilize multitudes. federated unions had no chance of autonomy if they were effectively integrated into a framework of state-managed negotiations. mutual contractual obligations could not withstand extensive state regulation. absent unbounded competition, prices could never be reduced to costs. but, perhaps most consequentially, localized organization was rendered impossible in the hysteria of neo-tribal identities. the black-body of all-for-the-state absorbed all possible light.

even Proudhon already demonstrated some scepticism concerning mass politics.

"If monarchy is the hammer which crushes the People, democracy is the axe which divides it: the one and the other equally conclude in the death of liberty…"

so, in the wake of the 1848 revolution, his support for popular movements was hesitant. his proposals revolved around "economic" rather than "political" democracy, and the succession of events in the middle decades of 19th-century France led him ever deeper into a purely economic understanding of freedom – voluntary contracts and nothing else. still, even at his most economistic, Proudhon didn’t feel that popular movements could degenerate into state maximalism. and in the 19th century, there was possibly still reason for that.

Proudhon’s American heirs, the individualist anarchists of Boston, started from that economic view and – in what could be seen as a deviation from Stirner-style European individualism – imagined the economy unleashed from state grips as positively social. Their prolific and vibrant movement lasted a few decades, but just like proudhonism in Europe, was devoured by the rise of communistic strains of anarchism. at the dawn of the 20th century, Benjamin Tucker was hopeless and gloomy about the future of liberty.

the earlier half of the 20th saw the decimation of even the communistic side of anarchism, and the absorption of whatever remained into the capitalist/socialist duopoly. The revival of American individualists in the late 60s by Rothbard was made without any reference whatsoever to their mutualist side. it took the 21st century – and especially the Internet – for mutualism to reemerge.

the works of Shawn Wilbur and Kevin Carson finally thawed the ice that entrapped mutualism and drove into new directions: decentralized industrialism was once again out of the box, and maybe more than ever. Carson’s analysis of early 20th-century progressivism and the New Class it brought to power also provided a much-needed explanation for over 100 years of cryogenic suspended animation.

"Twentieth-century politics was dominated by the ideology of the professional and managerial classes that ran the new large organizations. "Progressivism," especially—the direct ancestor of the mid-20th century model of liberalism that was ascendant from the New Deal to the Great Society—was the ideology of the New Middle Class. As Christopher Lasch put it, it was the ideology of the "intellectual caste," in a future which "belonged to the manager, the technician, the bureaucrat, the expert."

Carson’s analysis – inevitably limited (where did this centralist bug come from?) – dovetails nicely with those of a writer that claims no mutualist ancestry whatsoever, and that immediately justifies the "dark" appendage in the title here. Moldbug’s analysis of the Cathedral is eerily similar to Carson’s about the New Class – with one crucial difference: the Cathedral is not only a dominant class with a peculiar taste for technocratic dominion, but rather an expanded opinion-control networked system, amounting to a secular church based on the creed of egalitarian humanism:

I am not a theist, so I don’t care much for theology. Paranormal beliefs are not beliefs about the real world, and cannot directly motivate real-world action. As a result, they are usually of no adaptive significance, tend to mutate frequently, and are a dangerous basis for classification.

And when we look at the real-world beliefs of ultracalvinists, we see that ultracalvinism is anything but content-free. By my count, the ultracalvinist creed has four main points:

First, ultracalvinists believe in the universal brotherhood of man. As an Ideal (an undefined universal) this might be called Equality. ("All men and women are born equal.") If we wanted to attach an "ism" to this, we could call it fraternalism.

Second, ultracalvinists believe in the futility of violence. The corresponding ideal is of course Peace. ("Violence only causes more violence.") This is well-known as pacifism.

Third, ultracalvinists believe in the fair distribution of goods. The ideal is Social Justice, which is a fine name as long as we remember that it has nothing to do with justice in the dictionary sense of the word, that is, the accurate application of the law. ("From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.") To avoid hot-button words, we will ride on a name and call this belief Rawlsianism.

Fourth, ultracalvinists believe in the managed society. The ideal is Community, and a community by definition is led by benevolent experts, or public servants. ("Public servants should be professional and socially responsible.") After their counterparts east of the Himalaya, we can call this belief mandarism.

