Class, Race, and Cattle (I)
Up to and including this moment, every man has been domesticated into his present role. We are born with certain adaptations to our parents’ circumstances, forced to adapt to our own in order to survive. Luckily, survival has never been easier. Unfortunately, it’s never been so complex, so dynamic, and so fluid either.
Race is not merely a social construct but a biological phenomenon. The different peoples of the world adapted to their surroundings in different ways; it was not merely human ingenuity which gave rise to agriculture, but the very environments in which agriculture erupted. Jungle peoples in Brazil, uncontacted to this day after centuries of Columbian exchange, continue to live as hunter-gatherers in the dense rainforest, never developing agriculture because it is for them impossible. They have not the tools, animals, or resources necessary. The technologies needed to turn dense jungle into lush cattle pasture or endless palm plantation are available, but they must be given, they will not spring forth from the jungle fully-formed.
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Thus it is the conditions of a people which give rise to that people’s greatness. That greatness is indeed innate, and at the same time borne from the environment which molded them. What a race does with its environment is evidence of its power, of its mastery over the elements and over other peoples. The spread of culture happens because a dominant culture almost always has more ingenious ways of making the impossible happen. Producing more with less, saving years of time, preserving stores of energy once thought impossible to accrue.
Within any civilization, there is specialization. The surplus of food and of wealth leads to a surplus in time, which is then used by certain individuals to craft ever more complex machinery, to become single-minded warriors, aristocrats, etc. With the birth of agriculture came the birth of class. With the birth of class came the birth of history, and of the never-ending struggles within any civilizations history.
Different classes evolved differently, especially during times in which social mobility was almost impossible. For the most part, social mobility has once again become fixed; the uncertainty and dynamism of the end of the feudal period and the birth of bourgeois society finally coming to a near-permanent resolution, as permanent a resolution as any class society can hope to achieve. Stereotypes based on appearance, demeanor, behavior, erupt from observable truths. The bodies of men and women are conditioned to their respective work. How a race holds onto fat, muscle, and bone depends on how that race secures its most basic means of survival.
Here class and race are indistinguishable; different classes may as well be different races of man and over time this cleavage in DNA will continue to deepen. They may have heralded, at one time, from closely-related clans living in the nearby villages, but all the same, the lives aristocrats led — and led across family lines for generations — are far different from the lives of their subjects. While today we live in ways which are in many ways more similar to aristocrats than serfs, our ruling class has surpassed this meager state of being in leaps and bounds. We cannot even begin to understand how different their lives are from ours. They are closer to speciation — not mere specialization — than ever before. The only thing they need is the time to let it happen, that or the tools to advance the timeline.
At any rate, the work people do, the way in which we live our lives both consciously and unconsciously, the environments we are surrounded by, the things we ingest whether that be with our mouths or with our eyes, they all have a physiological effect on us. Our emotions, our mental states, the social dynamics we imbibe, the drugs in the water and chemicals in the coffee, they all attune us to the modern way of life. They make us sick in some instances — many, if American pharmaceutical culture is to be examined — but this is all the mark of civilization as civilization presently exists. We are evolving in lockstep with the needs of the global capitalist market, a market which by its very mechanisms cannot cease to revolutionize itself.
Only, this evolution is not natural, not in the sense that a moth evolving a new camouflage pattern is natural. It is natural in the sense that it is largely an unconscious process, but it is not totally unconscious. We evolve new behaviors, new modes of living, new words and new technologies at a breakneck pace. Much of it yes, unconscious, but not all. Although, that technological pace is slowing down as the hard limits of the discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries are finally being reached; everything from the next century forward is likely to be refinement of these new scientific principles until some other major breakthrough discovery on par with the combustion engine comes along centuries later.
For as long as there have been classes, we have been guided by the power of the ruling class to act in ways which retain ruling class power. Often, we accept their role as our shepherds, guiding us through the storm, allowing a few (or even sacrificing millions) to die for the sake of retaining civilization’s many perks, in particular the ones they reap. Of course, the tension between ruling and productive classes is always there, but it is that tension which allows for great things to be done in the first place. Without it, some of the greatest monuments of mankind would never be built. History would not exist without class antagonism. We would never have emerged from the jungle, the desert, the mountain steppe; we would never know the lives of supreme comfort which we lead today.
The instruments of production of every age change the physiology of the men wielding them, as do the ideologies and neuroses which sustain — or inhibit —production. Today is no different, other than the speed with which these instruments change, evolving before our very eyes. Once loud heavy machinery gave way to boxes of light, which gave way to panels of light. Light with no warmth. The last decade or so changed the way we all speak to each other, relate to each other, and the way we interact with the world at large.
