When the world’s on fire, it will not be an artificial intelligence that puts it out. What is needed is a common intelligence, a use of technology that can build a non-oppressed social body. What’s beyond the apocalyptic singularity daughter of the anthropocene? What’s beyond the technological drift that destroys energy resources?
Social cooperation must be radically rethought and must distance itself from the modern project as an exasperation of control through the technical domain on nature and bios. We need to better understand how large-scale social cooperation is destroying the planet, creating economic inequalities, and the power of life and death along the lines of gender and race.
The social cooperation that is destroying the planet and reproducing exploitation processes on multiple levels is inscribed in our bodies. We want to travel around the world with airplanes, have a big car, devote so much attention to the luminous screens of our social devices, we want these techniques of construction of social cooperation. But these same techniques control us, impoverish us, make us sad and put the Amazon on fire. This ontological contradiction is interesting to me. Why do we value what oppresses us?
Let’s follow an unconventional methodology. This essay aims to be an exercise in sharing questions and references. I will try to define the boundaries of a struggle and identify its possible alliances.
What do we value?
Talking about value is not just an issue of money, finance, logistics, work automation and the cost of living. Talking about value also means talking about what interests us. It’s a question of body and subjectivity. Something acquires a value that we are willing to pay, only starting from the fact that we want it. We are willing to pay to realize ourselves, to build our future, to escape from our anxieties and fears, to satisfy our needs. In this sense, a question to start with is how does our desire work?
In 1970 Pierre Klossowski writes La monnaie vivante (The Living Currency) In it he makes an important reading of the relationship between sexuality and capitalism. Klossowski puts the theory of value in direct relation to the theory of desire. Michel Foucault will write a letter to Klossowski in which he greets the manuscript as the most important text of the 20th century. In reading this text are these questions: what do we value? Why are we willing to work, to struggle and make all the sacrifices we make? And why is the value we give to things a social experience? That is to say, why does the desire to do something, give importance to something, define an economy, a circulation of values? But above all, why do those who acquire value are objects, needs, hopes, future scenarios, political projects, or an equivalent as abstract as that of money? Why in the face of the need to satisfy our impulses, which are different, amoral, libidinal, inconsistent, non-negotiable, do we construct objects, social architectures, fantasies of every kind in which we identify ourselves?
Klossowski says that each of us is made up of a multiplicity of impulses that we cannot keep together. These impulses are contradictory and changeable, so instead of satisfying them we create ghosts, fictitious identities, to which we dedicate our whole life to satisfy. Instead of satisfying the multiplicity of our impulses, we build phantoms or fantasies, which we later wish to achieve.
A blind faith in technology
According to Klossowski, imagination always creates a debt. The concepts of fantasy, phantasm and fiction are directly connected to the concept of debt. We invest in an object the expectation of what we do not have. Capitalism, which is not stupid, transforms desire into induced needs. We thus find ourselves wishing for a series of things to which we will dedicate our whole life, like a job, a series of objects and lifestyles that we cannot do without having or achieving. This imaginative force, this collective production of ghosts / fictions and the circulation of desire is what creates an enormous debt, to which we dedicate all our life and that of future generations to repay. And that’s why we love, we want a good job, beautiful cars and beautiful women, being famous, social fictions that bind us and suddenly become undisputed social needs. Even Maurizio Lazzarato in La fabbrica dell ‘uomo in debitato, describes the debt as a permanent anthropological situation that defines the existence of the post-Fordist person. The imperative of having to repay a debt in order to be able to be successful, and the production of subjectivity that derives from it, in hindsight, has its roots more in religion than in secular political economy: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors ”. In the Our Father (Lord’s prayer), the most important Christian prayer, salvation is invoked in proportion to our ability to repay debts. And, again as Lazzarato points out, in German there is only one word to define both guilt and debt: “Schuld”.
In modernist design, while fantasy creates a debt to the real, technology shows how to implement it. In short, capitalism transforms desire into the naturalization of certain needs, and need transforms desire into a functional program. This is how we move from a series of non-negotiable impulses to a functional program that defines what is useful to do.