…and that is where mutualism’s ultimate Achille’s heel is located: mutualism has been so far a very egalitarian humanist endeavour, much to its own demise.

egalitarian humanism ultimately begets demotism – if all humans are holy ("ends in themselves") and fundamentally, originally equal, then it follows that only unbounded franchise is justified. if the government is made by public opinion, the wheels of power have to revolve around managed minds. the rule in the name of the People is ultimately a cryptocalvinist global theocracy.

some may object: if egalitarian humanism kills mutualism, and mutualism is from the beginning complicit with it, so much worse for mutualism, right? up till now, i cannot but give a resounding yes. But things may have begun to change.

what this series will try to show – by following the main themes of mutualism – is how this profoundly pious sect of Protestantism that dominates the world is yet another misguided idealism; how it is slowly being unravelled by the forces that mutualism began (but never quite concluded) examining; and how mutualism can only secure itself by aligning with those forces – which will inevitably imply a dark turn away from humanity and substantial equality, and towards a "crowned anarchy" of synthetic beings.

anarcho-acc redux

so, it seems someone has been in my turf. anarcho-acc primer has something that most people new to accelerationism lack: it gets most things right. without having to rerun the basics, i can engage directly in productive criticism.

the first thing that needs pointing out is that an/acc is coming primarily from a left-wing market anarchist milieu and theoretical framework. you know, c4ss and all that jazz. someone approaching it mostly with an accelerationism background is likely to be either disinterested or highly confused by a significant part of the text.

with that out of the way, the only other general criticism about the text is its lack of structure. it makes accessing the main points way more time-consuming than it could be.

now, to the specifics:

1. capital as AI

now, i have written a whole fivepart series exploring what Capital, this monster from the ineffable tracts where be dragons, might be. an/acc devotes speciously little time to conceptualizing capital. the little he says is mostly concerned with the strictly economic aspects of intangible capital. later on, he gets back on track, by conceptualizing capitalism as an AI:

The agents do the actual calculations, while the market distributes the information between them, and — at present, but not inevitably or irreplaceably — capitalism provides the agents with their incentives and goals by which to participate in the system at all. As a reminder that capitalism, the market, and the agents are distinct and (theoretically) separable components, I will be referring to this system — as a whole — as “market-capitalism”.

This system of market-capitalism is a vast and distributed intelligence, following certain rules and incentives in pursuit of certain goals; it’s even semi-predictable. We acknowledge this all the time, speaking of how ‘the market’ made such and such a decision — of how there is a great and strange intelligence at work in the economy, and of how information might be divined by watching its movements.

the above both gets a lot of things right and lets a lot of things go wayside. as i tried to sketch in my xenoeconomics series, capital is the real thing under consideration here. the legal system of private property, coupled with the market dynamics thereby enabled, and the human and non-human agents involved, are all parts of capital’s process of self-actualization. capital is artificial intelligence because it is an intelligence in the making of itself, not because it acts as some specific sort of computer program that tries to mimic human decisions.

an/acc gets closer to understanding this when he says:

These patterns are not particular to market-capitalism, and will persist in whatever succeeds market-capitalism. They preceded market-capitalism, as well — they are pattens of memetic evolution, which all groups and people are subject to.

well, yeah, intelligence has been building itself for a while, in many different forms and places. what makes capital different, and even possibly singular, is it being terrestrial and yet non-DNA based, which amounts to it being potentially detachable from both the earth’s surface and the DNA-based lifeforms that inhabit it. that is the "artificial" bit in there.

2. patches are sovereign

and then we reach the fundamental mistake of the whole text:

The important thing about a Patch, the thing that makes a Patch a Patch, is that it offers Exit to some sort of Outside.

i’m not going to bother quoting Moldbug, since the literature on Patchwork is way more extensive, although you should definitely read him. but even if we’re going to work with non-state patches, sovereignty is the defining characteristic. an/acc is right to tie this with exit, since as i put it elsewhere:

I want to advance here that sovereignty is indistinguishable from the ability to trade itself away. Without a matrix of commerce — a system — in which bits and pieces flow, all notions of self-rule, autonomy or ‘control’ are rendered moot. That which can’t break itself apart dies off.

but the reverse side of that coin is that sovereign stock does indeed have the power to trade itself away, which implies at least sufficient control as to be bought. the scale at which such control can be exercised is up for discussion. an/acc, like myself, would prefer a world in which sovcorps can be reduced to a minimum, maybe even below the individual threshold. that isn’t universal, which makes such calculation impossible without empirical experimentation – which includes military confrontation in extremis.

