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Deleuze, Cybernetics, Evolution, Academics

Alexander Galloway thinks that Deleuze sees cybernetics as an enemy, or even the enemy:

Such a strange little text, this 'Postscript on Control Societies.'... The complaint is articulated in terms of control, communication, and the 'harshest confinement' wrought by 'the new monster' of information society... So why not call Deleuze's adversary by its true name: the enemy is cybernetics...

I find this intriguing because I've never thought this at all. As the Postscript suggests, contemporary societies operate through cybernetic control processes, i.e. distributed feedback processes. Today, political oppression is cybernetic, in this sense. But in the Deleuzo-Guattarian perspective, as far as I can see, liberation will also be cybernetic. As Erinaceous points out on /r/CriticalTheory:

Guattari loved cybernetics. He was heavily influenced by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela who were second generation cyberneticians. [A Thousand Plateaus] is also loaded with references to early Chaos Theory which comes out of cybernetics... What bothered both Deleuze and Guattari was the idea of centralization and control...

So which is it? Here is a kind of meta-theory, which I think clarifies the Deleuzo-Guattarian perspective on cybernetics and also why people will disagree about it.

At the root of the confusion here is that theoretical models of empirical reality do not have normative charges, unless you subscribe to a strong version of social constructivism. If you're a social constructivist — if you believe that objective reality is downstream of language — then holding and abiding by a theory can be good or bad. Whether it's accurate or useful hardly matters, because it's the theory-holding that determines reality.

I do not know Galloway's work very well, but on this point, we can see that he is a strong social constructivist, simply because he thinks a theory (cybernetics) can be bad (an enemy).

I reject this view. In my view, objective realities exist outside of language, and human projects succeed only to the degree they abide by reality (though our projects can change reality, they can only do so if they abide by it). Therefore, empirical and normative "goodness" are perfectly aligned, necessarily. To the degree a theoretical model accurately fits the data of the world, it is good. That's that. If you would like to foment collective liberation, your only chance is to embrace the truest possible theories of reality, more radically than status quo institutions embrace them, and act on them with more fidelity than status quo institutions act on them. This is the vision of revolutionary politics held here at Other Life, and chief among our teachers were Deleuze and Guattari.

Deleuze and Guattari were not social constructivists in the way that has become fashionable since the 1990s. This is the reason Galloway's take feels off, and why so much Deleuze scholarship feels like it's from a different planet than the one Deleuze inhabited: Deleuze did not subscribe to a strong social constructivism, but most academic theorists today do, whether it be with deep personal sincerity or merely out of social/disciplinary necessity.

If cybernetics provides a useful model of empirical realities, then state-of-the-art political regimes will rule their subjects in a fashion consistent with its principles. Any successful project of liberation would use tactics equally consistent with its principles, if not more so. Cybernetics cannot be an enemy, unless you think it's bad to be right, and you actually have no interest or incentives to make a revolutionary project succeed — and here we see the problem. If you're an academic theorist in the humanities today, you generally think that the will-to-be-correct is an ethically dubious drive to dominate. It is now essentially the raison d'être of humanities academics to raise normative objections to the truest available theories. (All theories are false, technically, but "true" here just means optimally consistent with the data.) Reality is brutal, therefore the truest theories are the most brutal, therefore the highest-status work in the humanities will be that which makes the truest theories look as ugly as possible.

Evolution is another example. Traditional Christians once seemed stupid and backward for their horrified opposition to the implications of evolutionary theory. Today, academics in the humanities seem smart and sophisticated for their horrified opposition to the implications of evolutionary theory. Evolutionary psych is sexist and racist, machine learning and AI are sexist and racist, everything that works becomes an enemy.

