Draft 6.0

The Revenge against Post-Modernism:

Resonance, resolution and agency (aka "identity").


The Revenge against Post-Modernism

People like Jordan Petersen and Donald Trump and their followers (subconsciously), still, 40 or 50 years on, resent post-modernism, and are out to get their revenge. But modernism is dead (see elsewhere) so their only possible response is a reductionist version of connectivism, in a desperate (and even - clinically - hysterical) attempt to displace the emergence of a constructive ecological / complex-adaptive networks approach with an everything goes approach. This is the key difference that has to be described, implemented, monitored, and (if necessary) policed. The alternative is one in which every failed actor (e.g. POTUS) can become a ham performance 'artist', particularly on a perverted version of Twitter, where they can hide their illiteracy behind brevity. tbc ...

We live life forwards, and make sense of it backwards. So the first thing to do is to find out where we are, and then find out how we got here (I will use a negative numbering system [-1.1, etc], to map out these archeologies). Our task is to understand the power of civilization and the civilization of power, the incipient physics envy that has plagued social policy for a very long time, and the role that various types of emergence have (or have not) played in the process over the years.

We are living in a global village in one continuously unfolding global time, with global connections through global contact numbers and social media addresses. There are no externalities left. As President Macron said to the US Congress: "there is no planet B" (April 2018), or as David Attenborough said on BBC television: "you can no longer throw plastics away when you have finished using them - there is no away left anymore (May 2018). If anything, this is worse than Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, or Bob Dylan's Hard rain's a gonna fall, because unlike the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) of the cold war, it looks like there is going to be something left after all, and we will be fated to live through it, in what could be our own, agonisingly slow, 6th, mass extinction, and it will indeed end "not with bang, but with a whimper" (T. S. Eliot).

We need a whole range of co-emerging factors to describe this, each of which has its own dynamics. The interaction between these factors is anything but straightforward - literally or figuratively. This is a first draft for a retrospective archeology of this multi-path emergence - not to try to detect trends that might yield their secrets, and provide predictable outcomes, but rather to unpack the archeology of continuing, emergent, parallel, reflexive, histories - for that is, fundamentally, what we have to manage. It's life in the Anthropocene Era, and we'd better get used to it.

In no particular order, these co-emergent factors include the emergence of ... [WIP]:

  • Instinctual behavior, uses, resonance, affordances, signs, resolution – peer /crowd/mob /botz /institutionalized resolution.
  • Deferred need satisfaction, family, community, nation/religious state/ empire / virgins (etc) in paradise.
  • Social semiotics and abstraction … from synaesthesia to AA (autonomous algorithms)
  • Modes of production of collaboration and/or power: communication, interaction, knowledge ... the capacity for effective action/ surveillance.
  • Authority: Personal authority, leading to the frictionless shock and awe of bureaucratic/ industrialised markets / modernism /complexity
  • Natural / artificial materials /pollution
  • Discourses – the game you’re in – and you better be a player – e.g. N Korea – denuclearisation of K peninsula / evicting the USA/ Nato from its Korean 'unsinkable aircraft carrier'.

All of these pivots on the changing balance between predictability and emergence, with industrialisation commandeering the whole field for most of the last 200 years or so, by delivering the goods of modernist science and technology. Our challenge is stop, get off this rollercoaster, assess the collateral damage, and re-engage with Gaia on quite different terms.

Social change is driven by shifts in the establishment and maintenance of influence and power. This has always been the case - since the time of our animal ancestors. The next generation of top dogs just uses what they have to hand - the affordances of their environment. When these change, different types of people / animals flourish, by using their unique abilities to reach down into the new capillaries of power (privacy, intimacy and 'objectivity' in our case), and shift themselves into the control modules of the global financial markets, and of the marketplaces of opinion. In Darwinian terms, the new kids on the block establish themselves as fittest to adapt the new environments to their own particular ends.

Affordances are the potential competencies and opportunities that arise, historically, from unique resonances across three fields of expression/use: genes, memes (social, commercial and bureaucratic practices), and temes (technically embedded and embodied practices) - in particular, in social networks and autonomous algorithms: i.e. AA, not AI. [See Susan Blackmore for her analysis of on genes, memes and temes, and our pandoran society]. The role of new affordances can be seen in many examples of shifts in power in the new eras of, for instance: the British privateers [aka pirates]; the 250,000 man private army of the British East India Company; the slave traders; the 'big-man' industrialists; the nationalist celebrities/demagogues/dictators; venture and vulture capitalists and, most recently, the geeks, the oligarchs, ISIS, and the new drivers of the ironically named freemium business model of surveillance capitalism, along with the global commodification of intimacy and privacy (Facebook, Google and Amazon, and their Chinese counterparts).