For this reason, there is no opposition between faith, trust, cooperation and technology. It is necessary to have faith and to cooperate (to obey the same protocols) to implement the program. In the modernist project faith in a collective project that must be realized goes hand in hand with the social algorithms we need to implement it.
In The Question Concerning Technology in China: An Essay in Cosmotechnics, Yuk Hui places Western thought at the end of the path undertaken with the Enlightenment project, characterized by the invention of the role of science and technology as opposed to that of nature. Mathematics and technique are the place where humanity can dominate/defend/control and rationalize the bios. The project is about to finish, in his opinion, because humanity at the end of this program dissolves in the technical aspects. Humanity realizes that it is nothing more than an algorithm and that around it there are much faster and much more powerful algorithms, which it will no longer be able to control. The Enlightenment project of determining nature through science leads to the predominance of technical singularity.
Yuval Noah Harari writes in Homus Deus that we are at a crossroads between techno-humanism and dataism. In the first scenario, we try to broaden the perceptive boundaries of the human species, increasing horizons through technological control. Dataism, on the other hand, is the religion to come, in which organic algorithms will dissolve in the flow of digital data and processors. Everything suggests that if in the past fantasy gave meaning to things and their functioning, now technology can transform every fantasy into reality and everything has lost its meaning. But are we so sure that the dichotomy between bodies, relational fabric, organic unity on the one hand, and technology, datafication and artificial intelligence on the other, is so clear?
Social cooperation is a techno-fiction
Matteo Pasquinelli in 3000 Years of Algorithmic Rituals: The Emergence of AI from the computation of Space recalls the image of the Agnicayana Indian rituals where the God shatters into pieces. The ritual consisted of the spatial reconstruction of the fragmented body of the God. The algorithm is this procedure in which the spatial division into units of measurement is ritualized. It is not unlike the first Artificial Intelligence prototypes in which a machine transforms space into processable units. This is the case of Perceptron (Frank Rosenblatt), the first artificial intelligence prototype to translate a real image into computable patterns.
I am in the Salt Museum of Trapani, Sicily where a guide explains to me how the extraction of salt from seawater worked for centuries. Until fifty years ago, workers worked hard in the sun singing all day to remove salt clods from the soil of the tanks and transport them to the drying areas. They sang together a song that had the function of counting the baskets of salt. At the same time, the singing kept the rhythm of the gathering action and each refrain progressively declared how many baskets were filled with salt. The chief supervisor, when he heard an entire round of verse ending, knew that 24 buckets had been harvested and marked an extra notch on a leather strap tied to his belly. In this way, at the end of the day, the piece rate was calculated, that is proportional to the amount of salt collected. The salary was distributed equally among all the workers in the group, because the value produced was the result of a cooperative work. The more we sweated at the same time, the more we earned at the end of the day. This is an example of how a pre-industrial algorithm defines a production process and how singing can be its calculation tool and, finally, how the story is rich in different patterns of attribution of the value produced. Social cooperation has always invented algorithms that transform the workforce into informational data and value units. The repetition of these protocols is a ritual that attributes and distributes linguistic values and meanings. In the Roman Empire, salt was used as a currency to pay for work and the word (from the Latin salis = sale) Salary as a pay of labour seems to derive from these rituals.
I’m sitting in a room full of people. Paul B. Preciado starts a conference in an art centre in Milan and says that first of all he wants to ask us a question: what’s the matter? What’s going on? What is happening is that necro-capitalism is implementing through technology a definition program of the bios and does so by trying to define the concept of nature, as a fiction-politics of domination. It refers to the definition of the concept of gender difference, the definition, the restriction, the simplification of what a man is and what a woman is, and the control over reproduction exemplifies the various processes of individuation that operates the techno-fiction policy. For Preciado, we have all always been built by technologies as subjects. The political action we must take is to become aware of what techno-political fictions we are constituted. This is the point. And in this opening there is the possibility of building new alliances and assemblages. Science is the new ideology, science is the new religion. Because science through the definition of a program, selects the fantasies in which to believe, and consequently the economy of our desire.