Cybernetics and evolution name basic principles of reality, and they help to explain our oppression as well as our flourishing. These concepts help to explain why capitalism is so hard to overthrow, but they also explain how we heat our homes (the thermostat being a classic textbook example of a cybernetic device). Humans flourish through technoscience as intelligence instantiated, and we try politically to contain the anti-social implications of technoscientific reality-penetration, but capitalism is what happens when intelligence escapes its last political box and starts replicating until we eventually become the objects of its manipulation. We started with the idea that we’d buy and sell things to advance our interests, leveraging the cybernetic price system like we leverage the thermostat to keep our house’s temperature in equilibrium. Before we knew it, the price system evolved new types of people that better suited its interests, and now we are so many thermostats in the service of capitalism.

There is still, in principle, the possibility of generating systemic liberation dynamics via cyberpositive tactics. The big questions of the late 21st century, however, will be: Can the human desire for liberation dynamics beyond capitalist exploitation pass the empirical bottleneck of intelligence takeoff, given the brutally unforgiving requirements involved, and can the intelligent pass the bottleneck of destructive hordes who fear they cannot pass the bottleneck of intelligence takeoff?

Semantic Apocalypse and Life After Humanism with R. Scott Bakker

I talked to fantasy author, philosopher, and blogger R. Scott Bakker about his views on the nature of cognition, meaning, intentionality, academia, and fiction/fantasy writing. See Bakker's blog, Three Pound Brain.

Listeners who enjoy this podcast might check out Bakker's What is the Semantic Apocalypse? and Enlightenment How? Omens of the Semantic Apocalypse.

This conversation was first recorded as a livestream on Youtube. Subscribe to my channel with one click, then click the bell to receive notifications when future livestreams begin.

Big thanks to all the patrons who keep this running.

Download this episode.

Motives and Institutions with Robin Hanson

Robin Hanson is an economist, futurist, and blogger at overcomingbias.com. I've been following Robin for a while now because he's a genuine intellectual: he thinks, speaks, and writes intensely and prolifically about whatever he wants, even if it seems weird to other people. His recently published book, co-authored with Kevin Simler, is called The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life. 

In this podcast, we talked about the new book; Robin's larger motivation behind the book; which minds Robin would like to change; the internet; academia; Robin's strategic insights on how to be an intellectual, especially for young-ish academic types such as myself; the near future; Robin's ideas about "futarchy;" Robin's book The Age of Em; how to incentivize honesty in small groups; the profit motive and the space of institutions beyond the profit motive; and a few other things.

Download this episode.

#13 - Geoffrey Miller (Part 2 of 2)

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychology professor at the University of New Mexico in the USA, and is best known for his books The Mating Mind (2001), Mating Intelligence (2008), Spent (2009), and Mate (2015). He has a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, and has also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, and University College London. He has over 120 academic publications addressing sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has given 192 talks in 16 countries. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC. He has consulted for a variety of Fortune 500 companies, governments, NGOs, advertising agencies, market research companies, and social media companies. He is also active in the Effective Altruism, ancestral health, academic free speech, and polyamory movements. His current priority is leveraging evolutionary psychology insights to reduce the existential risks from Artificial General Intelligence.

Geoffrey's personal website: www.primalpoly.com

Geoffrey on Twitter: @primalpoly

Timestamps:

Capitalism, genetics, intelligence, etc. (00:00)

Polyamory with a purpose? (00:13)

Groups, clans, missions, cults, and the politics of optimal lifestyle design; blockchain polyamory? (00:26)

Public opinion toward free speech; hypothesizing about why some people reject free speech. (00:24)

How long will Trump last? Betting and prediction markets. (00:46)

Geoffrey's advice on how to live an intellectual life. (51:00)

#12 - Geoffrey Miller (Part 1 of 2)

Geoffrey Miller is an evolutionary psychology professor at the University of New Mexico in the USA, and is best known for his books The Mating Mind (2001), Mating Intelligence (2008), Spent (2009), and Mate (2015). He has a B.A. from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University, and has also worked at NYU Stern Business School, UCLA, and University College London. He has over 120 academic publications addressing sexual selection, mate choice, signaling theory, fitness indicators, consumer behavior, marketing, intelligence, creativity, language, art, music, humor, emotions, personality, psychopathology, and behavior genetics. He has given 192 talks in 16 countries. His research has been featured in Nature, Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, New Scientist, and The Economist, on NPR and BBC radio, and in documentaries on CNN, PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic Channel, and BBC. He has consulted for a variety of Fortune 500 companies, governments, NGOs, advertising agencies, market research companies, and social media companies. He is also active in the Effective Altruism, ancestral health, academic free speech, and polyamory movements. His current priority is leveraging evolutionary psychology insights to reduce the existential risks from Artificial General Intelligence.