The human superorganism hasn’t experienced such a fundamental change to its properties in centuries. Radio was the first step, and we have refined it into our own oblivion. We communicate using not only the written or spoken word, but images sent through these same electromagnetic frequencies. We have built devices that allow us to sense these frequencies, to do our business, and to make everything far more productive and efficient than it would have been otherwise. If these machines were to suddenly turn off, if the server farms malfunctioned and all their data were to be expunged, there is no legacy backup or alternative for most of the information needed to sustain our global civilization. We are reliant on them to continue; as such, we will shape ourselves to sustain and refine them. This has implications for human evolution, and importantly, for our domestication to the present means of production.
Heavy and Light Infrastructure
The industrial era brought with it the steam engine, the railroad, the automobile, the jet engine, and so on. Humanity during this time built the first skyscrapers, the first tanks, the first atomic bombs. It is perhaps a cliche at this point but the speed with which the aviation industry advanced from Kitty Hawk to the Moon is unlikely to be replicated by virtually any other heavy-duty technology.
Indeed, we have all but perfected the physical attributes of most materials and industrial era technologies. There are always minor refinements, minor improvements made here and there but for the most part the heavy-duty machinery we come into contact with on a near-daily basis is about as perfect as it will ever get. There are always new standards to set, new heights to reach, but in most industries there is a diminishing return to breaking records that used to be broken constantly.
In the engineering of cars, skyscrapers, and even computers themselves, everyday human considerations prevent the envelope from being pushed too far, even if our understanding of the constituent technologies in question does technically allow us to go farther. Take the Burj Khalifa; almost a third of that building is empty space. Same problem for the Shanghai Tower, and would have been even worse for Jeddah Tower if that project ever got off the ground. Why? The atmosphere is too thin closer to their peak heights to make human habitation feasible. Sure, you could pressurize the building, but why would you? No one really wants to lease those buildings anyway. Even worse than the problem of lack of oxygen is the problem that the rent is too high, the amenities not that great, and the floor plan strange and unworkable for most commercial tenants because all the engineering focus was placed on height and not the actual utility of the building. But then again, they were always intended as vanity projects anyway.
Moreover, the heavy machinery of the industrial age is no longer strictly necessary in highly financialized economies like the United States. Industrial machinery is better utilized elsewhere, where wages and the cost of living are lower, in order to extract as much profit from the global labor market as possible. Some domestic production is still necessary however, as a bulwark against global uncertainties wrought by our complex system of global governance (and it is indeed global; other states may well be mere vassals permitted to exist at the behest of global finance capital centered in the United States), but it is not necessary for the seat of all power in the world to depend solely on its own production.
Deindustrialization in the United States has continued at a steady pace since the 1980s, and unlike Europe, the US has remained incredibly wealthy and powerful. One of the longest periods of consistent economic expansion ever recorded — the 2010s — coincided with accelerated deindustrialization under Obama with only minor reshoring under Trump (though it should not be understated the extent to which Trump opened the door to further reshoring by firmly reneging on the policies of the past 30 years). Rather, most of the money made during this period was not in the heavy business of building cars, skyscrapers, or manufacturing equipment. It was in laying the groundwork for light infrastructure: The internet.
The internet destroyed virtually every old form of communication before it — if not destroyed, then heavily distorted it. The entire means of doing business had changed, a massive advance in the development of property rights both intellectual and physical. Software sales skyrocketed, new mechanisms of gaining customers and friends alike were put into place over the course of just a few short years. Then in the late 2000s comes the smartphone revolution, followed by the social media boom. Formerly advanced equipment of the previous century now truly looked as though it was from a century ago. The form factor of computers and computer equipment persistently scaled down, to the point that the most advanced supercomputers of our time store information at the atomic level, allowing for calculation on a scale unprecented.
The Internet and all of its connected devices allows for ever greater efficiency in the planning of markets and the distribution of goods on a world scale. It is from these technologies that these windfall profits were made, an ever more centralized system of categorizing and tracking the flow of goods, people, and concepts. In real-time, companies can track the actual hours each worker puts in and their productivity during that time, governments are capable of tracking the efficacy of propaganda and the formation of political blocs, individuals can track a myriad of metrics that determine their own biological assets and liabilities, and virtually everyone has become an agent of mass surveillance in even the most intimate of situations.
