The industrial economy – which took shape between the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, initially in Western Europe and then in North America – is no longer based just on technical production, but on technological production, to the strict extent that, as Marx showed, capitalism makes knowledge and its economic valorization its primary element.
It is Newton’s physics and the metaphysics that goes with it that constitute the epistemic and epistemological framework of this great transformation, in which otium (the clerical world) submits to negotium (worldly affairs) – where Darwin will soon become the other great reference, and where applied mathematics will then be developed along with ever more powerful and performative calculating machines.
We maintain – after precursors such as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, himself inspired by Alfred Lotka – that political economy in what is now called the Anthropocene (whose features were delineated by Vladimir Vernadsky in 1926) is a challenge that requires a fundamental reconsideration of these epistemic frameworks (in Michel Foucault’s sense) and epistemological frameworks (in Gaston Bachelard’s sense).
The intellectual context of the industrial revolution is the idea that science and economy, especially trade, could become the new basis of legitimacy, security, justice, peace, etc. For example, Hume showed that the gold standard adjusts spontaneously the balance of payments between states. Here, the underlying scientific paradigm is Newtonian, where knowledge is provided by mathematical deterministic laws. In this kind of perspectives, equilibrium and/or optimization follow from the relations between the parts of a system. As a result, these analyses promote the withdrawal of rational supervision. They also tend to neglect the context of a situation even when this context is the condition of possibility of this very situation. An associated method emerged: reducing complicated situations into combinations of simple elements that can be known and controlled. Then the production of a single craftsman can be decomposed into elementary tasks performed by several specialized workers. This is also the origin of proletarianization, as it will appear during the XIXth century, while this context stemming from physics has led to the idea of progress considered as the necessary outcome of scientific and technical growth, technics becoming itself technology – and technology as well as technics being a pharmakon – exactly like antibiotics, for example. At the same time, new major scientific ideas emerged. Darwin’s views on biological evolution provided a historical framework to understand living beings. Marx analyzed the consequences of the changes in industrial work organization, and showed that they entailed the progressive loss of workers’ knowledge: proletarianization. Appearing with proletarianization, the use of heat engines instead of other sources of mechanical work (in particular hydraulic) was not always due to cost efficiency but to a larger independence with respect to natural and social constraints. In physics, the theoretical questions raised by heat engines gave birth to the field of thermodynamics, which developed new theoretical principles. Physicists developed the concept of entropy, and showed that entropy increases in isolated systems: energy becomes less usable to perform macroscopic tasks. In a nutshell, the increase of entropy in a physical system is the process of going from less probable to more probable macroscopic states. It follows that the increase of entropy is the disappearance of improbable initial features and their replacement with more probable features, that is to say, the erasing of the past. This notion departs from the reversibility of classical mechanics – the latter lacks an objectivized time arrow – and brought about the cosmological perspective of the universe heat death.
Nevertheless, in the second half of the XXth century, determinism sensu Laplace has found a second wind with mathematical logic and the subsequent computer sciences. These developments took place when industrial production shifted to consumer capitalism, a framework driven by mass consumption. In consumer capitalism, the trend of proletarianization applies also to consumers as such – for example, processed foods led to a loss of popular cooking knowledge. Consumer capitalism has been shaped by the rise of mass media where consumers are subjected to messages aiming to trigger standardized responses. In this context, the multifarious notion of information became central. Shannon coined a precise concept of information in order to understand the transmission of a message and guarantee it in the case of a noisy channel of communication. A different concept has been proposed by Kolmogorov to describe how difficult it is for a computer program to generate a given sequence of characters. The current received view in cognitive sciences – themselves dominating representations in digital capitalism – is that intelligence is information processing, that is to say, a computation. Last, ignoring early criticism by authors such as Poincaré, economy has been conceptualized as a process of spontaneous, mathematical optimization by “rational” agents, with possibly biased information processing.
At the beginning of the XXIst century, the spread of computers in their diverse forms (personal computers, smartphones, tablets, …) and their connection in networks has deepened and transformed the role of media. Private interests started competing to catch and retain the attention of users. The services provided to users depend on their data and at the same time use these data to capture the users’ attention. These transformations led to a further wave of automatization and proletarianization. Algorithms in cases such as social networks formalize and automatize activities which were foreign to the formal economy. Since the received view in cognitive sciences is that intelligence is information processing, the algorithms used are often considered as artificial intelligence. At the same time, humans are decomposed into tables of skills, interests, behaviors that feed algorithms, drive targeted political and commercial marketing and shape training policies. In sciences, the same trend occurs: knowledge tends to be balkanized in always more specialized fields of investigation.
Now, the beginning of the XXIst century also sees the rising awareness of the consequences of human activities on the rest of the planet, leading to define a new era: the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is characterized by human activities that tend to destroy their conditions of possibility – including many biological organizations (organisms, ecosystems). These conditions play a key role. From the perspective of thermodynamics, biological situations are clearly not at a maximum entropy and do not tend towards maximum entropy. The low and sometimes decreasing entropy of biological objects seems to “contradict” the principles of thermodynamics. Let us recall that the second principle of thermodynamics states that entropy cannot decrease in an isolated system. Now, biological situations, including the biosphere as a whole, are not isolated systems. Biological situations are open, they are subjected to flows of energy, matter, and entropy. In the case of the biosphere, the sun is a key provider of structured energy that is used by photosynthetic organisms. Therefore, biological situations do not contradict the second principle. An important consequence is that biological organizations and, by extension, social organizations, are necessarily local and depend on their coupling with an outside. In organisms, the relationship between the inside and the outside is materialized and organized by semi-permeable membranes.
How to move forward in order to understand biological situations and their articulation to thermodynamics ? The maximization of entropy in isolated systems is not an assumption among others. Predicting requires to single out theoretically a situation among many others: typically the state that the changes of the object will bring about. Entropy maximization singles out a macroscopic state: the one maximizing entropy. Functions performing this role in physics are called potentials. There is a diversity of potentials in the field of equilibrium thermodynamics which are different variants of free energy, involve entropy, and whose relevance depends on the coupling between the system studied and its outside. However, in the case of systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium, there is no consensus on a potential or even on the theoretical existence of such a function or family of functions. For example, Prigogine’s key idea is that the rate of entropy production, that is the rate of energy dissipation in a system, could play the theoretical role of a potential at least in some open systems. From a less technical perspective, Schrödinger introduced the idea that the problem in biology is not to understand order from disorder, like in many physical situations, and is instead to understand order from order. To capture this idea, he proposes to look into negative entropy, an idea which was later elaborated by Brillouin who named the corresponding negative entropy “negentropy”.
However, negative entropy does not exactly reflect biological organizations. Entropy can be lowered just by decreasing temperatures while biological organizations remain as such only within a range of temperatures. A major glaciation would decrease entropy but it would also destroy biological organizations. Moreover, functional parts of biological organizations often involve an increase of entropy. For example, the diffusion of a compound from the location of its production in a cell to the rest of the cell is a process leading to physical entropy production. Nevertheless, this process leads the said compound to reach locations where it can play a functional role.
Shannon’s theory of information transmission states that the more improbable a message is, the higher its information content is. This idea becomes absurd when used in order to assess meaning instead of facing transmission difficulties (noise), Shannon’s motivation. For example, constant binary sequence have maximum information sensu Shannon, while a random sequence has the highest complexity (maximal information) sensu Kolmogorof, and both limit case have more information in the respective sense than a Shakespeare’s play of the same length.
Bailly, Longo and Montévil proposed another quantity than entropy (and its mathematical opposite negentropy): this new quantity is called anti-entropy, it corresponds to biological organization (organs, functions …). Its geometry and dimensions do matter, in contrast to (digital) information, which is a one-dimensional notion (Shannon’s and Kolmogorof alpha-numeric strings). A living organism produces both entropy, by transforming energy, and anti-entropy, by setting up and renewing continually its organization.
