Archive for posthumanity

Welcome to a Posthuman Democracy!

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Obamas victory

Obama's victory

The start of this month has been a tense one. As the outcome of the 2008 US Election is finally announced, I am proud to say that I am happy for my American readers that they got a new, decent president in which they can all entrust their hopes. With all the tension relieved, The Posthuman Marxist will now resume its blogging with more critical articles for you to read! And what better way to celebrate the upcoming new administration than a critical analysis of what all this spectacular election had been?

What especially interests me in all this glorious spectacle of an election is how tech-savvy the Democrats had been in conducting their campaign. I have been following Mashable’s takes on this, which has been covering the issue from way back in February 2007, and here’s their quick recap. What we are having today in our politics, especially with Obama, is a head-on collision between the realm of high politics and direct online life. Needless to say, this is the first time such politics is conducted, and the interesting question would thus be: why has our politics evolved in such way?

This is obviously not such a hard question. Is it not only natural for politics to go towards the more popular, transparent, and democratic approach in its conduct? And does the internet not indeed provide such a platform? Furthermore, it is of course very much in line with the appeal of the Democrats to use media that are close to the hearts of the young generations, so all this has been natural. Then it is perhaps better to reformulate the question: why is technology seen as a more democratic means?

We have come a long way from our technophobic past. “Media brainwashing” is a phrase we no longer hear quite as often today as in the past. After all, we have Web 2.0, with all its connectedness and writeability. What is interesting, however, in this “digital democracy” (for lack of a better phrase), is how very much outsourced things are (obviously, Obama does not handle all those Web 2.0 profiles himself; and I very much doubt that it was he who personally clicked “follow” on my Twitter profile). It is not surprising, then, to hear all the buzz about wiki governance and Google transparency. Anderkoo has an excellent take on this matter, which is worth a serious read.

With Obama, the democratic decentralization of politics today, it seems, does not only involve the standard notions of giving power to the people. Already, we are seeing how the job is given to intelligent machines — albeit just in the form of computer codes that work on Web 2.0 platforms. This tech-savvy campaign is very well aware that the question today is not merely to decentralize power, but to decentralize cognition itself, i.e. to conduct better politics not only in terms of creating a more equal humanist society, but also in terms of creating a more intelligent posthumanist environment in which it will only be possible to conduct a better democracy.

Automated Web technology and machine intelligence is now a democratic means that we trust instead of a postmodern artifact of great anti-humanist suspicion, because, recalling the famous Haylesian argument, we have already become posthuman.

Regarding the development of our posthuman future, Obama, at least so far, is taking great steps. Will he continue this tech-savvy grassroots platform? We can only hope. And what will we make of this new conducts? Will it indeed bring better democracy? Will it bring about more trust in intelligent machines? What political subjects will our society turn out to be, when environment itself becomes politically aware in the near-future age of ambient intelligence?

Of Facebook and Porn

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

image credit: Mashable

Much debate has been going on lately surrounding the idea of whether Facebook is actually killing online porn. Although the idea has been around for almost a year and a half on Mashable, it looks like that it is just now with the recent publication of Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People do Online and Why it Matters that people debate about it. Many say no, that it is only a matter of statistics, that people still surf for porn but use other mediums to find it (e.g. UGC sites like YouPorn or P2P networks), etc. And although I tend to agree with those who say no, I still consider it nevertheless important never to underestimate the changing ways of online communication.

The question is not whether porn is dying or not — while piracy may be killing the big industries, I am sure that people will still be looking at online porn for a long time. The question is why are people so attracted to other things that are not porn at all? This is not meant to be an ironic comment — when you think about it, unless you’re serious about using them as a professional networking tool, social networking sites and MMOs barely have more productive things to generate than online porn. So why go for social networks at all?

The typical answer is of course that we wil always still need social connections. But is not the opposite rather true — we are getting more and more tired of real social connections, and we leave it up to the web to do it for us? The logic of the Žižekian interpassive subject applies all too well — with Facebook, we can just add a friend and forget about making a real connection with her/him without feeling guilty about it! Is this not why we love the social Web in first place — because talking and connecting in real life needs too much effort?