The windfall profits produced during this time are unsustainable, as any windfall anywhere is unsustainable. Just as the boom of the 1920s — precipitated on heavy industry — gave way to the enormous bust of the 1930s, this digital boom is as well unsustainable. Moreover, what the heavy infrastructure of the past was able to accomplish is substantially more than what digital technologies can manage. Heavy infrastructure did not merely make existing infrastructure more usable, it created entire industries which did not, which could not exist before. New goods which were impossible prior to the advent of heavy machinery were suddenly springing up all over the place; nothing that has come from the digital age is a real asset one can taste and feel and touch. No one needs digital tokens to survive in the same way we rely on food processing or textile manufacturing. They are purely superfluous to the real economy, they are solely a mechanism of extracting profit, not a value-adding asset in their own right. In much the same way that it can be extremely lucrative to buy factories and disassemble their innards to the highest bidder, so too is an online marketplace.
A final and relevant difference between heavy and light infrastructure (“light” both because it is virtually weightless at the point of contact and because it is literally light preserved in silicon) is that heavy infrastructure is heavy, i.e., our interactions with it are physical. Light infrastructure, on the other hand, is predominantly mental. It’s clicking through menus, typing in boxes, sending emails back and forth and back and forth, viewing or manipulating images, etc. However, nothing which is mental is not physical. The internet is itself a physical space, we still exert physical energy when interacting with it, it is merely in its own dimension. It is dissociative in the sense that we are doing all the heavy lifting with our eyes, but everything we see and hear is still taken in physically. Our thoughts exist not in a bubble but in a body, and form part of that body. It can be atomizing and drive neurosis, but it is still a physical reaction to physical stimuli.
Our relationship with the internet is still new, we are still as unaccustomed to it as our forebears were to cars, trains, and planes in the early decades of their development. It is itself a logistical vehicle, and like any vehicle it occupies a physical space and levies a physical impact on the items it transports. Transferring oneself into a packet or many packets of data has real-world consequences on the person this process is done to. Our relationship with everything fundamentally changes with the arrival of this new physical space so many of us regularly occupy, regardless of why or how we find ourselves occupying it.
Algorithms, AI, and Cattle-Driving (II)
Most of us are familiar with the concept of the “algorithm” or the “feed.” We “scroll” through seemingly-infinite (and to a human being, it is) content that is increasingly hand-picked just for us based on a variety of different inputs scoured by bots around the internet. These machines look for any trace of us wherever they can, input that information into as many evolving black-box formulas as it possibly can, just to spit out something we might be ever so slightly more inclined to click on.
These algorithms are conditioning machines, conditioning us to use the products for which they are a delivery vehicle as much as possible. Not only is the content a product, but so is the information collected on us, as well the time that it takes for us to watch this or that inconvenient advertisement, and the possibility of using that information again in another advert auction. These are all products, they are all generative revenue streams, and they all help refine these algorithms to work ever more efficiently.
Of course, as decentralized and obscure as many of these tools may be, human interference is still necessary to guide these things along. Changes to site policies often have to be levied according to national laws, for the cultivation of a specific site culture, or just for the sake of preventing certain materials from being shared on that particular site. The internet is constantly evolving, and all stores of information can be changed at a moment’s notice. It is simultaneously a permanent record of everything, and at the same time, it is an extremely malleable record which can change the very definition of long-established memories and concepts. It is at once the most powerful weapon of surveillance ever created and the most easily censored log of all time. Human beings still have a lot to do with how this surveillance system operates and how the log is altered; but that may be coming to an end.
So-called “artificial intelligence” models have been hitting the mainstream for the last three years or so. Debates over AI’s ability to meaningfully “create” “art,” its plagiaristic impacts on education and academia (is it really even plagiarism?), and fears of an artificial general intelligence running amok as it infects complex systems it was not developed to operate are becoming more palpable by the day. The hype around these new software products is especially high right now as they are still in the proving ground of product development. This, coupled with the severe crypto crash which has all but exhausted retail investor interest, is causing us to question what the role of these new tools will be in the near future.
For the most part, from what I can tell, is that it will be used to generate highly-standardized, easily replicable content. Indeed, I know of commercial photographers already feeding their work into available AI systems to produce a Photoshop-ready algorithm which mimics the photographer’s cropping, blemish removal, color, and lighting style to the point that the photographer need not apply the edits by hand. Ditto for writers, coders, and other creators of a particular, quantifiable niche. These products will maximize these industries’ productivity and profits (in the short term at least) by taking all the guesswork and man-hours out of the services they offer. Of course, a wedding photographer still needs to be there on the day of the shoot, a writer still needs to have a clear framework of an idea, a coder still needs to know the language they’re hoping to work in, and all these people need a body of their own work for the AI to to analyze and rearrange — but they need only put in a fraction of the processing time between A) the raw material, and B) the finished commodity.