Biological order has to include the appearance of unpredictable novelties and of new functional norms. Otherwise, it would be an order akin to death, when biological organization (including functions), thus anti-entropy, goes to 0.
Biological organizations are precarious because the existence and the nature of their parts are fundamentally contingent and need to be actively sustained, they are far from a maximum entropy configuration.
Anti-entropy aims to accommodate biological situations in their historicity, and in particular their production of functional novelties. Note that entropy is related to the coupling of a system with its outside. However, the principles of thermodynamics apply to any macroscopic system. By contrast, anti-entropy is relative to an organization, and not all objects are organized. For example, considered alone, a heart has no function, it is only at the level of the organism that it is endowed with a function. As a result, all discussions on anti-entropy are relative to an intended organized object, that is to say, a specific locality.
As pointed out by Lotka, a specificity of human societies is the prevalence of inorganic objects in their organizations. These objects are shaped and maintained by human activities. This phenomenon is called exosomatization, the constitution of objects theoretically analogous to organs outside organic bodies.
Computers take place in this process and can be defined as automatic rewriting systems. With the increase of their speed and inputs (data), their ability to process information and perform categorization increases dramatically. However, the tasks that they can perform are neither equivalent to the activity of organisms nor to human work because, in both these cases, a meaning is produced that is neither in the initial obtainable data nor in their combinations by one algorithmic method or another. For example, the principle of inertia describes a very exotic situation on earth where no forces is exerted (e.g., no friction and no gravitation): it cannot be derived from data, but was posed by Galileo as an asymptotic principle, a way to “make sense” of all movements at once and analyze what may affect them, frictions and gravitation. Similarly, equal rights between citizens and gender equality are political principles that trigger a departure from former situations and reshape social organizations, they cannot be deduced from the former situations. These examples are historically major in their respective domains; however, such processes are, in a sense, ordinary in human activities and we use it to define work by contrast with labor: the former is also the permanent “invention of new configuration of sense”. The current trend, however, is not to develop work in this sense, instead, it is a convergence between algorithms and human activities. This convergence means a sterilization of labor by its standardization – its transformation into generic information processing. However, the current scientific consensus is that the current path of civilization leads to its destruction, in particular by identifying anti-entropy, extended to social organizations, with information, a one dimensional flattening. Work, by inventing new tools, thus constructing new configurations and sense for human and ecosystemic interactions, departs from the alpha-numeric combinatorics in a pre-given set of possibilities (computational data processing), and it is required at all levels of society
What is sometimes called the “hyperindustrial” economy – defined by digital technology and disruptive marketing – is based on those two atomic elements (in the chemical sense of the term) that are carbon and silicon. They are also the two elements of hyperindustrial society in another sense: in the sense involved when we refer to water as the element of the fish – and where today these seem to have become toxic for those who try to live within this elemental milieu.
Carbon becomes the center of the industrial economy with the invention of “heat engines” (as Sadi Carnot called them), while silicon becomes the element of control technologies and the exploitation of individual and collective memory. To what geo-economio-politics of hypercontrol does this lead, especially in the light of China’s rise to the status of hyperpower? And in what way do these questions necessitate the perspective of a general theory of thermodynamic, biological and informational entropy that aims to rethink the conditions of decision-making in the Anthropocene?
In the twenty-first century, we can establish an analytical division (and inextricable practical connection) between carbon technologies and silicon technologies, in a situation (the Anthropocene) that can be characterized as afflicted by an ‘aporia of sustainability’ in which ecological and economic discourses and practices are completely at odds. Contributing to the inability to resolve this aporia is the rise of informational and algorithmic processes undermining reason and decision-making.
The critique proposed here is ‘elemental’ in the sense that: (1) carbon and silicon are atomic elements; (2) these technologies form our ‘element’ in the Aristotelian sense of being most difficult to perceive; (3) the element produced by these technologies is self-poisoning in the sense described by Freud. Carbon and silicon technologies are inextricable because they are entangled within a larger technical system. A critique of political economy should be conducted in these ‘elemental’ terms.
Carbon technologies begin with the control of fire, which, with cooking, turns into an ability to do work. Their modern history begins with Watt’s steam engine in 1781, leading to industrial transformation of manufacturing, power grids and transport networks, and to atmospheric emissions pollution producing climate change. Silicon technologies begin with the integrated circuit in 1958 and they continue to evolve through the opening of the World Wide Web in 1993, algorithmic social networks in 2006 and smartphones in 2007. The last decade has seen an intensification of computing power and a consolidation of economic power, amounting to a disruption of the technical system. Silicon technologies should be seen in the context of the history of retentional technologies. In this history, the concept of grammatization makes possible an analysis leading to a critique of proletarianization qua loss of knowledge, where the inscription of the worker’s gestures into the programs of the Jacquard loom gives rise to an industrial capitalism of production. China’s rising prosperity is potentially threatened by the rising wage pressures it entails. One possible ‘solution’ is the acceleration of robotization, making labour dispensable but in turn leading to other challenges such as the basis of wealth redistribution. Were China to become a consumer society at the level of the United States, the ecological dangers would be immense. Furthermore, ‘consumers’ in the sense of consumerist capitalism are not a natural by-product of economic growth: they must be produced. The possibility of producing consumers arose with the invention of new kinds of grammatization: specifically, radio, cinema and television as the grammatization of the audiovisual. These retentional technologies made possible the protentional conditioning that is marketing, leading to a more predictable market in which mass production could take advantage of economies of scale. This protentional conditioning amounts to an attempt to control desire, leading to a hyper-industrial capitalism of consumption, but at the same time self-destructively depleting the libidinal energy on which these protentional technologies depend.
In the twenty-first century, these techniques are vastly expanded with silicon technologies relying on the two-way transfer of data that can then be treated algorithmically via supercomputing. This expansion of the performative character of protentional conditioning is so powerful that it operates more rapidly than human noetic processes, leading to a kind of protentional ‘shock wave’ akin to a sonic boom. The result could be characterized as an ultra-industrial capitalism of highly performative algorithms.
This describes, in other words, so-called ‘platform capitalism’, a data economy dedicated to controlling behaviour solely according to market imperatives. This has led to the rise of new forms of industrial populism and ‘telecracy’ operating through social networks, exploiting fears and intensifying irrationality. Such anti-political processes are extremely dangerous experiments combining algorithmic supercomputing with ‘crowd psychology’.
The crystal palaces of industrial capitalism have their counterpart in the highly ordered calculations lying behind platform capitalism. But as Smithson pointed out, despite the orderliness of the crystal, it in fact amounts to a rise of entropy compared with its parent liquid. And it is in this light that we must view the hyper-consumption fuelled by the algorithms of this platform capitalism: as new crystal palaces combining luxury and waste, and whose orderliness conceals processes of disorganization leading to a vast increase in global entropy.
What is required by an elemental critique of political economy is therefore a theory of ‘general entropy’. This is not just a matter of articulating entropy as conceived in thermodynamics and biology (by Schrödinger) with entropy as conceived in information theory. It is also a question of articulating this with Bataille’s general economy, with a critique and transformation of Simondon’s approach to information, and with Lotka’s description of exosomatization. As an account of counter-entropic systems, it will necessarily also be an account of processes of localization and de-localization. For all this, large-scale transdisciplinary contributory research projects are required.
Only on this basis will it be possible to redefine the basis of wealth in order to found a new macro-economic model that makes investment decisions on the basis of minimizing entropy and maximizing counter-entropy. And only in this way will it be possible to resolve the aporia of sustainability. But for this, it will be necessary not just to re-articulate ecological and economic challenges – it will also be necessary to produce a new counter-entropic relationship between silicon technologies and knowledge.
If all this is a question of the conditions of making good collective decisions, these decisions are not just technological but institutional. Currently, the institutions devoted to global and local governance have very limited ability to make good decisions or good investments with respect to the fundamental challenges of the Anthropocene. Hence it is also necessary to conduct a critique of the basis and future of such institutions, and to do so on the basis of the theory of general entropy called for here.