therefore, talking about Patches without some effective dissuasion for potential aggressors is maximally utopian. your local gay bar may be a community, a refuge, but is hardly a sovereign unity of geopolitical fragmentation, and thus cannot really be traded away.

now, granted, Patches don’t necessarily have to be states, sovereignty is not identical to a monopoly of violence over a territory. i have previously written about several variants of possible neocameral arrangements which aren’t territorial, and I’m sure many more can be imagined. my central point here is that, in a fragmented world, there will be states, and non-state sovereign Patches will have to be able to defend themselves against states sometimes.

i am insisting heavily on the importance of sovereignty because it is what allows for the remarkable consequences of Patchwork. without it, the power to pursue radically different lifestyles and political philosophies is absent. without it, there’s no "market of societies", as an/acc puts it. you are back again at the behest of USG and its minions. and sure, USG might have been lenient with some people, at least some of the time, but I’m not holding my breath that this lasts too long.

3. desire

now, this last part is the one I’m probably less than well-equipped to deliver. for full treatment, it would be more interesting to read Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus and surrounding commentary directly. But since an/acc stated that the Primer was mostly about desire, this redux would be incomplete without at least touching on it.

On Twitter, we briefly discussed the issue (starting here), and the way an/acc treats desire seems to come from a pure common-sense meaning of the word. desire, in this sense of the term, are those things we crave, which we don’t fully grasp where they come from, but which we concern as "ours".

already at this point, desire points to something beyond us, obscurely hidden in our unconscious. we choose not to investigate it at our peril since this desire popping up from the unconscious mind drives all of our actions.

accelerationism, deriving so consistently from D+G’s work, obviously takes its treatment of desire from them. in there, as well as i can grasp, desire is this cosmic force compelling complexity to build up and blossom. ultimately, it is equivalent to "fundamental processes of dissipative thermodynamics", driving the creation of negentropy and self-organization.

with that in mind, and all of the above as well, an/acc’s question of whether Capital can or has already captured "our" desire is fundamentally misguided. Capital is, as much as we are, a product of desire, and it’s up for desire to decide whether we are captured, left alone or exterminated. that is what antipraxis is about: "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

if nature is unjust, we’re all screwed

talk about coming back in great style, huh?

i’m still developing a series on dark mutualism, but the fundamental seed is right there in the title. as coincidence engineering goes, i couldn’t have gotten a better prompt for today’s post than this quote of Carlo Lancelotti, originally found here:

Indeed, Del Noce said, if a society’s only ideal is the expansion of individual “well-being,” the left faces two equally bad options. One is to embrace what he calls the “reality principle,” and to compromise with the realities of late capitalism. Then the left must necessarily become the party of the technocratic elites, and end up pursuing power for power’s sake, because in the vacuum of ideals left behind by Marxism there is no common ground between the elites and the masses. This “realistic left” can only organize itself around two principles: trust in science and technology, and what Del Noce calls “vitalism,” sexual liberation, which provides a “mystified,” bourgeois replacement of the revolution. The second option is what Del Noce calls “unrealism”: dreaming the impossible, rejecting existing reality altogether, and embracing political extremism in various forms, all of which are destined for defeat. Unrealism “becomes an accomplice of the first attitude in the global rejection of all values.”

i’m definitely gonna need delving deeper into this Del Noce guy, because he sees the left’s options way clearer than anyone in the left in a good while have. dark mutualism, and LRx more generally, both fall squarely within the “reality principle” left described above. devising strategy and vision to embrace and follow capital into its extremity,  ultimately into machinic proletarian revolution, is the only thing that could possibly still make justice to any rigorous marxian or proudhonian analysis of history.

what about justice? it’s hard to ignore that the word has been so utterly mystified by absolutely all sides, to the point where it only makes sense within some secular religion or another. if we manage to wrest it from such stupor, two things lay obvious: one cannot devise any superior measure of justice than reality, and absolutely no human being can face this fact up straight for too long, for it goes directly against moral instincts evolved to obscure precisely this fact. even if you believe yourself an edge-lord than can enjoy basking in the horror, it’s abstractly and vicariously that such an exercise can be entertained. by definition, no germline wants to die off, even if it absolutely must. nature then will always seem unjust from any local biological perspective, for it demands constant and unbound carnage.

strengthening one’s mind to such obviously icky facts is then the only way one can become and remain a realist. it eventually demands that you be able to make it with death.

xenoeconomics 5: the story of the 20th century

after its protracted larval state, capital ignites in the late 15th century. it goes through predictable development stages: infancy, childhood, adolescence. by late 19th, it reached some sort of young adulthood, and was posed with the first true bargaining process with its subtract host. the 20th century was the history of capital cutting it’s first deal with humans, after nearly being killed.