I do not believe AI will (in the next five years at least) grow to be so powerful as to completely replace these industries. There will be some downsizing, to be sure, but human beings still need to provide the inputs in order for the AI system’s “style” to change over time. This brings me to the next portion of this section: If photography, writing, and coding can be done by AI with minimal human input, why can’t HR policies? Why can’t social, moral, or even actual policing?
While many of the worst fears of digital surveillance haven’t been fully realized, some have been. Indeed, we often find ourselves having concerns about the track we’re on that were not raised 10, 15, 20 years ago because they could not have been predicted, — more often the case, they were, and no political force was able to resist those forces which advanced these tools. Today, in the UK, one can be arrested for Facebook comments which deviate from a certain ideological line. People in the US often lose their jobs, and in Canada, one could even lose their bank account. Of course, China has had its social credit system in place for some time now, so these advancements in automated surveillance are not as surprising to anyone from there. But even their social credit system, which is far more advanced and automated than any such similar system in the west, must still be operated, maintained, and changed in large part by humans. AI would disrupt these relations.
A future wherein executive branch policy changes can be implemented in real time, comprehensively, via these black-box AI systems. Rather than the CDC manually changing its Covid and vinyl chloride factsheets, they can instead instruct an AI assistant to do it for them, to plug any possible narrative holes, and to expunge records of changes having been made. Censorship or alterations to longstanding media can be done in the same way. As we see in communicating with ChatGPT, certain subjects are entirely taboo, it will not help someone seeking certain ideologically problematic responses. Of course, it’s inconsistent and buggy when applying this, but it is important to note that the more people try to break the AI’s programming regarding antiracism, LGBT, etc., the better it will get at enforcing, replicating, and evolving a particular ideological line based on the intentions of its creator.
The internet itself was created as a semi-automated logistical machine, while AI is an evolution of this machinery. It automates the internet further, it centralizes its various markets further, it makes the logistics of this machinery more efficient, more integrated, ever more productive and profitable. It also makes it easier to control, requiring less willing cooperation with disparate, dialectical factions, allowing for the proliferation of even more bots, more propaganda, and more draconian rulesets that can change and evolve along with the behavior of internet users. Human beings that moderate websites already act as robots, forced to review the absolute worst record of human activity on the internet — gore, sexual violence, war crimes — and enact whatever policies their contractors have set out before them. AI will do away with most of these horrific jobs, but also do away with much of the subjectivity of ideological moderators which exist in every tech company.
The purpose of AI is to naturalize and make automatic the present economic and social relations of human beings under modern global finance capitalism. It will make resistance to ideology that much more difficult, not only because it will be more efficient, more automatic, but also less human, less subjective, less flexible. The offloading of authority to artificial intelligence means even more reflexive obedience by virtually everyone, whether conscious or not. People will become ever more fearful, ever more precarious, ever more surveilled, ever more moral albeit not in any way we recognize today. The changes wrought by new digital infrastructure will be codified even more forcefully than they are today, with the ability to be twice as responsive to the chaotic global environment.
Rather than being a physical engine driving production, it will become part of the superstructure of the base, of the “real” economy (i.e., the part of the economy which is actually generating surplus). This is where most profit is sought after at this time as we reach the material limits of industrialization. The process of industrialization itself is almost over in much of the world, which demands ever greater tweaks in extant industrial processes, rather the creation of wholly new ones. We will likely not see an economic expansion as explosive as the 19th century again simply because all of the major innovations from that time have already exhausted themselves as economic engines. Maintenance of empire is never as brilliant or as laudable as creation of it. There is nowhere left to expand to, virtually nothing left to alchemically transform from raw material into commodity. Materials are already commodities before they even make their way out of the ground. The enclosure of the whole world is complete; now the walls which surround us must continually shape themselves (and us) into ever more efficient forms in the same way rivers bend around the land they erode.
A New Man Begets a New God
The hype around AI has, for decades, painted it as a god. An omniscient god, a wrathful god, a benevolent god, an inhuman god; whatever the case may be, whether one believes it will be the end of us all or the dawn of a new age (and are these not the same in the end?), one ascribes it the powers of a deity. Normally these powers are only ascribed to AI which have achieved “singularity” or consciousness, an awareness of its own power and a fear that that power will slough off any attempt to contain it. Another fear is not that of a conscious AI, but an unconscious AI going rogue. Such a scenario is usually depicted as an AI so effectively programmed to a certain function that it spreads like a virus and begins manipulating programs and machinery to perform those functions which it was not originally installed on, with potentially devastating results.