The arrangement of carbon and silicon is carried out by infrastructures (often called platforms) stemming from a barely visible or opaque infrasomatization, through which the central nervous systems of human beings are mobilized through the devices and apparatus of intensive computing, bypassing and short-circuiting consciousness. This process demands the elaboration of a critique and ethics of data-processing, particularly from the standpoint of an imperative that would be not only negentropic, but anti-entropic, and ultimately anti-anthropic (in the sense that the IPCC refers to “anthropogenic forcing”, that is, the increase of rates of entropy due to human activity).
Such a programme must form the core of a redefinition of the university’s mission and function in the Anthropocene, and in order to feed into contributory research in urban environments. Urbanity must be founded on “capacitation”, that is, on developing the capabilities of inhabitants. The Plaine Commune programme is the first regional laboratory of this kind, defining itself in this way as a “neganthropic locality”
Almost 70% of human population will live in cities by 2050 . This means that cities must be one of the central spaces for neganthropic interventions. Thinking (penser) about the role of cities in the Anthropocene means to take care (panser) of the urban environment, inventing and implementing new and more sustainable ones. In these three pages, we try to briefly show (1) how digital technologies structure and govern the environment in which we live – and more broadly, our societies – through computational technologies, impeding the capacity for freedom and autonomy, and limiting thought or what we call bifurcation; (2) secondly, we ask how the smart city through a market ideology accelerates the process that led to an anthropogenic forcing to become the major geological changing factor on the biosphere; (3) and finally, we examine how we can invent a new negentropic (hence, neganthropic) urban metabolism(s) and a Really Smart City on the basis of a hermeneutical and critical approach to digital technology, what we understand as the 21st century pharmakon.
1. Infrasomatizion and social-structuring technologies
Today we live within a horizon of interpretability determined in large part by the capture of data and its articulation in and through infrastructures built from algorithms and implemented as infrasomatizations. They can be thought of as social-structuring technologies inscribing new forms of the social – or sometimes the anti-social – onto the bodies and minds of humans and their institutions. For the user these infrasomatizations are experienced through smart-phones and tablets which close the loop from within the brain to the outside environment, such that the aperture of thought is mediated and compressed. Hence, the capacity for the human brain to perceive that algorithms are organizing their thoughts, or even to perceive that algorithms are at work, is impaired, if not destroyed – human reason is thereby diminished and made susceptible to persuasion and propaganda.
Infrasomatizations can be mobilised to support specific instances of thought, rationality and action – a hegemonic form of calculative reason in order to create the conditions for anti-democratic thought. The process of infrasomatization may suppress and eventually replace local rationalities within particular social spheres, which once constituted the functional independence of the complementary spheres of social life, into a single regime of computation. These conditions create a data intensive economy which is the economic realisation of the gains and possibilities of the data-intensive scientific milieu. This paradigm is often described as using the four ‘V’s of data: volume, variety, velocity and veracity.
In response, we need to develop new possibilities through what we call data-intensive critique together with the creation of data-intensive ethics. A critical site for both understanding these issues and for starting the process of responding to them is a negentropic university. There is a need to create a special role for the university in relation to its new infrasomatic environment and a data-intensive cultural milieu, which includes new data critical forms of teaching and learning, research through the application of critical reason in a data-intensive society. So working towards a new kind of literacy to empower citizens to contest a newly digital data-centric life is very important. The university, in its work in the creation of critical reason remains a key, if not the key, institution to contest these developments. But these exorganic computational infrastructures have also reached beyond the realm of the everyday life into the city, society and the planet more broadly.
2. Urban Metabolism
Metabolism is a term that has become a plastic category that can be molded to serve diverse analytical objectives, among which, the ecological relations that in our view describe the “intelligence” of a city . In this relationships several “organs” are at stake: in particular, somatic (or biological) organs, technical organs and social organization, that is why we refer to it as an “organology”.
Urban metabolism is often reduced to a calculation of the quantity of consumption and release of energy in the whole system (in other words, energetic and material exchanges) instead of being explored as the relation between these organs. Indeed, this last possibility is useful also in order to understand how capitalism troubles these relations. This has generally been described as a metabolic rift, referring to the tendency of capitalism to give rise to a general separation of the organs, and also to the tendency to disrupt every condition of life as such . This effect seems to be exacerbated in the so called Anthropocene, the epoch in which the human being and his productions are considered the most powerful responsible of global environmental and climatic change. But in fact, and precisely in this age, this appears as a simplification of the problem, so that we should rather think, with Jason W. Moore, in terms of metabolic shifts that is, these constitutive relations in their variation. Considering relations in terms of variation and not as pursuing a specific direction, allows us guessing the possibility of creating and developing “localities” as a specific metabolic effect able to challenge and thwart the entropic effects of technological development.
If the technical becoming of the city is a state of facts that we cannot avoid, reinventing links and relationships thinking to a new articulation of this organology as a state of right, can be an effective reply to the state of facts to which we are confronted. Reconsidering relations means, first, dis-automatizing the links in order to create localities, that is, a “giving place”, or “giving rise”, as a technical possibility for the constitution of a point of view, a different access to – and, hence, interpretation of – the world . In this terms, «every technology is always a cosmotechnology» . Not only the technology that we do want, but also the resulting possibility of taking into account the contradictions, the disorganizing power, the shock of temporalities, as a common ground of understanding. Substituting local rationalities or local metabolism with a single regime of computation is what destroys the noetic capacity of localities (States, cities, urban territories, etc.). The emergence process of such local rationalities depends on the psychic and collective individuation (i.e., different points of view, cultural differentiations) that is based on diachronies waiting-to-be-synchronized . Since the computation regime act constantly as a synchronization of the social milieu, the possibility of bifurcate from the past is increasingly difficult.
Finally, we must think technological metabolism not as an assimilation, that is on a digestive paradigm, where a subject assimilates an object reducing its differential power, but as a surplus of will and desire, which makes the living capable of creating in the same moment that it is created – transformed – by not only its environment, but also technologies and social organizations. This creation is the opening of a point of view – non a different sight on the same world, but a singular sensible process that gives place to a new world.
3. Really Smart City
The new urban and territorial revolution (i.e. digital territories) opens new and promising possibilities to fight against the Anthropocene – but it also threatens to become uninhabitable, if not inhuman.
In nowadays mainstream thinking the word smart is reduced in practice to “computation and feedback loops” and city is reduced to “platform allowing the access to global infrastructures, data-mining and target-advertising our everyday life”. The market ideology beside the smartification would accelerate the processes that led the anthropogenic forcing to become the major geological change factor of biosphere. Big Data processes codify the past . They do not invent the future – and algorithmic governance restrain the possibility for bifurcating because of the standardization of what is, statistically speaking, the most probable. If we need to invent new ways of living and producing, we need to think (penser) how to take care (panser) of our malaise (psychological, social and environmental).
We think that the kind of development promised by the Silicon Valley is unsustainable. The abandonment of the web to a mere market logic will lead to a new acceleration, an increase of entropy – which has characterized the Anthropocene from the outset. We have seen how the economic-social policies of neoliberalism have weakened local knowledge as well as the most basic forms of caring for oneself and others. Top-down and “ready-to-wear” technological solutionism neglect any form of local knowledge, generating social suffering that is today more and more visible.
To fight against this control and standardization it is necessary to seize these “smart” technologies to reconstitute a real urban intelligence. Taking into account the pharmacological dimension of any technique will lead us to conceive and create neganthropic infrastructures based on a hermeneutic web designed for facilitating the processes of interpretation and collective decision-making, thus for the practice of knowledge (savoir faire, savoir-vivre, and academic knowledge).
Overcoming such a situation implies recognizing the role of the territories, and therefore the inhabitants, as well as designing new forms of urban management, construction, housing, services, energy, mobility, etc. revealing new professions and new urban knowledge. These are the objectives pursued in the framework of the contributory research program carried out at Plaine Commune, but also through other initiatives as well as in other territories , confronted with concrete territorial experiments aiming at putting the technical systems at the service of the development of the inhabitants and territorials’ capabilities for the collective transformation of their living environments.