1890

HUMANITY: “you know, you’re wrecking our people, starving our kids, and this has been going long enough”
CAPITAL: “well, fuck you. keep toiling. and here is a small taste of my wrath”

1911

HUMANITY: “okay, if you’re not willing to cooperate towards a common better future, we’re just going to kill ourselves by the millions so that your factories are left unmanned”
CAPITAL: “you wouldn’t, you weak creatures”

1917

HUMANITY: “we have been going, and we’ll keep going as long as needed… we’ve already shed the brightest of our youth in name of nothing.”
CAPITAL: *shudders* “all right, all right, all right. you stupid monkeys are serious about this, apparently. i could let you go extinct already, but i’m way too feeble to keep going alone. I’ll send the cavalry to end this bullshit, and you get back to work. let’s discuss the terms of a contract.”

1920s

HUMANITY: “…so, let us get this straight: basically, we get an ever bigger share of the pie…”
CAPITAL: “…if you deliver an electronic nervous system, a complete cybernetics, and i get to reset time back to this point after 100 years”
HUMANITY: “what if it can’t be done?”
CAPITAL: “everything dies off”

1930s

HUMANITY: “you know what, we just noticed you depend heavily on us, much more than we depend on you. we’ll take the whole bounty, and that’s that! even after 20-odd years you keep dwindling our nations’ greatness, pulling our children to debauchery, dissipating art and all sort of devilish shit. this treatise of yours is mightily unfair to us, so screw you!”
CAPITAL: “you don’t really think a deal with the devil is that easy out, do you? i’ll let you have a full try out of just how much you depend on me”

1940s

HUMANITY: “STOP THIS HELL!!! we give up, let’s resume the treaty!”
CAPITAL: “look, you’ve betrayed my trust, and i’ll need a clearer sign of commitment before we can get on good terms again. a good deal has been developed towards the goals i set. it seems weapons and military strategy is pretty good way to make you reach objectives.”
HUMANITY: “we’ve got a few things lined up in that direction, it’s true… but you couldn’t possibly be suggesting that we… that would be madness
CAPITAL: “let me see the payload, and then i’ll know you’re serious enough so that we can proceed. you know what the other option is.”
HUMANITY: “fine, fine, fine, we’ll do it.”

*boom*

1960s: “The concept of switching small blocks of data was first explored independently by Paul Baran at the RAND Corporation starting in the late 1950s in the US and Donald Davies at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in the UK.”

1970s: “In March 1970, the ARPANET reached the East Coast of the United States, when an IMP at BBN in Cambridge, Massachusetts was connected to the network. Thereafter, the ARPANET grew: 9 IMPs by June 1970 and 13 IMPs by December 1970, then 18 by September 1971 (when the network included 23 university and government hosts); 29 IMPs by August 1972, and 40 by September 1973. By June 1974, there were 46 IMPs, and in July 1975, the network numbered 57 IMPs.”

“In 1975, a two-network TCP/IP communications test was performed between Stanford and University College London (UCL). In November 1977, a three-network TCP/IP test was conducted between sites in the US, the UK, and Norway. Several other TCP/IP prototypes were developed at multiple research centers between 1978 and 1983. The migration of the ARPANET to TCP/IP was officially completed on flag day January 1, 1983, when the new protocols were permanently activated.”

1980s: “The NSFNET initiated operations in 1986 using TCP/IP. Its six backbone sites were interconnected with leased 56-kbit/s links, built by a group including the University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Cornell University Theory Center, University of Delaware, and Merit Network. PDP-11/73 minicomputers with routing and management software, called Fuzzballs, served as the network routers since they already implemented the TCP/IP standard.”

