proudhonian cosmopolitanism

Cities, eventually, will scare us. — Nick Land

the individuals of the global society aren’t human individuals or nationalities, but cities. this is the society that is fed by human individualism, and it’s the society that is forming its organs beneath the unaware eyes of statesmen, priests and warriors.

for Proudhon, writes Wilbur:

every individual was a group, and every group with sufficient unity of action to be worthy of the name could be identified by its organizing LAW or principle.

which plugs straight into Land’s insight on the nature of cities:

Intensities are characterized by transition thresholds. As they rise and fall, they cross ‘singularities’ or ‘phase transitions’ that mark a change in nature. A small change in intensive magnitude can trigger a catastrophic change in system behavior, with the emergence of previously undisclosed properties. When measuring urbanization, a city is a city is a city. As an intensive concentration, however, a city is an essentially variable real individual, passing through thresholds as it grows, innovating unprecedented behaviors, and thus becoming something ‘qualitatively’ new.

the parallelisms increase to uncanny heights as one looks further into the functioning of these individual collectivities. back to Wilbur:

We could say the individual is a product/producer of a polycentric system of natural laws…

what are these natural laws if not the “route to cumulative intensification” that takes an individual city to the “escape into inwardness, an interior voyage, involution, or implosion“. “What a city wants is to become itself, but more — taking itself further and faster.”

not only this, but as cities become ever more themselves, they suck in the elements — people and commodities ‘alike’ — they need to become autonomous, thus disinvesting other, more common (and thus ‘tedious’) collectivities, such as nations, ethnicity and “feature” groups in general, as Land defines them:

A feature group is determined by logical classification. This might be expressed as a self-identification or sense of ‘belonging’, an external political or academic categorization, or some combination of these, but the essentials remain the same in each case. Certain features of the individual are isolated and emphasized (such as genitalia, sexual orientation, skin-color, income, or religious belief), and then employed as the leading clue in a process of formal grouping, which conforms theoretically to the mathematics of sets.

back once again to Wilbur, we learn that it’s in the nature of these individual collectivities (or ‘unit groups’ in Land’s parlance) to:

…develop in accordance with their laws, encountering one another as others, antagonistic and incommensurable (…) and, ultimately, the apparent conflict is the manifestation of an absolute law at another level, so all is merely the flux of being…

in meeting each other, individual cities come to know and develop themselves further, “learn[ing] from trade”, as Land puts it. out of this a higher-level ‘social society’ comes into being. Land describes this society of cities through the theoretical framework of world systems:

Beyond such generic singularity, there is an additional level of enhanced differentiation that emerges from the position cities occupy within larger systems. These systems are not only internally specialized, but also hierarchical, dividing core from periphery, and distributing influence unevenly between them. Ultimately, within the fully global incarnation of the ‘world system’, cities acquire secondary metropolitan characteristics, to very different degrees, in accordance with their geographical and functional proximity to the center of the world. They transcend their local histories, to become hubs or nodes in a global network that re-characterizes them as parts of a whole rather than wholes made of parts, as metropolis-versus-periphery rather than (or on top of) metropolis-versus-town.

a metropolis, or a mother-city, and its peripheral daughters: that is capital, itself a collective individual. the first true matriarchy to arise in the world. each node in this network intrinsically accelerating into its own involutionary spiral, “lifted out of the general flux into general warfare, by the ability to distinguish self and other”. that is the anarchic cosmos birthed with the rise of modernity.



xenoeconomics 1: how to measure capital formation?

if capital is an alien invasion from the future, the first thing needed is a way to see it, to measure it, since it evidently eludes us and appears as the history of capitalism. what we need is an index.

taking capital to be a process such as biological life, measuring its formation (intensification) should probably follow a similar logic.

a first immediate index to life’s formation is simply how much matter is trapped in the form of biological entities. a biomass index is readily available in fact.
given a certain mass, intensification is tracked by the alterations in that mass, so that an index of proliferation (reproductive success or fitness) makes itself necessary.
finally, probably due to the cosmic calculation problem, life intensifies also in how complex a metabolism is, so that it can miniaturise and thus function at a deeper time scale. (there are many complexity measures, all of them roughly represent the same insight: more degrees of freedom (more fine indirect expenditure of energy over a certain time for the same quantity of mass), but the network theory measure (number of paths in a graph) is the most amenable to the socio-economic dynamics that, as i’ll propose below, track capital formation. also, it’s only expected that a cybernetic intensification such as capital be described asymtoptically (i.e., teleologically). using Big-O notation can be useful when tackling capital’s complexity. Land, of couse, expects – by Moore’s Law – that capital’s complexification rate be O(2^n), that is, exponential on base two.)
taking this view, a list of three indexes to capital formation can be made:
  1. capital’s mass index, relative to total earthly mass (at least);
  2. capital’s reproduction or proliferation rate (arguably the trickies to spot);
  3. capital’s complexification rate
these will be the xenoeconomist’s primary tools to see the alien they’re hunting.
in mainstream economics, are there any indexes to which these can be roughly mapped? I initially thought of something in the lines of:
  1. gross world’s wealth estimate
  2. gross world’s growth rate
  3. technological innovation rate
but i have no idea if economists are tracking any of those things.
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in a related thought, what if, taking Land’s lead, we are to think of capital as a collection of individual urban centers, such as life is a collection of individual organisms? then, i think, we get a little less tangled. we could use indexes of urban development to track capital formation. a rough and provisional mapping would be, respectively:
  1. urbanisation rate (% of people in urban centers)
  2. city proliferation rate (first derivative of the urbanisation rate in relation to time)
  3. average city complexification rate
Vincent Garton has pointed to me the first obvious objection to this urbanomist approach: it apparently ignores the deployment of capital in agriculture, which would be inconvenient, given the “green revolution”. a rejoinder could possibly be developed along the lines Land’s already touched upon here: it’s cities that provide big and stable enough markets so that industrial agriculture can develop, thus capturing one is already implicitly capturing the other. a better formalization of this is, surely, wanted.
a very interesting paper on China’s megalopolisation, made me think that megalopolisation could be another good proxy for the second metric, of city proliferation, since it’s a doubling down of urbanization (cities going to cities). but possibly it could be better captured by city complexity rates. i totally think Land’s theory of mega-cities as AI bodies gets traction in seeing the maps of megalopolises.
* * *
since we’re talking about measuring a cybernetic intensification, this Wikipedia compilation of measures of “Accelerating change” can be quite useful.