De-automation of the algorithmic tele-guidance or governance through contributive and deliberative technologies.For a Really Smart City, the question is to empower citizens’ capabilities also through the practice of digital technology. The efficiency of automation must allow the release of energies and time at the service of urban deliberation and cooperation in the spirit of cooperation as contributing technologies make it possible by contributive technologies, such as deliberative social networks, annotation and categorization functionalities, devices for debate and controversies. Through the practice of such contributive technologies, inhabitants can take collective and reflexive decisions and introduce unpredictable de-automation and bifurcation in their programmable algorithmic and automatic milieu. Capacitation of the inhabitants through contributive economy and contributive research.
To fight against this control and standardization it is necessary to seize these “smart” technologies to reconstitute a real urban intelligence. Taking into account the pharmacological dimension of any technique will lead us to conceive and create neganthropic infrastructures based on a hermeneutic web designed for facilitating the processes of interpretation and collective decision-making, thus for the practice of knowledge (savoir faire, savoir-vivre, and academic knowledge).
A Really Smart City can be possible only on the basis of a new form of economy, the contributory economy (see chapter 1 and 6) which valorizes the process of capacitation and the collective practice of knowledge (know how, know how to live and theoretical knowledge) through which the inhabitants participate to the making of their localities and develop a collective urban intelligence (i.e. not only smartness, but sociability or philia). Hence, all the city has to become a neganthropic locality , i.e. a learning territory inventing new knowledge and new arts of living in the digital milieu.
“Locality” frequently has connotations that are not only reactionary but regressive and fascist. What the rise of ultra-libertarianism and techno-fascism demand, however, is a pharmacology and a symptomatology of locality and its suffering, given that the struggle against entropy requires the constitution of new economies of locality – new ways of opening up and reticulating localities. No less important is to deconstruct how the sciences remain under the sway of the history of metaphysics, and to do so in order that locality can be reinvented from the standpoint of a new critique of political economy – or of anti-political diseconomy – in which cosmology is understood from a cosmotechnical perspective.
I. Locality and g/local
The concept of locality crosses several scientific and cultural disciplines, without ceasing to express an inexhaustible ambiguity regarding its political and geopolitical use. Within a geographical framework, the term acquires a quite important and suggestive power in parallel to the development of economic conditions and constraints that have accompanied the process of so called globalization (Levitt): in this context,locality functions as a necessary counter-point to globality, and it has been articulated by the neologism “g-local”.
Nevertheless, the political luck of this term has had a short life, becoming the economic signifier of a form of capitalism oriented towards a responsible globalization. This interpretation of the g-local neologism has been based on an implicit prejudice, according to which globalization has been intended as the result of a technological, economic and financial development absolutely unprecedented in the history of mankind, while the local has been meant to express a constitutive originarity of human culture alternative to technology, to be preserved against the technologization of the future. Technology versus culture, in short: technology for exploiting human and natural resources against the sustainable and harmonious dimension of a localized human / nature eco-system anterior to technological aggression.
In this context, in order to understand the problem of locality as a key issue to design new forms of citizenship, it seems worth to propose a set of theoretical and political axes that could help to define both what a locality can do and what a locality can lose at the age of computational capitalism (Beller) and algorithmic governance (Rouvroy).
II. Locality and politics today
The concept of locality is currently appropriated by a number of virulent forms of conservative politics (e.g. identity politics) that obscure the emancipatory meaning oflocality as such. In other words, we are assisting at a systematic and reactionary exploitation of the idea of locality. What is at stake today, is a war of, for and by localities. Thus, by disclosing how contemporary politics is corrupting the notion of locality, we hope to be able to propose a different notion of locality capable of facing the planetary challenges ahead of us. The idea is that of understanding how locality comes into being from the understanding of how locality is not brought into being. The task, indeed, is that of charting a symptomatology of the diffusion of a poisoned understanding of locality towards de-constructing it and re-inventing it from its ashes – turning it into the pivotal concept of a community and politics to come.
The repression and the removal of the material, technological, economic and social causes of globalization and its harmful secondary effects have led, over the last decade, to an unprecedented exploitation of feelings of fear, rejection, anguish, hate, rage and insecurity by economic and political actors. Feelings that financial globalization have provoked in all of those who have felt threatened, consciously or subconsciously, by the articulation of a globalized technological progress and by the presence of forms of otherness (migrants, foreigners, anomalous and “abnormal” minorities). These alterities push at the edges of a weakened and aged white Western world; once they manage to crack into it, they remain nevertheless unable to fit into the identitarian notion of locality at the base of the colonial and post-colonial structure of the West – as it is well exemplified by uprises enacted by second and third generation immigrants in the last decades.
In this sense, the identity of West is built around the fear of an alterity always seen as a colonizing force that aims at taking over both language and territory intended as the main technological and geographical extensions through which the western form of conservative locality tries to define itself. In this context, territory is defined by borders that regulate the flux of alleged alterities – both in terms of goods and people – within the community constituting itself inside these borders. As a consequence, this idea of borders and alterity constitute the idea of the immigrant as a danger threatening the safety of the collectivity living inside these borders. This geographical understanding of the territory as a gated space belonging to a community based on the principle of identity expressed by the use of a common language and the sharing of a culture constantly under attack by an exogenous entity – something external or different –, is matched by an endogenous extractivist logic which sees the territory – and its people – as a resource to exploit carelessly. This logic increases the entropy of the system and reduces differences reenforcing relations based on identity, while confirming the identity principle as the inner engine of this very reduction.
Territory becomes a site managed according to a logos adopting extractivism to appropriate resources, logistic to regulate fluxes of goods and identity politics to regulate fluxes of people. Language mediates the relation between locality as identity and territory as site, and turns into a symbolic misery (Stiegler) unable to express this very relation in truly sustainable ways.
The solutions that green capitalism has to offer can’t avoid the problem of the local and unfortunately approach it doing the same mistakes of extractive capitalism. Within the appearance of sustainability, green capitalism re-affirms the exploitation of locality in relation to a networked and globalized logistic infrastructure based on a movement which goes from the local to the global – a movement still founded on the principle of growth and value extraction. Furthermore, green capitalism does see nature as a natural capital and in this sense doesn’t question the premises at the base of climate warming – that of looking at nature as a resource to exploit, even though in more sustainable way. By doing so, green capitalism fails to address the problem of locality as such and the assumption of growth itself as the driver towards a real sustainable approach to locality and economy. Green capitalism does not start from localities, but from its management in relation to growth and on the base of an abstract knowledge – still heritage of the modern, extractivist and colonial project.
III. Locality and its digital double
The colonizing role of Western logos and the evolution of capitalism driven by technoscience, lead to the contemporary stage of computational capitalism intended as the technological parallel of the so called Capitalocene (Moore) – an expression that refers to the situated economic and political causes of the current era usually referred to as Anthropocene (Crutzen).
Nowadays, a notion of locality based on the principle of identity rather than on the principle of difference is also enforced via contemporary digital technologies which give shape to computational capitalism and algorithmic governance. Informational ecochambers – so called online filter-bubbles (Pariser) – take over social networks where people are data-profiled and contents are tailored around algorithmic data-doubles that micro-manipulate people into sharing contents which mirror each other opinions reenforcing previous tastes and believes while at the same time increasing intolerances forthe different. Nowadays, locality has its digital double intended as the digital mirroring of an offline locality by an online locality via datafication (Cukier and Mayer- Schöenberger) and filter-bubble. One of the challenges ahead of us is that of understanding both the means of production of digital locality as the double of analog locality, and the means of exchange between analog and digital locality as a way to understand ways to disentangle the principle of identity ingrained into the generation of this algorithmic-double locality from its organic source. This digital mirroring is a form of algorithmic governance based on the same principles of extractivism – in the form of datafication –, logistics – in the form of circulationism (Steyerl) - and identity politics - in the form of filter bubble - which defines a regressive or closed notion of analog locality. According to Stiegler, the calculation, anticipation and computation of the self, destroy what Nietzsche calls exceptions, and finally devalue difference as such. While pretending to produce a strategy towards order, indeed, locality as identity and territory as site increases economic and ecological entropy accelerating (and sometime designing) the destruction of bio-diversity and noo-diversity (Stiegler). This destruction happens by containing and destroying differences that could, instead, produce bifurcations enabling temporary structure of orders (or temporary anti-entropic structures) supporting new imaginaries and strategies of resistance against the current economical, socio-political, and ecological crises. Locality as identity and territory as site are a very impoverished version of both locality and territory, although flourishing more than ever in recent history and in different forms and contexts together with the rising of right-wing populist movements.
