Proliferating Futures (Re: Californian Ideology)

By Franco Beradi, 10 March 1996

Re: Californian Ideology

1: Proliferating Futures What about the Becoming of the Net? We cannot describe the Net as one single process of Becoming, but as proliferation of different coexisting processes. Therefore we can't make a statement about the future of the Net. Many different futures will coalesce within it.

Different intentions can enter the Net, different processes of semiotization can coevolute. The Net is not a territory, but a multiplanary Sphere. Infinite plateaux are rotating inside this Sphere. What is forbidden on one level can be done on another.

The Net cannot be conceptualized within the Hegelian concept of Totality. In Hegel, the Truth is the Whole. The Hegelian Whole is Aufhebung - the annihilation of every difference. In the Net, every connection between points of enunciation creates its own level of truth. Truth is only found in singularity.

In the Net, the world cannot be considered as the objective reference point of a process of enunciation. The world is the projection of enunciation itself.

Networking is the method of a new social paradigm - one that goes beyond the social oppositions and conceptual contradictions inherited from the modern world. Because capitalism is still in power, acting as the general semiotic code, the old social oppositions and conceptual contradictions are not vanishing yet. This is the reason why we are still concerned with the old problem of the State versus the Market. Notwithstanding the emergence of the Net, the State and the Market still exist.

2: High Tech Deregulation

The discourse about the Net (cyberculture) is still dominated by ideologies which are the legacy of the past twentieth century. Cyberculture is still dominated by the conceptual and political alternatives coming from the industrial society. A sort of high tech neo-liberalism is emerging from the American scene. In the theoretical core of this philosophical movement, I see a misunderstanding: the identification of technology with economics within the paradigm shift. Thinkers like Alvin Toffler, Kevin Kelly and Esther Dyson support the neo-liberal agenda of Newt Gingrich because, they argue, the free market is the best method for expanding free communications - and free communications are the key to the future world.

Sounds good, but what does the 'free market' mean? In the social framework of capitalism, free market means power to the strongest economic groups - and the absorption or elimination of society's intellectual energies.

Kevin Kelly, in 'Out of Control', says that, thanks to the digital technologies and computer networks, mankind is evolving into a superorganism, a new biological system. The biologisation of culture and society which is described by Kelly is nothing but the disappearance of any alternative from the social field, the absorption of intelligence itself within the framework of capitalist semiotization. The possibility of choice is denied, eradicated.

This is the main effect of the integration of technological development, scientific work and economic power. Michel Foucault describes the formation of modern society in terms of the imposition of discipline on the individual body and on social behaviour. What we are now witnessing is the making of what Gilles Deleuze defines as a society of control: the code of behaviour is being imprinted directly onto the mind through models of cognition, of psychic interaction. Discipline is no longer imposed on the body through the formal action of the law - it is printed in the collective brain through the dissemination of techno-linguistic interfaces inducing a cognitive mutation.

3: Old Alternatives are Misleading

In their article 'The Californian Ideology', Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron criticize the mystification of this high tech neo-liberalism. But what do they oppose it with? They talk of a European way - the way of the welfare state, public intervention within the economy, public control over technological innovation. Can we believe in this solution? I don't.

Barbrook and Cameron say that MINITEL in France has shown the possibility of a European way to build the Net. But this is pointless. This example shows exactly that public intervention cannot achieve this goal. MINITEL is a rigid and centralized system, unable to face the challenges of virtualization. And in Italy, the experience of Olivetti shows that it is impossible to develop innovation on the basis of state investment and controls. From this point of view, the American model of development is working better. It opens the way to creative innovations. It captures these innovations through techno-social interfaces.

Barbrook and Cameron say that Europe must oppose the process of globalization which is led by the U.S. But this idea is naive and dangerous. Stopping globalization, preserving identities: these are the ideas which are generating nationalism and fundamentalism. These are what are called retrofascism by Kroker and Weinstein in their book 'Data Trash'.

The war between neo-liberalism and the old fashioned welfare state is not over - as shown by the strikes of the French railwaymen. The struggles of Fordist workers will probably go on for a long time, but they are doomed to defeat. The strategic defeat of industrial labour has already happened - FIAT 1980, Peugeot, the Miners Union, Detroit were the stages of this defeat during the '80s. The marginalisation of industrial labour began in that period.

The new composition of social labour is marked by the emergence of the cognitariat - what Kroker and Weinstein call the 'virtual class'. The social labour of the collective intelligence, or general intellect as Marx calls it in 'The Grundrisse', remains dominated by capitalist social relations in spite of its formal independence. Marx distinguishes two different kinds of domination of capital over human activity: formal domination and real domination.

Formal domination is the legal imposition of discipline, the legal subordination of human time to the capitalist exploitation. Real domination is the technological and material dependence of social activity on the capitalist form of social relations. We are probably entering today a new phase of capitalist domination, beyond formal and real: mental domination, realized through the pervasiveness of the semiotic code of capital within the collective brain, within language, within the mind, and within the cognitional activity. The capitalist paradigm is imprinted on the collective intelligence, inside the techno-social interfaces, in the semiotic framework of social communications.

The alternative between policies of deregulation and policies of state intervention is a false alternative. There is no way of regulating capital. Capital is a proliferating process of semiotization, informing techno-social interfaces and producing neural pathways and frames of social interaction. Since capital is pervading all social relationships, it is the regulator, not the regulated. The problem is not the legal regulation of capitalism, the problem is capitalism itself.

The industrial world is fading, the industrial composition of labour is dissolving, and a new composition of social activity is emerging. But the capitalist code is still pervading it. And in its current virtual (dis)incarnation, capitalism seems to be a system without any alternative. The alternative cannot be found in the past.

Franco Beradi (Bifo)id the author of author of Neuromagma

Proud to be Flesh