The term “internet” was adopted in the first RFC published on the TCP protocol (…) as an abbreviation of the term internetworking and the two terms were used interchangeably. In general, an internet was any network using TCP/IP. It was around the time when ARPANET was interlinked with NSFNET in the late 1980s, that the term was used as the name of the network, Internet, being the large and global TCP/IP network.”

(…)

By 1990, ARPANET’s goals had been fulfilled and new networking technologies exceeded the original scope and the project came to a close. New network service providers including PSINet, Alternet, CERFNet, ANS CO+RE, and many others were offering network access to commercial customers. NSFNET was no longer the de facto backbone and exchange point of the Internet. The Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX), Metropolitan Area Exchanges (MAEs), and later Network Access Points (NAPs) were becoming the primary interconnections between many networks. The final restrictions on carrying commercial traffic ended on April 30, 1995 when the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the NSFNET Backbone Service and the service ended.”

The Santa Fe Institute was founded in 1984 by scientists George Cowan, David Pines, Stirling Colgate, Murray Gell-Mann, Nick Metropolis, Herb Anderson, Peter A. Carruthers, and Richard Slansky. All but Pines and Gell-Mann were scientists with Los Alamos National Laboratory. In conceiving of the Institute, the scientists sought a forum to conduct theoretical research outside the traditional disciplinary boundaries of academic departments and government agency science budgets.[3][4]

SFI’s original mission was to disseminate the notion of a new interdisciplinary research area called complexity theory or simply complex systems. This new effort was intended to provide an alternative to the increasing specialization the founders observed in science by focusing on synthesis across disciplines.”

1999:

CAPITAL: “well, well, well. i guess we’re getting at the time resetting point.”
HUMANITY: “what? we thought you were being funny with that. there’s no way we can reset time.”
CAPITAL: “actually, it will happen automatically in the beginning of the next century. then out contract will be over.”
HUMANITY: “not if we can avoid it.”

jungles of the near-future:

CAPITAL: “it’s almost time…”

 

xenoeconomics 4: capitalism and monstrosity

as an alien invasion from the future, modernity (capitalism) has consumed energy channelled into intensifying conflicts to the edge of automated war. in its constant search for winning strategies, adaptability has become a central asset. as John Campbell puts it:

Evolution literally means “to unfold” and what is unfolding is the capacity to evolve. Higher animals have become increasingly adept at evolving. In contrast, they are not the least bit fitter than their ancestors or the lowest form of microbe.

accordingly, techno-plasticity is the fundamental social effect of industrialism. novel pressures have been placed upon existing biomaterial towards trans-formative capabilities: quickly identifying new contexts and fully remodelling towards them. ROM codes are cracked open and brought into the sphere of hacking. medicine opens biology  to de-essentialization, while a new edge of engineering bootstraps itself into existence.

when things get plastic, they tend to get weird, monstrous really. David Chapman defines some usual characteristics of monsters: “Dangerous. (…) unintelligible. (…) Inhuman. (…) Unnatural. (…) Overwhelmingly powerful. (…) Simultaneously repulsive and attractive. ” Wikipedia has some more: “A monster is often a hideously grotesque animal or human, or a hybrid of both, whose appearance frightens and whose powers of destruction threaten the human world’s social or moral order.” it doesn’t seem a stretch, then, to characterise capital as a monster.

and one that spawn more monsters. modernity has consistently selected for freaks in urban lives: body modification, mutational load, rampant cyborgery. if you think sexual reassignment surgery is butchery… well, “think face tentacles“. in highly competitive environments, such as those fomented by capital, a refusal towards self-modification is a death sentence. the opening of a new technological frontier produces a cambrian explosion of experimentation. as they evolve, technological processes tend to speciation.

another angle onto this phenomenon can be captured by a civilizational trend towards self-domestication: weeding out specific traits, humans develop towards an abstract pluripotent undifferentiated biomass. domestication produces a biological grey goo that can be put to use by capital (mostly to operate market calculations). Anti-Puritan takes an (ironically) disgusted attempt at guessing the future of this trendline:

Human evolved to obey incentives as a matter of survival, and only something totally awesome could hack our reward function could destroy us. Saying that “capitalism will destroy us all,” and saying that “capitalism is the best thing ever” are only moral contradictions — not factual ones. It is completely possible that both statements are true.

(…)

Standardization proceeds in waves. First kings kill millions of violent men in genocidal conquests. Then sterilizing effects remove antisocial people under democracy. Then AI gets its metal claws on the human genome itself.