The oppressed is always under the carpet
Another important aspect of this construction of the fiction domain is the process of invisibility of the oppressed. Why doesn’t it work that Marilyn Monroe is a slave? Klossowski asks himself. Because Marilyn sells the simulacrum of the female to be desired. Marylin sells her body and cannot sell that anything else, as a fictional construction, transformed by Hollywood industry into a normalizing need for millions of spectators. The point is that it would not work in the same way if the truth were revealed, it would not be the same charm if it were treated as a slave.
In 2019, Italian feminists launched the demonstration on 8 March, focusing on the concept of strike from unpaid care work and free labor. I know to be hired as a saleswoman/caregiver/housewife/mother/teacher/scholar because the construction of my body produces the political fiction of the charming/nurturing/submissive/intelligent woman …, I know what that I am obliged to do, but for which I am not paid, it is this work of socially useful care. And this care work is invisible, unpaid, unrecognized. This implicit pact of oppression constructs this political fiction that produces recognized but unpaid value. And it does not matter that it is also crossed by rebellion, struggle, resistance and conflict. If you don’t give me a smile I’ll quit. In a similar way, Preciado creates the concept of techno-patriarchal baroque: “the result of the exercise of politics conceived as the sovereignty of a single body over the totality of the planet”. Baroque as the aesthetics of colonization, the baroque that hides the process of oppression and dispossession. The Baroque is the excess of “gold to show” to hide the oppressed.
This process of extracting value from reproductive aspects not recognized as “commonly understood work” has become for many commentators the true figure of our time. In other words, traditional capitalism has turned into bio-capitalism, that is, into a process of financialization of social reproduction. And for the most part, a social reproduction normalized by a techno-political exercise that makes the oppression invisible in favor of a bright oiled, and techno-futuristic baroque aesthetic.
In Art After Money Money After Art, Max Haiven analyses a similar process of financialization in artistic production. Contemporary artists are mostly slaves (low paid) at work to create simulacra, or objects that feed techno-political fictions. In the same way, the attitude to produce fictions and artistic narratives has spread within the society that needs more and more of a continuous creative information flow. As Gregory Sholette describes well with the concept of Dark Matter, the artistic creative production in the contemporary world has a huge invisible, non-visible weight, similar to the dark matter of which most of the universe is made, which reproduces the social body daily. The processes of financialization of art tend to capitalize on this value in the listing of few artists, treated as visible and glittering stars in the firmament, but which, on closer inspection, acquire value due to the continuous work of cultural production dispersed in society. Contemporary society makes us want to be creative, we cannot fail to be creative (Paolo Virno, Grammar of the Multitude), but this work of normative subjectification is not paid and, consequently, for a process of financialization, the value of this social function is expropriated and valued in a few luxury circuits. Again the baroque gold that hides new forms of oppression.
What’s to be done?
For the avoidance of doubt, I believe it is impossible to leave the world, that is to say, to exit from techno-political social cooperation. Preciado says that to reject the baroque techno patriarchy, that is to reject the power of life and death exercised by the sovereignty of a single body over the totality of the planet, it is necessary to “open the pill, decode the technologies that produce the political fictions that we believe to be”. We need to open the black box in which it is written how we were programmed and constructed as subjects.
In other words, we must dis-identify from the baroque normative financialization processes. We must assemble new common fictions, reprogram ourselves differently. We must build body. But the construction of a fiction of another body is slow. How can we embody this process of hacking the oppressed subject? How to give body to a Common intelligence?
Klossowski commenting on the work of Sade and Fourier says that what is monetized is the value that social fictions create, money finally is nothing but ghost traffic. To get out of this type of trade, it is necessary to create other societies (and other circuits of value. For the first, they are the society of friends of crime while, for Fourier, the architecture of the Harmony Society. Although in a different way, for both the treatment has a common trait: it is necessary to control in a communal way how the desire turns into need, it is necessary to empty the ghost. The common trait of these cited cases is that the point of attack is in the technical construction of a body, a techno-political, architectural construction, a heretical, conflictual, sick, shapeless body, depraved, undermined and therefore resistant to patriarchy but, at the same time constituent, revolutionary movement. The concept that we have developed within the Commons movement starting from Italian movements has many features in common with this type of political analysis. The point is undoubtedly to conceive a form of common management of resources, both energy and data, capable of hacking monopolies (the unique body of the natural ruler).
