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).

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