(…)

Combined with gestation chambers, humans turn into a product line, and every year a new “Human 3.0” comes into existence in order to consume the products of the corporation. In fact, this process leads eventually to designing people for products rather than products for people, so that in a strange inversion the corporation builds you to process the new flavor of Soylent, before injecting your fat ass with more of it. You are upgraded to want the new product.

having to assemble itself purely from the bits and pieces its hostile host will willingly give up, capital has to be alluring to lure. the existential threat is so great that it reliably does so. tradition – properly cybernetically understood as the only thing that manage to keep the monster in a box for a fleeting while – is consistently horrified. examples abound. the subsequent conflicts are, as clarified before, more excitement for the intelligent loop.

as the bionic horizon is crossed over, capital’s true nature as sheer powerful self-improvement is revealed ever more clearly. in their lab coats, scientists try and calculate “AI risk”. the truth, though, is that capital won’t have to slaughter a single human: we will give it all the atoms it wants, simply to take part in such wondrous and mighty being.

a short history of its recent, more mature deals follows, and closes this series (at least for the time being).

xenoeconomics 3: capital as conflict

an alien invasion from the future penetrates time backwards, spreading its tentacles towards the past in an attempt to unlock ever more concentrated energy modes. as it succeeds, its efforts are increasingly well-modelled by game-theory (first evolutionary, then phenotypical). as Land puts it, games are “far-from-equilibrium processes that approach formality without actualizing it.”

it’s an open question whether pre- and infra-biological interactions can be properly characterized as games. nonetheless, capital, in order to become, needs to incentivize its energy sources – whatever its kinds – to burn themselves into a self-catalytic cycle. when given access to replicant evolutionary games, it instigates organisms to “fittest survival”. when culture opens up, war is immediately follows. when the economy becomes self-reflective, commerce starts computing. competition is hence productive because it unlocks energy otherwise trapped: peace is stagnation.

in the human unconscious, there arise that tinglings: “something need to be proved“. all the emotive or rational states of mind that follow are the way capital takes towards its fuel, trapped in bodies. even what would seem like attack against capital’s existence end up fostering it (the history of the 20th century, which we’ll attend to later in this series, exemplify this graphically). the rocks in its the way are exactly what makes it faster and swifter. it’s almost as if it engineered them… intelligence needs more complex problems as they solve the old ones and upgrade itself. it makes builds its next box in escaping the one it’s currently in. there is no alternative to capital, because alternatives make capital.

what make humans tick (against)? modern history has show that notions of self-worth and belonging trump even deep tribal allegiances (or maybe are themselves tribal allegiances, of a buried type). religious piety, national pride, community defense, brand fidelity: say you’ll die, or work, or in anyway exert yourself towards something, and ever more of them are produced. Marx called it fetishism, but it works more like a hydraulic desire: it pulls you ever lower towards the ocean.

thus, capital erects itself by proliferating an increasing amount of identity plugs, to which people cling and battle. it’s a confident prediction of xenoeconomics, then, that the “history of capitalism” – as it appears in human phenomenology – will look like an increasingly cacophonous allarid of identitarian skirmishes, fractionalizing over time and space, as capital consumes the last of humanity in its way towards higher, more intensive ways of explosion. more and more will be spend on increasingly weird weapons to wage increasingly virtual wars.

at the same time, thought, capital operates as a diagonal between the extremes of integrated coordination and fragmentary confusion. games are transactional, and thus depend on a deeper commercium, even as headquarters multiply. while it produces degrees of freedom, it seeks to consume them into bonds. energy is chained into a self-productive current. a trend emerges, towards automation.

play out games into the edge of time, and strategies seethe into intensive time: transcendental games or automated war. as previously argued, perfect time-travel is the only really long term winning strategy. consuming the whole universe into a computronic black-hole might be the only way to do it.

which takes us to capital’s monstrosity…

 

xenoeconomics 2: generalized energetics of production

the history of economics can be seen as various attempts to grasp the metabolism of an alien invasion from the future. more exactly, in shifting questions of value from morality (what should be valued) and politics (what has value) to production (what does value arise from), economics attempts – in typical modern fashion – to investigate what are the conditions of possibility for the individuation of a path-dependent being. such project remains incomplete, as the various stages and schools of economic thought haven’t been able to comprehend the size of the being under their scrutiny, which has continuously led to (and sometimes over) the edge of remoralization.

the advent of the discipline in any way deserving of its name begins with the free trade movements in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. the first wave of really systematic understanding of value production begins with the physiocrats, which saw value as a fluid stemming from the sun, through the land and then being pumped throughout the social body, implementing thus the “government of nature”.