Geoffrey's personal website: www.primalpoly.com

Geoffrey on Twitter: @primalpoly

Timestamps:

Feminist implications of Darwin and the politics of sexual selection. (00:00)

How the advent of bodyguards affected sexual politics. (00:07)

How to critique capitalism with evolutionary psychology. (00:17)

How being creative is a handicap. (00:24).

Can psychological knowledge provide an edge for creating radical social change? (00:31)

Declining fertility rates and anti-natalism. (00:37)

How the denial of IQ differences prevents us from criticizing cognitive domination. (00:50)

Will China soon dominate the world? (00:55)

How China’s use of molecular genetic technologies could lead to global domination in two generations. (01:01)

Antifa, guns, and why, if there is going to be revolution, Geoffrey thinks it’s not going to be an intersectional revolution. (01:08)

 

#6 - Diana S. Fleischman

Diana S. Fleischman is an evolutionary psychologist, currently Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth. Her interests include sex, disgust, veganism, utilitarianism, effective altruism, polyamory, and genetics, among other things.

Show notes with timestamps:

0:00 - 00:30

How we met on Twitter, how to make friends online, dissecting our online impressions of each other. Our weird ideological histories and intersections. Academics and drug use and talking about it on the internet. A thesis about the new ideological fracturing; the alt-right, etc.

00:30 - 00:50

Diana’s experiences with the vegan movement; the milquetoast Science March. Is “intersectionality” predictive? Diana’s view of how the left is changing, on smart people leaving the left and people with nuanced views being ejected. My thesis that there is no mass media or mainstream anymore.

Diana reviews the idea of personality, the Big Five traits. Most people are not very open to experience. Are apparent ideological differences really just due to a bunch of different lexicons and/or sociological differences? Lefties open to global warming science, not open to other science (GMOs, etc.). The problem of epistemic hygiene and disgust. Why are we so paranoid and afraid of each other when our society has never been more pacified? How evolutionary psychology explains the prevalence of signaling in politics. Very interesting exchange of hypotheses on this point, about what causes this to increase or decrease, and how it may or may not be changing. One has to be disagreeable to update; how Diana has lost a lot of friends many times but most people don’t want to do that. How I think this is changing on the left.

00:50 - 1:20

Debates about IQ and leftist denials of hierarchy. Partisan sorting. How ideology can be rational and at odds with the truth, at the same time. How social partners want to make each other really weird so there is less competition for their attention. Why it feels good when someone tells you a secret. Marriage; hierarchical polyamory vs. anarcho-polyamory. How polyamory makes healthy competition. Diana’s personal arrangements. Why I like monogamy and think pleasure is bad. It’s hard to think clearly and be honest when you’re trying to get laid. My interest in radical transparency, which Diana thinks is dumb. How sex could facilitate honesty.

Social media as escape behavior, how to manage this. Kink and sociopathy. How to use social media dopamine as a propeller of disciplined work, which you then reinvest into social media, and so on. Diana becomes more fluent when arguing. How we both leverage social media exchanges for more purposeful writing.

1:20 - 1:54

Here is when things get a little bit dicey. I asked Diana if “human biodiversity” is a racist dog-whistle or a real thing? Diana laid out a lot of arguments and cited a lot of evidence, and we had a long back and forth about this and its implications. Diana recommended the article “On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism,” an explicitly anti-racist case for "human biodiversity." I don’t know much about this stuff and I’m still processing the conversation to be honest. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, I also asked Diana about mental health and transgenderism. I’m just going to leave it at that. Definitely one of the more intense and politically challenging conversations I’ve had on this podcast so far.

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