Pornography, I would claim, has the same logic. Recall the standard implicit moral disclaimer that real-life sex will never be as good as pornography (it is much more awkward, has so much more bad sounds and smells and unpleasant tactile sensations, we have to constantly negotiate our partner(s)’s bad taste remarks, etc…). Is this not why we can enjoy watching pornography without feeling jealous to the people behind the screen — because we know perfectly well that, if we are in their place, having the real experience, things may not turn out as good as our fantasies? Cybersex is much less tiring than real sex, but nevertheless fantasy can be sustained just as well. The computer already reach orgasms for us.

How, then, should we read the correlation between the rise of Facebook and the decline of porn into the mainstream Web? It is not the usual one that maintains how the Internet is finally put into better use by having less LOLcats and porn. Nor it is the other usual skeptic one that argues that porn is not declining at all, but moving into another realm of the Web, as it were, as mentioned above. My thesis here is much more pessimistic: I would claim that this only proves that we are not only satisfied with externalizing sex so that we do not have to do it (and whenever we do it we need more and more enhancements to keep up with our fantasies and be able to forget the dirty, tiring, awkward parts — dildos, cocaine, viagra, anal beads… — to such extent that there are no longer “real” sex), but that we now find more and more an injunction to externalize our human connections — to “map out [online] every possible human connection” we have, as Mark Zuckerberg famously put it.

I should warn once again, however, that all this is not even meant to be a criticism of the social Web, but a pointing out of its strength. If anything, I will be the first person in any room of skeptic intellectuals who would shamelessly say out loud that he loves technology outright — I am far from being a technophobe; one could even call me a Promethean. Let us just not have too much illusions about it — but neither too much illusions of what the subject essentially is.

The Deontology of Sexual Relations

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The Lacanian “there is no sexual relations” realizes itself perfectly with posthumanistic technologies — with sex technologies getting better and better (cybersex, teledildonics, novelty sex toys and fucking machines, etc.), we are made to become more and more aware that enhanced sex is a lot more enjoyable than “vanilla” sex. Hence, the Lacanian notion that sex itself is nothing but masturbation with a living partner is not at all surprising to us anymore — is that not the reason why we are so seduced by gynoids, virtual or real, in science fictions?

Deontological ethics implies an inherent virtue of action, regardless of their consequences or practical functionality. For example, demarcation lines and money are deontic — they function purely in the Symbolic order and are the big Other itself. Of course, in the contemporary age we have less and less of deontology — you may have found yourself laughing at it, since it has become compulsory now to deconstruct everything, and to realize that there is no such thing as “inherent virtue”. While all this is true, we should not forget that Lacan is nonetheless correct in his psychoanalytic formulations; which is why I like to say, you can deconstruct as you may, but in the end be aware that the only deconstructable experience is the Symbolic, as deconstruction is nothing but a play on signifiers.

Of course a total deconstruction of deontological values, the Names and Nos of the Father, would result in nothing short of a social foreclusion and cultural psychosis. Which is why Žižek notes that our skepticism today is a false, ironic one — it is not that we do not believe, it is that we are afraid to believe. Thus, the true deontological ethics of today resides not in an inherent virtue of action, but in an inherent virtue of desire.

What is very strange about today’s sexuality is the sheer number of bizarre perversions proliferating online. My thesis here, what the title of this post means, is that sexual relations, far from being liberated, is instead being more and more regulated, not at the level of practice but at the level of desire: “You must enjoy sex in more and more new ways, because now (with viagra, political correctness, safe BDSM toys, online anonymity, secure cybersex, Photoshop, porn forums…) we have nothing to worry about!”

A wall, as we proceed in history to become more civilized, can be stripped down into an invisible demarcation line that nevertheless retains its social function as a wall. Gold, as we proceed in history to become more modern, can be stripped down into inherently worthless numbers on screens or papers that nevertheless retains its social function as wealth. Sex, as we proceed in history to become more politically correct, can be stripped down into mere exchange of media that nevertheless retains its social function as “let’s make each other(‘s fantasy) aroused.”

Database and the Absence of Quilting Points

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

It is interesting to note that the Lyotardian postmodern disappearance of grand narratives is celebrated during the rise of the computer age in the 1980s. As media historian Lev Manovich has pointed out (in his The Language of New Media, but also elsewhere), during that time, not only was grand narratives disappearing, but also narratives as a dominant form of media, as they are slowly but surely giving way for the more dominant form of media and culture at large — the database. In database culture, we no longer have the linearity of the cinematic narrative that guide us through. Instead, we have a series of virtually unlimited choices to structure our own experiment. Manovich himself was already very well aware of this, as he notes how the logic of the database mirrors the politically correct logic of democratic freedom and a universal equality of things.