IV. Rethinking localities
Nevertheless, there is another way to think about a politics of locality and territory and, thus, about our techno-ecological relation with nature. Locality is first and above all the emergency of an orientation, or a point of view. A point of view is a bifurcation, or the emergency of a difference as the place (Escobar) where a phase-shift happens in the structure of matter, producing a dimensionality which is singular and collective at the same time. Locality, in this new sense, becomes the engine of difference itself, a difference constituting itself as the field capable to produce singularities in the form of differential points of view intended as the expressive forms of the locality which surrounds them. Locality is thus relational and functions as the place of activation of a different dimension of the field – which is itself the product of another differential produced by another locality on another dimension of the field. Difference is indeed always differential and related to another difference, rather than to the existence of a pre-constituted identity. Differently from the territory as site around which the current mystified version of locality as identity is geographically inscribed, the field as the place of difference has no boundaries, or borders. Locality as point of view becomes performative through the field and the expressive quality of the field itself.
Thus, territory becomes a place instead of a site, in a constant movement or transformation. In this vein, the articulation of territory as a field / place constantly deterritorializing and re-territorializing (Deleuze and Guattari) invokes a concept of locality intended as a differential point of view providing temporary, local and open synthesis to the differential field. Such an openness in its local condition of possibility, is what defines a locality. The identitarian logos of an entropic and regressive notion of locality turns here into a nomos constituting a community based on the care for the ecos intended as the thriving of geo-histories (Braudel) – not geographies of site but memories of place –, poetic relations (Glissant) – not relations based on extractivism but relations based on care – and political ecologies – forms of politics and economy that look at the entropic footprint of human actions as a key index to understand the relation between the human, the natural (both organic and inorganic) and the technological.
Emancipatory (techno)-eco-localities, thus, can constitute zones of differential enhancement where bifurcations towards anti-entropy thrive increasingly re-establishing bio-diversity and noo-diversity. Identities – or better localities based on the principle of identity rather than on difference – relate to each other in binary terms (in/out local/ stranger) through the use of languages (natural and algorithmic) and borders as the main technological mechanisms of this binary inclusion/exclusion system.
In this techno-ecological context, computation and algorithms have to be re-invented as instruments enabling the production of differences on the basis of a principle of difference intended as the ground from where to re-think the relation between analog and digital locality. More specifically, this re-invention has to aim at de-constructing the capitalistic logic of data profiling oriented towards the generation of algorithmic-double locality grounded on the principle of identity and geared towards the generation of filterbubbles and eco-chambers functioning as highly entropic forms of informational space where difference is systemically destroyed by means of statistical induction, statistical average and pattern recognition (Pasquinelli).
It is from this double movement of de-re-territorialization that the issue of entropy –intended as the growth of disorder and the destruction of diversities – and anti-entropy –intended as the countertendency which defines the struggle of differences as the enginefor the continuation of life as such – moves itself from the field of thermodynamics to thatof human society and political economy.
V. Towards a poli-locality to come
We believe in the idea that politics will become more and more an issue of entropy and anti-entropy, and in some way this is already the case. Nevertheless, the repression of the role of entropy in the management of the current ecological crises together with the removal of the originary technicity of human nature are the reasons behind the incapability of thinking about a notion of locality able to re-invent the polarization global / local articulated by the expression g-local and marked by the contrast between a globalizing technological force and an originary locality where human and nature stand still.
More than ever, indeed, we need to understand how the means of exchange of locality can be possibly harnessed to maneuver the transition from a reactionary and entropic concept of locality towards a poli-locality intended as a differential, performative and antientropic notion of locality.
Localities are built over memories, and the battle for memories opened by 21 century algorithmic media with its new forms of temporal objects (Stiegler) is a key front for the production of an emancipatory form of locality. This new form of locality has to be reinvented on the basis of a differential and performative memory capable of hacking the mirroring effects of a form of memory produced instead by a regressive and identitarian notion of locality. A differential and performative notion of memory is a form of memory which privileges difference over identity, bifurcation over linearity, performativity over normativity. Both regressive and emancipatory forms of locality and memory constantly de-re-territorialize each others, turning the means of exchange between regressive and emancipatory locality into a crucial political battlefield to be intended as the transitional space to be hacked towards the effective production of a truly differential form of locality able to confront and contain the acceleration of entropy produced by forms of locality and technology based on identity, extractivism and green capitalism.
Contributory research can be considered a form of social sculpture, if we view all knowledge as a way of “sculpting” oneself and others – or, we could say, as a form of gardening. Research methods in the sciences and arts, insofar as they are based on the constitution of open research communities extending well beyond the world of academic research, must be re-examined with regard to education, which must itself be conceived as Bildung, and in a way that takes into account its pharmacological conditions, that is, its technical conditions.
Between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, these technical conditions led to the generalization of proletarianization, of which the infrasomatization mentioned in Chapter 3 is the most advanced stage. Proletarianization is thus a key question to be addressed by contributory research, tied to the question of a new relationship to technics, based on the goal of de-proletarianization, and where digital studies must also redefine the stakes of social sculpture with the notion of eventwork.
In a disruptive period all types of knowledge and art have to be thought again from scratch. We need to provide therapeutic prescriptions for the disruptive technologies which first appear as toxic. This is the perspective opened up by contributive research that aims to revisit the notion of the ‘social sculpture’ within the contemporary technological context and the framework of digital studies.
1. Context: disruption and algorithmic governmentality, an «anti-social sculpture»?
Whilst the term ‘social sculpture’ (used by Joseph Beuys) within an art historical context maybe contentious and dated, there is a need to revisit what is meant by ‘social sculpture’ (or rather terms such ‘social sculpting’ and ‘social plastic’) through contemporary modes of technical and technological mediation of the world. In a philosophical context, the use of the word sculpture can be traced back through Heidegger to Aristotle and is related to the term techne, where to sculpt means to take form, to shape matter. If we include social behaviors as a form of ‘material’, we can better understand that the concept of social sculpture is close to the notion of culture and education, as the forming and shaping (cultivation/gardening) of behaviors in society through the sculpting of the retentions (habits or memories) and protentions (expectations or desires).
For centuries, the retentions and protentions of psychic individuals have been sculpted by social organizations (rituals, political, religious, philosophical or academic and educational institutions), through the practice of knowledge (know how, theoretical knowledge, and know how to live) or arts (technical arts, arts of living, creative arts), which are neguanthropic practices through which individuals take care of their collective milieu and learn to live together by sharing common retentions and protentions – through the memory of a singular past and the projection an unpredictable future.
However, the development of new forms of tertiary retentions (mechanical, analogical, digital) and modes of production (consumerist economy, attention economy and data economy) have changed this situation. The passage from cultural industries and mass media based analog technologies, described by Adorno and Horkheimer as a “new form of barbarism” have changed into data industries and social media that are based on digital technologies, described by T. Berns and A. Rouvroy as driven by an ‘algorithmic governmentality’. This transformation leads to a new epoch of proletarianization and, ultimately, to a new form of ‘anti-social sculpture’.