To put it simply, these are the new animals in the emergent socio-economic zoos. Some of the biggest players, the billionaires, make an effort to look pretty and/or innocuous: e.g. Zuckerberg - below, or Bill & Melinda Gates, who now contribute - and therefore control - 25% of the budget of the World Health Organisation ...

Zuck 3.jpeg
Zuckerberg - who called his first clients "dumb fucks"for giving him all their personal data

not to mention the rebranded Alpha-bet (surely no pun intended?), or just in-your-face alpha-blonde-maned-[comb-over]-lions: e.g. Trump, an ironic parody of a transexual glamour model, just like the bare-chested Putin, who is an ironic gay pinup. (Fusion is the new black). These shifts in power may cause confrontation, or they may just displace and marginalise the existing top dogs, until a point is reached where the establishment tries to retake the higher ground - (see the bumbling 2018 US Congress hearings on Facebook), or until a new consensus emerges.

1. End Game for Modernity

The biggest shift of them all is the end of modernism/modernity/physics envy.

Many decades ago, the post-modernists had great fun pointing out that the modernists 'had no clothes on'. Latour has taken that debate a lot further over the years, particularly in his latest book, Facing Gaia. Bauman explores both the holocaust as the nadir of modernity, and modernity's latter day unravelling (in Liquid Love, etc). The shift from modernity to the Anthropocene Era (see Latour, above) will be protracted, and may never reach a clear-cut or even successful resolution, but it is fundamental to what we do, and whether we survive as a species.

1.1 The end of science?
No - rather, the end of modernist science and knowledge, which was the resonant core of modernity - i.e. of the global objectification and commoditization of: commerce, production, governance, knowledge, and communication and interaction - or life, in short. We now have to re-cognize (literally and figuratively), the ‘terrible beauty’ that was born with the creation of mathematics and science. Whether we unfairly exploited ‘Nature’ or not is now besides the point. Its done. We have already fundamentally destabilized what was already a fragile ecology, and we are continuing to do so. Whatever we do, there is no chance that we will be able return to what are we once believed was a 'stable state of Nature’.

1.2 The Delusion of Externalities and Freedom
Modernism was above all the delusion of a core of 'true' knowledge that could be applied universally, within an endlessly elastic domain of ‘externalities’ - the market, or ‘nature’, or the Empire (of your choice), which is: i) always going to be resilient enough to mop up all the detritus, junk and pollution extruded from our modernist projects; &/or, ii) not ‘our’, the first World’s, or the global 1%’s, problem; &/or, iii) something that will be taken care of by a metaphysical 'externality', e.g. God’s divine plan (fill in a deity / sect of your choice here ...); &/or, iv) the next generation’s problem, which wont affect ‘our’ children, because we have set up adequate offshore trust-funds/State-captured dynasties to take care of that.

Global-commoditization is really a single, fusion meme. The whole point of commoditization is the global projection of agency and/or power on the one hand, and accumulation and manipulation of globally liquid financial and intellectual assets on the other hand. Since time immemorial, it has aspired to unfettered global reach, and ‘capture’. The ‘world’ has always seemed to grow bigger and bigger to accommodate this, but now there’s nowhere left to grow, except into your/our minds via your Facebook account.

-1.1 The rise and fall of objectivity, and physics envy
Commoditization started well, (the advent of modern science, technology e.g. the Antikythera machine, and currency) in about the the 6th Century B.C, in Athens), and came to provide undreamed of affordances to trade, exchange ideas on science and technology, accumulate and deploy intellectual and financial capital, create nation states, regulate governance and the transfer of political power, and more recently to interact and communicate with anyone and any ideas on the planet – at ever diminishing cost - although there is now the ironic cost that we, the users, are becoming the commodity (courtesy of the algorithms of Big Data) which is the inversion of the once promised ‘explosion of freedom’ – see below).

Like language, commoditization is a powerful force for expansion of the human horizon and human agency. But it is written in the increasingly abstract ‘languages’ of numbers and mathematics, computer code, and ‘AI’ (autonomous intelligence), as the metamorphosis of use value into exchange value takes place, and takes on a life of its own.

This explosion of freedom is based on stripping out all context and subjectivity, in the service of ‘objectivity’. But the dialectics of this cumulative increase of freedom and autonomy inevitably turns on itself, when there is no longer an additional ‘other’ (culture, land, country, ocean, space, raw material, technology, etc.) to ‘acquire’ and to metamorphose /monetize / weaponize into commodities, and when the accumulation of capital goes feral. Or to put it another way ...

