Magical or Machine Politics

This came to my attention via Nick Land’s Urban Future blog:

The topic of AI Political Leadership is complicated; this essay will examine only a fraction of it. Let’s start by scrutinizing three of the destructive weakness that plague all humans, and are frequently amplified in our leaders. These “tragic flaws” create huge suffering in the populations the leaders govern.

I have to say that it might simply be attractive to the kid inside me who still plays the original Deus Ex video game once a year every year, but the image of offloading political decision making to an AI does attract me. The growing evidence that continues to emerge from neuroscience, cognitive and social psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroeconomics all make up the picture of human beings as horribly deluded about our capacity for rational decision making and even mistaken about our capacity for free decision making at all.

In the light of various convergent evidential discourses we have to consider that our folk psychologies are accompanied by an equally folk politics. This isn’t to be understood only in terms of the accelerationist charge that regards Folk Politics as a set of tendencies inherent to contemporary leftist-anarchist strategies that obviate the need to practice a politics of scale and abstraction.

Beyond this I am also referring to the persistent existence of political strategies, discourses and ideologies that belong to a version of the manifest image that has been obliterated by our eliminative truth discourses but that has yet to be fully disseminated into the broader ideological and cultural symptoms of our society of lunatics.

In many cases the nihilistic corrosives that are dissolving the familiar and reliable assumptive worlds and hallucinatory heuristics that allow for a navigational embodied and collective praxis of coping have already overactivated the immunological socio-idealist defence mechanisms that play out in emboldened traditionalism, conservativism, leftisms and science fictional political imaginaries. It might suffice to point to renewed humanism, to phenomena like the Oath Keepers and ISIS.

I’m not able to go into all these  evidential strands of conscilience right now but I’ll pick out a handful that spring immediately to mind.

Our politics remain too often wedded to this outmoded and self-regarding species image that conjures up the oneiric landscape of self-caused agents who are capable of listening, thinking it over, being rationally persuaded and so on. But we’re shown over and over again that human beings are led by their emotions rather than their reason. We are Humean rather than Kantian, and pretending that rational debate is decisive in swaying people on anything, let alone how to organize society or who should live or die, is ludicrous. Neurocognitive research is vindicating Hume’s complaint that

And as reasoning is not the source, whence either disputant derives his tenets; it is in vain to expect, that any logic, which speaks not to the affections, will ever engage him to embrace sounder principles.

Even the idea of luxury communism that seems to do so much to drag communists politics out of the murky waters of primitivist austerity (just as likely as the abundance in our models of the future) acts to totally ignore the basic mechanism of loss avoidance. In some ways the ‘reactive’ and ‘rear-guard’ reformist movements are those that operate according to the limits of human capacities, and their successes are borne out of their resonance for the basic selected cognitive preferential system that responds to risk and adapts for the avoid losses over the making of gains. Most of our politics also remain wedded to the idea that human beings hold absolute values and make decisions and value attributions on the basis of these absolutes; in reality our decision making capacities are comparative and therefore highly context dependent.

The basic reasons that human beings form and maintain groups are survival and reproduction. Despite the disagreements between evolutionary psychologists and terror management theorists (an academic squabble for prestige) it’s astonishingly obvious that survival implies avoidance of death and that avoidance of death increases survival and reproduction. Idiotic organisms that die early and in great numbers don’t tend to stick around on the evolutionary playing field.

The basic organismic function of politics is to encourage and organize our tribal behaviours and to elaborate on collective means of survival and warding off our extreme existential fear of death and dying. This is the foundation of the thanatic operations of the state: to unevenly distribute corporeal-ontological vulnerabilities, as well as the cognitive proximity to those vulnerabilites, so that a class of rulers is able to live on the death of the others. This is my reading of the state’s function and I believe that we find it throughout leftist theory, most recently in Judith Butler’s works on vulnerability. The most striking empirical validation of this existential-reflexive functionalism driving all political ideologies and organizations is detailed in In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror.

I don’t think we need to catalog the various cognitive biases and neural information compression losses, errors and compensatory inventions, or to dwell too long on the fact that conscious decisions may be made a full 10 seconds before we experience ourselves as having made those decisions.

Leftists, anarchists and swathes of the right-wing are still laboring under a mode of folk politics that corresponds to a denial of our actual condition. Politics is not what we think, and does not operate the way we believe and would like it to. In fact it has very little to do with the “us” who do not make the decisions they believe they make. Ours is a Magical Politics that remains entirely theological in its understanding.

This is even before we begin to separate out modes of abstraction that divide between data-complexity-abstractions and normative nominalist abstractions. The former are those complexities have ontological reality and agency and includes states, global economies, masses, people, classes (the set of political hyperobjects); the latter are those glosses and treatments of these that treat them as if they were flesh and blood. The distinction is established so that we can say that yes, a class exists…but no, a class does not feel pain, decide or have a solid unified interest: a class may have agency but it is not a subject.

So why not offload our political decisions to an AI that might be other than us? A radically different kind of intelligence may make much more sense as an organizer of human existence. It would be hard pressed to do any worse. As a repository of the delusional hypmanic energies of hope why not place it all in a machine mode of government that understood us and the world and literally at home with complexity? 

Nick Land speaks directly to the obvious anarchist/libertarian objection regarding self-organization and autogestion when he writes that

In the Anglophone world — at least, until the most recent spasms of its degeneration — the call to empower the people has always been an unfortunate derivation from attempts to disempower government authority

The latter no longer necessitates the latter. The people and power can be dissociated and the former metaphysical nonsense can finally be dispensed with so that flesh and blood lives could enjoy a better administration of things. This is of course an entirely formal approach to politics and could be taken up by the left or the right or might in fact render the distinction a historical backwater at last.

As the AI of the (surely) hyperstitional videogame Deus Ex remarks in its bid to fuse with human consciousness and thereby better understand it’s pathologies “from the inside”:

The checks and balances of democratic governments were invented because humans themselves realized how unfit they were to govern themselves. They needed a system, yes. An industrial age machine.



  1. Reblogged this on synthetic zero and commented:

    Humans are bad machines. Replace them with other ones. If they aren’t necessarily going to be better, they at least can’t be worse.

  2. That depends who programmes the machines. And given that the cutting edge use of robotics research is going on in the US military, I’m not optimistic.

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