The Lyotardian grand narratives, on the other hand, can in many ways be equated with the Master Signifier of Jacques Lacan, signifiers which open up worlds proper and fixes the other signifiers in place, acting as a means of point de capiton (“quilting points”). But these Master Signifiers work in the paternal logic of strict “yes” and “no”, without attempting to universalize (“Spinozize”, as Žižek would put it) the order. However, we today, in our noisy claims of being politically correct modern societies, reject strict “yes” and “no” answers. The fall of grand narratives is the disappearance of point de capiton.

Many contemporary psychoanalytic philosophers, most notably Alain Badiou, are very aware of this danger — the postmodern global capitalism opens up no world proper. Thus, how can you subvert an essentially worldless condition? Our history so far consists of dialectics between worlds, and we do not yet know how to oppose properly a worldless state of things. (Although, i argue, a dialectics is possible, but would involve radical idealism in which embodiment becomes the terrain of fight, a sort of posthuman-charged Hegelianism I briefly noted here.) This is precisely why capitalism is very tricky and troubling, and seem to only rejoice at its attempts of subversion, as many are already well aware.

I am not opposing capitalism because I am a romantic Left with nostalgic stories of the past and Leninist dreams of a communist future. I am only partly opposing capitalism because I am an intelligent person with a heart. I am opposing it most precisely because I personally think it won’t last long, while too many people have too much faith in it and if we do not change soon, the costs will be detrimental. Already we are in the midst of climate change, and global capitalism is thriving on its very idea.

What would be my spontaneous reaction and ultimate methodology against capitalism? Philosophers like Žižek like to point out that we can only do it by reasserting these quilting points. Here I prefer to take things into a more specific level (and perhaps differ from him in some senses). If you are at all familiar with my writings, you should know I am always researching on the problems of embodiment and subjectivization. For me, the way is not to reassert quilting points as such (points of “yes” or “no” that define the narrative plots of our life), but how to redefine the points and worlds. To me, the answer lies in studying the database logic itself, to generate what Manovich would call “info-aesthetics” (although I prefer a more political idea). What we need now is a radical new philosophy of computer semiotics and cognitive science, not only in regarding AI problems, but also in the political sphere. Do we still need to debate, now, that we have become cyborgs?

Psychoanalysis, All too Human

Posted in Pure Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Family failing of philosophers: All philosophers have the common failing of starting out from man as he is now and thinking they can reach their goal through an analysis of him. They involuntarily think of ‘man’ as an aeterna veritas, as something that remains constant in the midst of all flux, as a sure measure of things. Everything the philosopher has declared about man is, however, at bottom no more than a testimony as to the man of a very limited period of time. Lack of historical sense is the family failing of all philosophers.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All too Human

We all know that historical consciousness starts in the beginning of the 19th century with Hegel, before strongly re-emphasized by Marx and Nietzsche in the late 19th century. But Hegel never got around to reading On the Origin of Species, which was published 28 years after his death. The stupid straightforward question I would like to pose is thus embarrassingly simple: what would Hegel have thought if he had had a chance to read it? What if he had books of Dawkins beside his collection of Thucydides lying on his bookshelf? Would he perhaps extrapolate his Phenomenology of Spirit to a Phenomenology of Species?

When did the self begin? When did the unconscious begin? When did Freudian triad and Lacanian Borommean rings begin? Psychoanalysis is bound to be hit by these questions, as new researches show mirror recognition in animals and robots, various perverse acts of animals (homosexuality, oral sex, prostitution, even necrophilia), beside older findings of animal dreams and stress disorders. While I am old enough to not entertain the possibility of psychoanalytic therapy for a poop-eating dog or your future Roomba, psychoanalysis for me has so much more to do than individual therapy and, as such, is the basis of my philosophical ontology.