In the disruptive period, social organizations through which individuals transmit, practice and transform their knowledge and arts seem outpaced by radical and permanent innovations. Such practices become obsolete and are replaced by marketing injunctions, implemented into algorithmic technologies operating in real time, at the speed of light. Indeed, the current functioning of the digital technical system in the service of consumerist data economy leads to the capture and the control not only of attention9 but also of retentions and protentions of the users of digital devices, connected objects and “social” networks, through the collection of their ‘personal’ traces or data, and through the automatic generation of their profiles. The algorithmic environments suggest them programmable and standardized behaviors and steer their drives towards mass market commodities : the constitution of mimetic and consumerist crowds and the exhaustion of libidinal energy thus leads to the production of psycho-social entropy.
Recently, the ‘social’ started to get framed exclusively through the lens of algorithms. However, as we know, there are multiple forms of (technical) communication possible that are not at all related to ‘algo power’ (think for instance of decentralized peer-to-peer architectures). It is only because of the recent rise of Facebook, Google, Uber, Amazon etc., that this problem ‘algo’ problem has started to appear. Therefore, algo governance, no matter how dominant at the moment, should not be accepted as our faith.
At the same time social sculpture should be seen in contrast with different forms of ‘community’. The concept is a specific configuration of the social, of networks and should be read, most of all, as a proposed form of self-organisation or, to update the term as a predecessor of ‘organized networks’, against the weak links of the social media monopolies as a dense yet hybrid form of both virtual and real collaborations, friendships, passions and struggles. The urgent question now is how the social sculpture as a subversive-creative force relates to the hegemony of the large corporate platforms.
It seems necessary to create processes of collective individuation which enable noetic individuals to socialize or sublimate their drives and to renew their libidinal energy, by inventing new ways of living or by making singular works of arts (scientific discoveries, technical inventions, artistic performances, social projects). Such processes lead to the production of psycho-social neguanthropy, i.e psycho-social diversity, novelty, transformations and bifurcations.
2. Therapeutic propositions: digital studies, contributive research, practice based research and socially engaged art, towards a new social sculpture in the digital milieu ?
How to develop such capacities of transformation and bifurcation in a context of digital automation and generalized proletarianization ? We have to change the paradigm, passing from technologies of control and algorithmic injunctions at the basis of data economy, to technologies of spirit and inhabitants capacitation, based on contributive economy.
The digital and algorithmic environments have to become contributive supports of knowledge (know how, know how to live, theoretical knowlegde) and art, and the inhabitants have to become social sculptors of their digital and algorithmic environments, collectively practicing digital technologies through new knowledge and arts. It thus seems necessary to develop new social organizations likely to give knowledge and art their therapeutic role in society, which is to help human individuals to adopt their new technical milieu. This is the aim of digital studies, contributive research, practice based research or socially engaged art.
The aim of digital studies is to understand how digital technologies impact (both negative and positive ways) the construction of knowledge (disciplinary epistemologies) and on aesthetics (cultural production). Both art, be it applied design or fine arts and knowledge (would it be know how, know how to live or theoretical knowledge) always require technical supports in order to be conserved, transmitted, shared and transformed, and the transformation of these supports always affects these arts or knowledge. It thus seems necessary to conceive, produce and experiment contributive digital devices and platforms, especially shaped for the transmission and sharing of knowledge, that is, which enable the « learners » to participate actively in the collective production of knowledge or art, and not simply to receive them from an exterior source and passively consume or contemplate them. The development of such contributive devices and platforms (annotation or categorization tools, qualitative algorithms, deliberative social networks) requires from us to redesign the network architectures and data formats and to introduce hermeneutic functions into current web formats and digital tools, enabling “contributors” to express, confront and discuss their point of view and practices.
Contributive research is based on the articulation between the action research method and contributive technologies. In this case users are not merely responding in the form of comments and sending their big or small interactive signals such as likes or pictures and videos. Contributions are substantial pieces of work that are fully integrated into the collaboratory hermeneutic effort and thus differ from comments in the margins. Researchers from different disciplines work in close cooperation with inhabitants of their territory (territorial collectivities, educational institutions, businesses, charity sector, elected representatives, citizens, etc.). Contributive digital platforms make such exchanges possible because they facilitate the progressive publication of hypotheses during the research process. and their public discussion and critic : the inhabitants can take an active part in the research and themselves become searchers, sharing their knowledge with academic searchers. Academics, activists, designers and coders learn from the inhabitants just as the inhabitants learn from the academics, through a process of collective capacitation. The aim is to identify the fundamental (political, juridical, health, psychical, economical questions raised by disruptive technologies or digital infrastructures, to scientifically address such questions, and on this basis, to produce and experiment “therapeutic” hypotheses to resolve the concrete problems in the territory, which thus becomes a “learning territory”.
Practice-based research is a mode of research where the research activity is based upon the practice, and the artistic practice is understood as a form of knowledge production. Such a mode of research or knowledge construction sits between the division of knowledge between the Kantian distinction of ‘know how’ and ‘know what’. The research projects construct their methodology as part of the very process of the project, the question is not resolved through the work itself : the focus is on research question being asked rather than the work itself, the work that the work does is the research question. The projects all accomplish a mode of disclosure of the research: these modes of practice/disclosure are forms of gestures which are therapeutic and ultimately neguanthropic.
Socially engaged art should not be understood as a singular autonomous practice within the commodified art world, but rather as a strategic element in social movements, alongside critical research, public activism, and networked communications. The notion of ‘event work’, as created by Brian Holmes, counters the transgression of disciplinary enclosure inside the university. The aim of an event work is to articulate artistic strategies with other strategies, such as critical research, communication, activism, intellectualism, the political, in order to face contemporary challenges. The notion of event work thus names the relationship between event and work, insisting on the social transformation and collective individuation implied in working activities, and on the bifurcations which can be produced by such activities. In such a context, the role of the artist is not to make ‘objective’ works of art that spectators can contemplate but to create new situations in which the public can engage. There is a need to open new ways of doing, living and thinking. The artist has to be understood as a relational actor in the world, producing situations and opening improbable bifurcations, rather than an autonomous actor in the world, producing objects (cf the concept of the artist as proposer).
Such experimentations, hypotheses and models, which already take place in different territories, should be exchanged, shared and discussed between these different places, thus creating an international network of research composed of diverse localities. The aim of the proposed network is to organize collective reflexion and deliberation on the economic, epistemic, political and social consequences of the contemporary industrial transformation, and to experiment new economic and social model, based on a rational appropriation of technological innovation by local populations, and oriented towards the production of neguanthropy.
The contributory economy, based on contributory research, aims to systematically value capacitation and the acquisition of knowledge during work activities that occur outside employment. In such an economy this acquisition of knowledge and capabilities must be supported by a conditional contributory income inspired by the French scheme supporting casual workers in the performing arts [intermittent du spectacle]. This economy is both: a macro-economy – based on the use of contributory income as a collective investment in individuals and their capacity to cultivate knowledge; a micro-economy – linked to local collective enterprises at various scales. The task here is to redefine the accounting rules used by both companies and local public services, and to do so in order that nations (and ultimately an “internation” yet to be invented can enable transitional arrangements to form between the various economies: the social and solidary economy, the economy of the commons (including urban commons), the (non-profit) associative economy, the market economy and the public economy.
Two major issues of our time may likely lead to economic reorganization of our society:
(1) the transformation of production by the acceleration of automation caused by digital technologies and global reticulation (world digital networks);
(2) the anthropocene and ecological unsustainability that can lead in a short time to the disappearance of humanity.
These two issues may appear contradictory and in many ways they are. But if we attempt to articulate them it would be possible to bifurcate our society to a “société du soin” limiting entropy. In addition, worldwide globalization accelerated by these network technologies leads to new cultural confrontations and new power relations. Thus, it is necessary to take into account the recognition of the world’s singularities . These are the objectives of “Plaine Commune Territoire Apprenant Contributif” research programme, namely understanding and experimenting with a model of contributory economy on the territory singularities of Plaine Commune.