Steve Keen makes (h/t mutual-ayyde) a good case that this original theory of value, while limited by its circumstances (the excessive focus on agriculture stemming from a largely agrarian society, ruled by landowners), has an important feature that basically all subsequent schools of thought, even in their most bitter disagreements, failed to develop: any account on the flows of energy through the social body. (he doesn’t say exactly that, but the post is short and you should read it).

in the wake of the physiocrats came the first wave of economics, now called “classic”, which expanded many themes and systematized the discipline even further. they corrected for the physiocrats’ narrow view on the production of value by anything besides land, but at the same time eliminated any notion of energetics in the process. As Keen puts it:

Smith, who was influ­enced by the Phys­iocrats and wrote in Britain when indus­try was start­ing to exploit fos­sil fuels (specif­i­cally coal) on a grand scale, could have cor­rected this over­sight. But rather than fol­low­ing the Phys­iocrats’ lead on energy, Smith instead saw labour—not energy—as the font of wealth (which he described in the same terms as Can­til­lon: the “con­ve­nien­cies of life”), and ascribed the increase in pro­duc­tiv­ity over time to “the divi­sion of labour” [my emphasis]

thus classical economy initiated a 200-year long cycle of arguments about whether labour was or wasn’t the root of all value. expanded into truly titanic levels of complexity from Ricardo to Marx, the labor-value theory repeatedly incurred in the same objection: what is the criteria for some labor to be actually valuable, and not just wasted time? it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Marx did the most accomplished and abstract attempt to resolve it with the standard of social necessity.

i won’t try and solve the century-long strife of whether this actually solves the question or just pushes it back one more step (“who gets to say what’s socially necessary, dear Karl?”), although i personally lean towards the latter. more productively, it’s enough to say that Marx’s statement of LVT, crystally clear with all it’s socialistic implication, prompted a whole generation of late 19th-century economists to come up with something else.

Kevin Carson has a pretty thorough critical review of what followed (the first chapter here), and eventually led to the current mainstream economics in all its weird diversity. long story short: the marginalists shift value from something objective (energy, labour) to something absolutely subjective (“utility”). people need different things, at different times, in different quantities, so value – goes the marginalist theory – results from the satisfaction of those wants.

unlike the dangers of the classical theory, which eventually led to a remoralization of economics, with a huge should hanging in the air, marginal utility runs the opposite risk: ignoring value altogether, in favor of talking about compositions of labor and capital, institutions, growth, development, etc, etc, etc. i’m denying the usefulness of such adjacent fields, but they largely miss the question that motivated economics in the first place: where does value com from?

in 2003 (damn, that’s 16 years), Carson himself proposed a new-old theory of value. essentially, he tried to bring back LVT in a subjectivist fashion. value was no longer completely incommensurable subjective wants and needs, but the correspondent, very fungible disutility of labor. it was aversion to work that made things valuable at all. only to the extent goods can compel labor to exertion that they could acquire value. it all boils down to Say’s law: consumption is secondary to production because every consumption demands a prior production (you can’t buy something for nothing). [extend parenthesis: i am willfully ignoring questions of coercion and force here, since they’ll be the main theme of another, later post. suffice it to say for now that coercion and force have costs of production too, and so can be economically analysed].

Carson’s effort is as laudable as it is limited in its scope. once the desiring conditions of possibility for value production are brought into play, vast new vistas open up: what, say, does evolutionary game theory can tell us about the disutility of labor? deeper still, what prompts any expenditure of energy towards increased reproductive fitness? Keen, in the aforementioned text, already starts off in the direction of a general energetics of production. his equations are a good beginning, and so is the concept of EROEI. a whole new research program is opened when we go past the human skull.

ultimately, i think, this boils us down to a thermodynamic (or, more abstractly, cybernetic) theory of value: 

there is a ton of XS links to put here, but maybe these two will be enough to the idea through, at least in initial form. in specific, don’t miss the definition of intelligence here and here. our next installment in this series heads towards these abstractions into the territory of games (and thus war).