  • The freedom and autonomy that results from stripping away context and subjectivity (in the commoditisation of financial or intellectual property, etc) facilitates open ended capital accumulation. That is good as far as it goes, as it allows for an increase in wealth and commerce (of financial and material assets, and science and technology) within ever expanding markets and/or projections of interaction/power. It's what the technologically much more advanced (but far too conservative) Chinese empires missed out on for centuries - until recently.
  • However … without effective constraints (‘negative' ones are required, if you want to develop these systems / networks as resilient, emergent, and self-correcting), this eventually runs out of new fields to discover and exploit, and conquest/power becomes an end in itself. This takes the form of more and more abstract and powerful forms of science and technology, and more and more abstract forms of financial capital (the infamous derivatives of derivatives that caused the 2008 global crisis, and algorithms that are 'understood' only by the AI programmes that create them.
  • So the process of abstraction, if left without constraints, becomes uncontrollable freedom or, simply, chaos, or autonomous algorithms that are not open to scrutiny (see autonomy in the Ontology). The complex-adaptive systems tip over from the (creative, innovative, and playful) “edge of chaos” into ‘feral’ or unfettered chaos / dysfunctional concentrations of capital, which are difficult if not impossible to control.
  • In short, if the enthusiasm for freedom and abstraction and exchange is left to run wild, it inevitably loses touch completely with its context - to such an extent that it threatens the very existence of the complex-emergent ecology (i.e Gaia) within which it exists.
  • The ultimate commoditization is the commoditization of freedom, or liberty which, once it is decoupled from fraternity and equality, goes rogue and feral.

The domain of ‘externalities’ disappears too, as the game of commoditization becomes counterproductive and threatens to eat itself up, and everybody else, too.

Modernist game over. (Unless we hasten the planet’s end-game, and just go back to war, which seems to be rapidly coming back into fashion in the US/ex-SU, not to mention China).


Draft 4.0
Resonances of knowledge/s

Communication and social interaction have always been based on resonance, and embodied cognition. Wittgenstein said "meaning is use"; Barthes said "every use becomes a sign of itself", and Eco defined a sign as "something that can be used to lie". To put it another way, the difference machines which are the basis of all semiotics arise from being embodied in personal use and, simultaneously, embedded in social interaction and relationships. Meaning is, fundamentally, socially shared, even though it can also be used to divide and rule. In the process, semiotics can and often does become abstracted from the purely personal.

What resonates today, and what counts for knowledge -(i.e. the capacity for effective action) has changed radically with the unprecedented growth and reach of social media. We have now regressed (or devolved) into the early stages of a new (and terminal?) geological era, the Anthropocene era, in which all of McLuhan's worst nightmares of a tribalist, fractured and fractious global village seem to have come home to roost. We don't seem to know what to do with our new freedoms; our reach exceeds our grasp.

It might be useful to describe these socio-economic changes as fundamental changes in affordances - i.e. the smorgasbord of techniques for exploration, innovation, and exploitation available in a particular era. Or to put it another way, affordances are the potential competencies that arise, historically, from unique resonances across these fields of expression/use: genes, memes (social practices), temes (technically embedded &/or embodied practices) and, in particular, autonomous algorithms (i.e. AA, not AI). [See Blackmore for a further exploration of genes, memes and temes].

Particular affordances are expressions of a person's interaction within these resonances du jour, and provide new opportunities for different kinds of people to emerge as dominant in the new environments. For example: the eras of the British privateers [aka pirates] and the 250,000 man private armies of the East India Company; the 'big-man' industrialists; the nationalist demagogues/dictators; venture and vulture capitalists and, most recently, the geeks and the oligarchs. Or to put it simply, new animals in the emergent socio-economic zoos/ecologies.

Time and space ... sdfgsdg


Modernism (aka Fordism, aka Mass Production/Media/Extermination/Consumption, etc ...) provided unprecedented affordances for aggregation and projection of financial and military power and influence. It was based on standardisation, narrowing the memes of production, restricting the range of acceptable norms, thereby increasing the domain of the Other - the social, religious, political, and economic externalities or, more to the point, collateral wastage. Its a one-size-fits-all paradigm, and a society that sticks, rigidly, to going straight down the middle, trying to force the social sciences and the humanities into total control and predictability via social engineering.

Despite the best protestations of liberalism, such modernism is radically intolerant and, in the parlance of the 60's critique, it is thoroughly uptight. Its social values are defined as self-evident rights (see the US Constitution), which are given, carte blanche, to individuals, regardless of context. When asked to comment on even more ambitious Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN, Gandhi was the lone voice of dissent. He said he was opposed to the whole idea, as people should, indeed, have universal responsibilities, but rights should be earned, not given.

Post-modernism provided the theoretical framework that unmasked the pretensions of modernism, that can be summed up in the aphorism: For every complex problem there is a simple answer, and it's inevitably wrong. It mainly targeted the social sciences, leaving the natural sciences, and their more rigorous empiricism and predictability, largely unscathed.

The Anthropocene (more a confession of guilt than a badge of honour) picks up the threads of complexity theory inherent in post-modernism (see Paul Cilliers [add link]) and finally buries modernism's pretentions and denials in the social as well as the natural sciences (see Bruno Latour [add link]). The anthropocene ...