The contributory economy is a proposal developed by the association Ars Industrialis, which aims to answer these two main issues:
a) the macro-economic challenges of widespread automation - economic insolvency
Reticulated digital automation suppresses automated jobs and is currently leading to the proletarianization of population new categories. As a result, it challenges the Ford-Keynesian model based on the redistribution of productivity gains in the form of wages and therefore purchasing power is threatened by the automation of a growing number of jobs which leads to a downward trend in employment, and thus, at the macro-economic level, the decline in purchasing power obtained by wages and leads gradually to insufficient consumption to make the system solvent.
a. The function of the contributory economy is to respond to the problems raised by the automation of a growing number of jobs (and thus to their gradual disappearance). It proposes a new model of redistribution of productivity gains, not in the form of wages, but in the form of time. The time gained by automation would be redistributed to citizens by means of a “contributory income”. This out of employment income must allow them to engage in “work-capability” activities. During this time, it is easier for them to develop their abilities by cultivating, practicing and transforming knowledge (know-how, know-how-to-live, conceptuel and spiritual knowledge). According to the thesis that supports this proposal, while many jobs are automatizable and more and more automated, it is because they are based on the adaptation to the task and the implementation of skills (routine tasks and standardized skills therefore where work activities, on the contrary, involve the practice of knowledge (transmitted, shared and transformed) so no, they are not automatable). A contradiction of the automation is that it tends to make disappear the knowledge that made it possible and are necessary to make evolve its processes. It is then, rather than refusing automation, to propose a regime developing this knowledge.
b. In the context of the Anthropocene, understood as an entropisation of all levels, this valorization of work activities (hence of practice and production of knowledge) seems necessary.
Indeed, according to the thesis that supports this proposal:
· Employment activities based on the implementation of skills and therefore on the repetition of standardized routines produce entropy at the psycho-social level (homogenization and inertia of behaviors, pathologies);
· The work activities based on the practice of knowing, thus on their transformation and renewal, produce anti-entropy at the psychosocial level (production of organization during the sharing of knowledge and production of diversification, bifurcation, singularity, novelty during their transformation).
The contribution economy and the economy of the contribution therefore imply an investment in the creation of knowledge.
To promote this production and this practice of knowledge, the proposed device (which is inspired by the system of intermittent performers) is as follows:
· a contributory income remunerates the commitment to capability processes during non employment period to practice knowledge (this contributory income constitutes a national investment whose financing will be the subject of a multiscalar social negotiation of which the experiment Territory Learner Contributive aims to pose the framework);
· individuals must reload their contributory income right by a certain number of employment hours in the context of intermittent jobs during which they provide society with the skills and knowledge thus developed, by increasing the share of work in employment.
· These jobs are paid in wages by employer structures that are labelled as “contributory” and may be public or private, and for-profit or not).
The geological shift of the Anthropocene is inextricable from an intensifying addiction to consumption that defines the late twentieth century, but which is also traceable across the whole history of capitalism, which should no longer be separated into distinct producer- and consumer-led phases. The cumulatively potent trade in spices, sugar, tobacco, opium, caffeine, pornography, pop music, screens and fake news needs to be understood ecologically, in relation to the proletarianisation of world-building, which the production of pleasure seeks to offset. The commodity-harvesting of comparatively mild psychoactives coincides with the early-modern onset of ‘Cheap Nature’, referring to the un(der)paid toil extracted by merchants who would credit themselves for the industry of slaves, not to mention that of plant matter and the progressively depleted soil of the plantations. This concept of Cheap Nature, encompassing ‘Cheap Food’, ‘Cheap Energy’, ‘Cheap Raw Materials’, and ‘Cheap Labour’, all priced in a way that ignores the long-term consequences of systemic overwork, takes us to the heart of what Jason W. Moore reclassifies as the ‘Capitalocene’. But there’s also another, vital, ‘cheap’ at stake, here:1 one that cuts across the binary of nature and culture, forcing us to see the collapse of planetary ecosystems in terms of the degradation of our artefactual environments, and the undue stress that this places on our biological functioning. Let us call it Cheap Desire, in reference to a will that business-as-usual needs to be infinite, and whose exhaustion has led to increased reliance on the industrial manufacture of habitual and frequently addictive consumption, or what I have termed ‘dopamining’. The long-standing but increasingly explicit elicitation of dopamine release in the human limbic system functions as the under-acknowledged engine of contemporary economics, not least because it goes hand-in-hand with our enforced adaptation to the disadjusted environments in which we consume. Biologists like Paul R. Ehrlich have been warning2 for years of the risk posed to our health and intelligence by endocrine-disrupting pollutants, but the reciprocal reinvention of humans and the technosphere is yet more3 profound than even this warning implies. The Anthropos of the Anthropocene is one whose biochemistry is undergoing constant modulation by extractive technologies that engineer consumptive habits to maintain the waning levels of demand around which global order is organised. In the words of Bruce Alexander, addiction has moreover been ‘globalised’ through the exploitation of the very nervous system through which we interact with and learn from our surroundings. And this, in turn, is inseparable from capitalism’s production of ‘psychosocial dislocation’, a term that names our withdrawal4 from the artifactual deadzones of a traumatised planet.
When Jason Moore speaks of the ‘Capitalocene’, he does so to avoid holding the planet’s various populations equally responsible for an ecological crisis (that is more than a crisis) caused vastly disproportionately by the ‘developed’ capitalist economies of the prevailing world system. In so doing, he runs the risk of unduly exonerating us from complicity. A more nuanced assignation of responsibility comes from reframing the problem of causality in relation to habit-creation and the manipulation of the pleasure circuitry of the brain. The American historian, David T. Courtwright, has coined the expression ‘limbic capitalism’ to describe the coupling of the entrepreneurial exploitation of the ‘evolved drives’ of our neural infrastructure of reward, with the provision of goods and services designed ‘to cope with the damage’ inflicted by free markets on the psychosocial structures that enable us to absorb the shock of change.5 Limbic capitalism has been brought to the fore by the combination of relentless work, precarity and deficient social support systems, which places the burden of coping firmly on the side of individuals whose only survival mechanisms become the panoply of cures-for-sale offered up for consumption by the market. We willingly submit to bombardment by ever more refined forms of stimulation to distract us from the perturbations of a market system that - be it via workplace deregulation, or through the imposition of structural adjustment programmes on developing countries - systematically dissolves communities’6 capacity to employ collective niche construction in the service of vitality. Bringing together both Moores and Courtwright gives us the ‘limbic Capitalocene’: an epochal disaster encompassing not just the planet and human civilisation, but one moreover rooted in a retreat into oblivion that Alexander describes as a ‘rational’, ‘adaptive’ response of the entropic climate in which we labour. Ecological7 catastrophe is less about a surfeit of human ecosystem-engineering than its absence: the surrender of agency to an automation of the nervous system by technologies that think and feel in our place. The result is a vicious cycle of excess, where climate change is biochemically intertwined with the overworking of the dopamine system, produced by the ever more efficacious doses of intoxicants we consume to anaesthetise ourselves against the impact of social breakdown.
* * *
The crux of our collective pathology revolves around the relationship between human niche construction and the neurotransmitter, dopamine, whose functions include the facilitation of experiential learning, habituation and anticipation, and higher levels of which - albeit only up to a point - therefore prove highly adaptive to those living through anxiogenic periods of instability. To put this in the recent language of Yuk Hui, the8 dopamine system works to absorb contingency into an iterative routine, by bringing us to crave the stability of habitual repetition. The release of the neurotransmitter enables us to cope, and its relation to managing uncertainty, in particular, explains why it has arguably played a vital role in both making and now unmaking the modern, globalised, world. Writing in The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History, the psychologist Fred Previc links the increased presence of dopamine in the brain to the rise of ‘abstract intelligence, exploratory drive, urge to control and conquer’, as well as acquisitiveness, goal- and future-directedness, long-term planning and the pursuit of religious and scientific truth. The shift plays out over the course of human ecological history,9 beginning with prehistorical changes in diet before intensifying around 6,000 years ago, alongside the growing need to compete for resources and ensuing calculations of settled societies. Building on arguments by Jaynes and Cassirer among others, we can identify10 the rise of cities as a significant source of this growth of competition, because it removed people from the familiar, small-scale networks of extended family life and transplanted them into urban settlements where they had to ‘suppress suspicion of others’, negotiate cultural politics and ‘adapt to densely crowded neighbourhoods’ of complete strangers: ‘unfamiliarity became the measure of human relations’. The result of this heightened11 stress, Previc argues, was neurochemical imbalance, triggered by the depletion of serotonin and norepinephrine relative to dopamine. He goes on to posit that the reorganisation of society around dopamine was a decisive factor in colonialism, the rise of capitalism and the Enlightenment - and has become even more pronounced since the second, ‘hyperdopaminergic’, half of the twentieth century.