A xenolinguistic psychoanalysis is thus only prudent considering the fact that we are currently in the midst of news about all the achievements of bioengineering and cybernetics (the Haylesian posthuman, the Mitchellian age of biocybernetic reproduction). Lacan was certainly aware of a historical sense of man, as were his intellectual contemporaries — but he was not, I would claim, at the very least, entertaining the possibility of a serious interrogation on Love and Sex with Robots. A recurring subject in my researches is thus an evolutionary Lacanian psychoanalysis by way of a deeper linguistic and communicational research in new realms — new media, psychedelics, animal communication, artificial intelligence, virtual sex….

As with Hegel and Nietzsche, we cannot forget that man has become. If we are to make a comprehensive cognitive mapping, we should avoid falling into the trap of non-historicity, or, in this posthuman age, the trap of non-evolutionarity. Modifying Nietzsche, I would claim that lack of evolutionary sense is the family failing of all psychoanalysts.

The Screen and the Prison: Lacan and Manovich on the Subject

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on July 20, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Lev Manovich provided a great reading of the screen’s history in his The Language of New Media. There, Manovich presented an allegory of the screen with the prison (though he was not the first to make such an allegory) — Our mobile gaze has a cost of imprisoning our body within a position or contraptions of a device. However, if we are to ask the famous Bateson question “Is a blind man’s cane a part of him?” to this formulation, we get interesting results: if the answer is no, then that cane must also be a prison, since we are trapped in the contraptions of a cane, much as a car is a prison, much as the Manovichian idea that VR is a final form of the prison of the screen (“… we carry our prisons with us … the retina and the screen will merge.” p.114). If the answer is a posthuman nod of yes, then not only is a cane part of the blind man, the screen-retina part of the futuristic subject, but also the theater building is part of the spectator.

Thus we see a very interesting conflict of embodiment-imprisonment within our notion of the subject. And here Manovich’s study of the history of the screen plays a more pivotal role — as any good psychoanalytic film studies scholars would agree, a history of the screen is a history of the gaze, and a history of the gaze is a history of subjectivity (hence my studies of the monitor phase). Embodiment and imprisonment, it seems, has become two sides of the same coin. The augmented gaze of the screen is the freedom for which we pay. With Lev Manovich, the theories of Jacques Lacan is now subject to technological mutation.

Fukuyama was Right, but Hegel Lives on

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on July 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Readers of Žižek should probably be familiar with the famous Žižek quote of “It’s easy to make fun of Fukuyama, but aren’t we today all Fukuyamaists?” Yes, indeed most of us today are clearly Fukuyamaists, in the sense that we do not muse about ideological alternatives to global capitalism anymore. Instead, the primary concerns of today are mainly how to make the system more open, tolerant, humanist, ecological, religious (in some cases), and so on. History in the sense of ideological battles is over, save perhaps for Muslim backlashes.

But what is interesting in the Muslim backlash — and other struggles in the contemporary society, including non-“ideological” ones — is the immense stress people tend to put on their cultural and ethnic identity. Of course there has been many researches on this matter, probably spawned by Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations. People are becoming increasingly sensitive in their physical being — race, ethnicity, cultural heritage and customs, sex, gender. It is important to read Fukuyama by his 2002 book, Our Posthuman Future — in this book he basically fixes his end-of-history thesis, claiming that a revolution in biotechnology will provide new terrains of struggle, thus continuing history.

Here we see a line, a pattern in current struggles: physicality. People are becoming increasingly sensitive towards their physical state and what physical states can and cannot do, what the misrecognized image of themselves are and are not. Technology and the increasingly augmented gaze it has brought forth has dissected and questioned the significance of the human body with all its properties. The body itself is now, more than ever, the terrain of struggle.

It is here that I am being a Hegelian, both in the broadest sense of seeing history as a dialectical process and in the idealistic, disembodied “Spirit” sense. What we are now seeing is in fact a dialectics between man and machine, between body and information. We can see clearly the negation of negation present in contemporary history: Cold War – End of History – Posthumanity, Modernism – Postmodernism – Žižekian 180-degree turn, and so on. Thus, although history may have ended (we are only denying the fact and calling Fukuyama an idiot because of “postmodern” or “cultural” reasons, but we nevertheless skeptically believe, and so on), I would claim it naive to dismiss Hegel as well. Perhaps, he may be more relevant in the posthuman — isn’t that the “Spirit” that Hans Moravec just downloaded into a computer to become immortal?