Draft 2.0
Approaching 2020, our social world changed substantially from the late 20th Century. As always, there are continuities and changes, progressions and reversals. This article outlines some of the key changes in the way knowledge is created and exploited as we move on from the remnants of governance systems based on a bureaucratic, modernist, centralised, and narrow set of tools (bureaucratic rules), to a system based on a networked, fractured, decentralised, flexible, emergent set of tools (affordances).

In one sense this is just going full circle - back to the time before the rule of the bureaucrats, but in another sense it radically ups the stakes as we move into a truly global society in which everything is connected to everything, and everything is to play for. In the process, many elements of bureaucratic rule are transformed, rather than discarded.

The narratives of modernist governance are framed within values of stability and predictability, and ordered progress. The narratives of emergent governance, on the other hand, are framed within values of connectivity, networking, resilience, and pop-up innovation and change. As someone tweeted rather desperately in the 2106 US election campaign "if you want two genders rather than 96 different ones, vote for Trump".

One of the premises which this article explores is that both ways of ordering society (aka discourses) share a notion of resonance, albeit in very different ways. Another premise is that although emergent networks are, relentlessly, replacing modernist systems, these changes - like all broad social changes - are inevitably contested, sometimes reversed, and seldom if ever established across an entire society, let alone the world. Ruling is always a mixed bag, and new kids on the block are seldom welcomed.

The continuity is that people with power, or who aspire to power, always seek to impose their systems of differences on their world - whether it is just a tiny corner of it, or the whole damn thing. They work with what they've got - the set of available tools and resources to hand to reach down into the capillaries of power in the body politic, to mould it to their imaginations, and impose their values, order, and dis/comfort zones on it. They then settle down to enjoy. If it changes, they try to change with it.

Pornographers, artists, and fraudsters are usually in the forefront of changes in adopting new media technologies and exploiting the new affordances. Steve Bannon, as chief advisor to the Trump campaign, advocated chaos as the only way to achieve substantial change. Barely one year into his Presidency Trump fires him, having decided that he quite likes the way things are turning out, and certainly isn't going to let anyone destroy it. In early 2018, he announces that he is determined to maintain his role as a "very stable genius" - time will tell.

The powerful, the people with loads of social, financial and cultural status and capital, create and accumulate ever more know-how (or knowledge - the capacity for effective action) to consolidate and defend it. They invest in it, accumulate it aggressively, and spread it around, although only enough to ensure that it is the only game in town. They try to create a strong resonance across society for their modus operandi (aka knowledge, aka civilization, aka civilised values, whether it is the deity/religion du jour &/or representative democracy &/or mafia (state) rule, &/or feng shui principles of architecture &/or a unique twitter style, etc).

They do this through a process which ideally establishes resonance as widely as possible, and then transforms it into self-evident memes and algorithms (aka wisdom). The US Constitution is the most explicit example of this, ever. The current attempted take-over of the universe by the geeks of Silicon Valley could be the next big example, if they manage to hoover all of us up into an AI world which only they can understand - and hack.

Knowledge comes in many different forms and, with the internet, a lot more people see themselves as knowledgeable. This article takes that at face value, and explores, with an open mind, what people now mean by knowledge. It has definitely changed. This approach emphasises the new, micro/global relationships in the instantly connected ecologies of our tribalist global village, and we need a new ontology - or in fact a nested ontology of resonances, to do that.

We all seem to agree that knowledge is the capacity for effective action. Where we differ is: who decides what acceptable knowledge is, who decides what acceptable action is, and where and how the acceptability (of knowledge and effective action), is decided. Or to put it another way, there are very different views on what we should do about the fusion/elision/confusion/merger & acquisition - of epistemology by politics? In our networked, emergent, post/post-modernist, fractured global village, we have not yet worked out how to manage our different reference points, or evern to agree that there is any global consensus left. Liberal democracy's hegemony is rather threadbare.

Metaphysics seems to exacerbate this problem, but does that mean that metaphysics should be excluded from the domain of knowledge? No - many people and cultures use metaphysics to frame everything that they do. Which makes it a strong framework for their capacity for effective action. Perhaps it would be best to regard metaphysics as type of resonance (and politics) of a particular (mythological) kind, in which the overriding resonance is only accessible to self-defined and self-selected believers. Non-believers / apostates / heathens can by definition only undermine / threaten / pollute the beliefs, practices, and well-being of the self-selected. In the broader/global population there is by definition, no agreed factual basis for such beliefs, but they nevertheless inform the capacity for (what is seen as) effective action.

There is however a wide ranging spectrum of metaphysical beliefs and practices, including both religious and political (or both), from the very open to the entirely closed.

WIP ...