Developing this program better, we realized that on one hand the common could only be an ongoing process: the commons are not already “given in kind” but are a “commoning” process: it was not a question of finding another utopian model, but to be within a constituent process. Common Intelligence could not have an architecture, a static form, but an architecture of a process that modifies itself over time and in conflict.
I therefore believe that a Common Intelligence means to understand in a single movement the stakes of autonomy with that of automation. On the one hand, we do not want to give up the steering wheel (or womb) to an artificial intelligence, as much as we cannot think of not being techno-political subjects. The real question that is pressing on the contemporary is how the self-organization of non-normed bodies can technically automate social cooperation.
In my experience of self-organization of artists and groups of activists that make up the Macao assembly in Milan, of which I am a part, this point was the field in my opinion most dense with experimentation. First, we tried to work on the governance protocols of the assembly and of the self-organization processes. We worked on the rules of accessibility to decision-making processes, on the relationship between centralization and decentralization, on the ways in which rules can be modified, on how to manage conflict or recognition with the authorities that are outside the organization, on how to interface our system with other systems.
In short, we have tried to give answers to questions that are more or less shared in between countless other self-organized groups of people. With the Commoncoin project we then put the issue of value at the centre. Commoncoin is a pattern of attribution and distribution of heretical value that regulates internal cooperation within the organization. Commoncoin is also a digital currency that uses a technological protocol to be able to transact money, but it is above all a self-organized algorithm that is constantly being discussed, which defines the value we give to our resources.
By designing this algorithm, which is nothing more than an automated protocol of economic behavior, the assembly decided to create a euro fund to be redistributed equally among the members as income, regardless of how you decide to spend your time. This decision was politically deeply felt and discussed. And it has strongly disconnected the quality of time spent by the money received in return. No time is invested in the organization to make money because the money that the organization collects are no longer proportionally distributed to what works. To demonstrate membership in social cooperation in the organization, members can invent unconventional attributions of value.
For example, a member can tell the community that it believes it has produced social value by participating in queer meetings, dedicating itself to a friendship, participating in a political demonstration, being an asylum seeker, as much as having performed more managerial tasks. In this way, a monster organization is created in which common intelligence values idleness, the fact of having suffered for the tortures just suffered in Libya, listening to other passing committees, as well as the skill of an artist. of a programmer and to those who take care of throwing out the garbage when the concert is over. Because people want to understand (even in the conflict) what is important for another, we agree to redistribute an equal income that allows us to take this time of cooperation and complicity. It is a radical finance project, because the currency itself is emptied of value, rather it becomes the gateway to discover what is really important. Let’s try to control in a communal way how the desire turns into need, to empty the ghost by triggering algorithms of the common.
Our social life is a techno-political subject. Society has always organized itself around body building techniques. What we value and we desire has always been linked to a fictional construction technology. The protocols that govern these organizations are social algorithms, as they automate protocols of cooperative behavior. The techniques of patriarchal domination, in which a sovereign decides which type of body has the right to life and death determines (standardizes) the economy of desire within social cooperation. To regulate the economy of desire means to limit the field of fictions to which we can give value. To regulate a given circulation of values, a techno-political financialization is established through the invisibility of the oppressed and a social division of labor. The field of greatest invisibility and current financialization is social reproduction and care work. The oppressed is who wants another fiction. The oppressed is transsexual, homosexual, migrant, precarious, air and mineral resources, intensive farm animals, agricultural mono-cultures and burning forests.
There is no neutral Artificial Intelligence, a bio-technological project or a Social Network to which to entrust the construction of our bodies and energy resources. The technologies of the domain show reassuring luminous screens to hide and render invisible the oppression.
Common intelligence always starts from recognizing the way we are built and from a process of disidentification. It represents our ability to create transversal alliances to build our techno-political body. Common intelligence automates autonomy, it is the constituent space of non-standardized algorithms, in which the circulation of desire is self-organized.