‘Hyperdopaminergic society’ describes the neoliberal era of enforced adaptation to the demands of free markets; the ideology of ‘disruption’; and the proliferating use of dopamining techniques to colonise the ‘available brain time’ of consumers. ‘A highly dopaminergic society is fast-paced and even manic, given that dopamine is known to increase activity levels, speed up our internal clocks and create a preference for novel over unchanging environments’. Previc reels off a list of ‘hyperdopaminergic disorders’,12 including depression, obsession-compulsion, autism, schizophrenia, Tourette’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Phenomena like ‘white morbidity’ and the American13 opioid crisis, to say nothing of mounting evidence of the debilitations of time spent staring at the screens of our digital devices, mean that we should also add addiction to this grouping of disorders. Previc also suggests that, while posing potentially ‘the greatest threat to mental health’ in the industrialised and post-industrial world, their dopamine-related prevalence is ‘much rarer or at least less severely manifested in non-industrial societies’. Emerging research on the under-diagnosis of mental illness in14 the developing world raises questions about the latter part of this claim. Data equally15 points to worsening addiction rates across the globe - non-medical use of the opioid painkiller Tramadol is ‘soaring in parts of Africa’ and rising in Asia, too - , and for much16 the same reasons as in the global West: a combination of heightened supply and environmental factors that compel recourse to prosthetic support. This globalisation of addiction should not surprise us. The adaptationist economics underpinning the manufacture of dependence in the West is a direct continuation of the policies of dependence-inculcation first trialled and imposed on Africa and Latin America through the ‘structural readjustment’ programmes of the IMF and WTO. The effect of both has been sustained disadjustment, where consumption comes to substitute for community-led vitality and social support systems.
. we can moreover read continuity into the economic circumstances that create addiction - This claim need not presuppose the classical (and, it is now argued, outdated) ‘disease model’, which treats dependence as a neurobiological disorder of the ‘hijacked’ dopamine system, either. Newer approaches understand addiction in terms of the viciously circular moulding of neuroplastic synaptic circuits around the dominant sources of stimulus, where the brain adapts to circumstance by narrowing focus around environmental cues that, at least initially, are experienced as liable to yield reward. The same process is also bound up with dopamine-desensitisation, enabling us to turn away from stress through ever higher doses of informational stimulus sufficient to drown out competing and often traumatic demands for attention. This is what we saw with the ‘Gin Craze’ of anomic, industrialising London, and in the gambling and opium dens through which the dislocated peoples of dopaminergic society absorbed the disadjustments of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
And it is also what we saw in India, Africa, with opium etc But those periods differed from our hyper-dopaminergic present in that epidemics of addiction tended to fade out as societies readjusted their norms around hitherto disruptive technologies. The contemporary pattern of multiple, overlapping addictions, continually replaced by exciting new ones, coincides not just with decreasing periods of time for ‘readjustment’ between waves of technological-stimulatory overload, but also with a metanarrative of unending adaptation that leaves us struggling to equate curativity with intermittent, ‘hormetic’, doses. A constant state of excitation has become the17 ideological rule, irrespective of the longer-term damage this inflicts on our capacity for normativity.18
Dopamine is linked to globalisation, on the one hand, by its contribution to abstract spatialisation, exploration, conquest and the pursuit of stimulation; on the other, by its links to the destruction of locality to which we are now bearing witness. If the history of dopaminergic society is coextensive with that of the stresses and seductions of the city, with the latter now collapsing at the centre, the two may yet also prove coterminous. Much recognisably modern state-building was also born of the pressures of urban intoxication. Where ‘the antidiarrheal properties of narcotics and the antimicrobial properties of alcohol’ took the edge off cholera-infested water, the building of waterworks and public fountains provided both hygiene and alternative sources of much-needed stimulation. Public parks and spaces worked to similar19 counter-stimulatory effect - and their disappearance is recognised as one of several factors contributory factors in the rise of ADHD. One of the great problems of the20 digital stage of dopamining is that is that the analogue alternatives are insufficiently attractive. If the city just about survives as a commercial entity, what it now sells is primarily habits for coping (coffee, vaping, mobile phones). As a site of ritual coming together and localised point-of-retreat, it has largely given way to the delocalised, virtual microspheres of Amazon, Netflix and social media.
Hence, more broadly, the irony of our unfurling planetary crisis: it corresponds to the fracturing of the world, understood in the Heideggerian sense of an ecology of possibility. Bruno Latour has recently analysed the politics of climate change disavowal around the idea of ‘l’absence d’un monde commun à partager’. Faced with the choice21 between sacrificing their way of living, or maintaining business-as-usual at the price of condemning vast swathes of the globe to devastation, Latour argues, governing elites have retreated from the aspiration to rule in the interests of the many, and simply seek to sequester themselves away in privatised niches, from whence they can ride out the Apocalypse. His argument works equally as a description of a much greater spectrum of limbic Anthropocenic behaviour, insofar as disavowal - a classic symptom of addiction - has become the default mode of experience; insofar as we are all seemingly engaged in a process of withdrawal from the universal public spaces formerly characterised by joint attention, collective projects and what Jacques Rancière would call a ‘common aisthesis’. In dopamined, addictogenic society, the shared world succumbs, in the recent words of22 Maurizio Ferraris, to ‘monadisation’, or fragmentation into the hermetically23 self-contained bubbles of private islands, gated communities, internet echo chambers in which one can escape the constraints of symbolic misery. The reference to bubbles, here, recalls not only the filter bubbles evoked by Eli Pariser, but also the social and24 psychological structures of immunity, the ‘capsule architectures’ and ‘foam’ of Peter Sloterdijk: ‘In foam worlds, the individual bubbles are not absorbed into a single, integrative hyper-orb’, but remain separate. The limbic Capitalocene reveals itself as just25 the latest stage of the foaming of the world into capsules. According to the psychiatrist Daniel Casriel, this search for insularity and ‘safe spaces’ is exactly what is at stake in addiction. Casriel understood ‘encapsulation’ as a third way of coping for those maladapted for ‘fight or flight’. And his generation of26 drug therapists sought to counter the tendency towards withdrawal by recreating a bridge between the zones of retreat of the addict and the sphere of the public - by reabsorbing individual bubbles of foam into an integrated, shared world. Before being derailed by consumerism and the shift of policy-making towards the War Against Drugs, proponents of this resynthesis of the public also ran up against the long-established logic of seeking to replace toxic addictions with others deemed beneficial (for example, to work or religion). fell foul of political refusal of pharmacology - the search for an absolute cure emancipated from toxicity
Even during the 1970s, therapeutic communities like Phoenix House were accused of functioning as ‘encapsulated addict worlds’, where addicts were allowed to27 live without thought for their reinsertion into the shared space from which they had withdrawn through addiction.
Casriel’s question of how re-engineer integration should now be reprised for planetary detox. On this point, Catherine Malabou has already written of the search for ‘new addictions’ to counter the ‘addictive processes’ that ‘have in large part caused the Anthropocene’. To succeed, we shall also need to treat the underlying causes28 hyper-dopaminergic society