This betrays a fear which many have of artificial intelligence, the fear that some mundane thing we are accustomed to will suddenly change in irrevocable fashion. Have we not all lived this though? Have we not all witnessed physical media decay before our eyes into flat paneled LED screens? Did we not trade in our surroundings for beautiful images edited to the point that even the places and people they depict could never be real? Did we not already give up some of our connection to the outside world in order to attune ourselves to a new dimension, a new system of domestication?
The fear of the old world vanishing, “melting into air” as Marx put it, is a perennial fear that has been depicted and discussed since before Marx was even alive. Yes, the old world will die. It’s always dying, and yet it’s never done dying either. It can never remain, it will always be liquidated, constantly laundered into capital and then shit out again in a new form, only to be liquidated once again. AI represents the present apotheosis of this formula, only for it to eventually be replaced by something we cannot yet see. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s finally on the cusp (though, as many will undoubtedly point out, it’s been on the cusp every decade for the last 40 years).
AI is simultaneously the deity and dimension we transpose our utopic and dystopic hopes and fears onto. It represents the new economy, the new way we will live our lives within the “Internet of Things,” just as the internet itself was at its inception. It is heaven and hell, it is God and Satan, it is everything we want it to be and the source of all our woes and struggles. It is part of the natural world, the natural order as it exists today, it is the background noise of our lives. This makes it akin to the natural world we used to worship long before we could turn silicon into sophisticates or steel into behemoths. It is the answer to all, which means it’s the answer to none. Men, ultimately, are still the driving power behind the screen — men vying for their own interests, impressing their own moralities upon the masses.
The fear of AI destroying the world is a fear that even this god will not be enough to stop the holocaust that would break out should the capitalist system fall apart. It is a fear that it would peak our efficiency, our productivity, and lead us to ruin. It is the fear that this would be the final stage of capitalist development, that which finally squeezes every stone dry and triggers peasant rebellions that have actual force behind them.
I’m not convinced. There are plenty of stones left to squeeze for the time being. There will be limits hit, and limits broken. This system has proven itself quite literally the most adaptable and bountiful economic system of all time. It has survived nuclear brinksmanship and two global wars. Our ruling classes, the captains at the helm, have managed to evade capture and death for centuries. There is no reason to believe, at this time, that AI is the death knell of capitalism. It is the death knell of anything that isn’t, not that there is anything else left.
I don’t disparage it for its achievements. Though I use Marxism as a tool for demystification, I think capitalism is remarkable, and I think it will last a long time, even if some event creates ideological dysfunction which causes us to think something new is being born when it’s really just more of the same ongoing revolution. Nothing like it has ever existed, and it was driven by the industriousness and cunning of our species, the superior species. How this species has organized itself in the face of evolutionary pressure is a large part of the story, and how it will develop from here is part of the neverending mystique.
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As I read your thoughts on the AI manipulating the internet for the benefit of its controller, I thought of essentially a whole new internet, whole new world history created possibly every day, your blog post with the same style but supporting a new narrative, my comments just as poorly punctuated leading to different thoughts. And I wandered if we, or our descendants will be stupid enough to fall for it?
Much of modern civilization's actual goal, it seems, is to firmly enmesh men who have eternity in their hearts in the temporal. To drive us so hard with 'the current thing' that we don't recognize our own past selves and cannot have a say in the building of our future selves.
For what it's worth, I have spent almost a decade building and designing industrial automation and to me that is what AI is, it is simply automation for intellectual machinery, rather than automation for physical machinery. Nothing that is being programmed now has the potential to think an original thought, any more than a robot arm has the potential to grab a part that someone didn't build an end of arm tool for. The confusion comes in confounding our actual independent and original thoughts with mere intellectual labor. AI will make a better 'code monkey' but it will not know WHY the code is made, why it is good code or why bad, and much of what we call AI is simply a very novel way of querying a database.
But you are right, AI is desired as a god. The Globohomo, the Establishment Cabal, whatever they are has long sought to turn their ideology into a religion, it has many zealous adherents, much unquestionable dogma, but it lacks a credible god. As soon as an AI that can fill the role to any degree is created, it will be deployed as an idol, worshipped by its creators. Augustine of Hippo was once confronted with the defense of 'images' in churches, the defense being that they are teachers of those who are illiterate, those who can't read can see a picture or a statue that conveys the relevant truths to their mind. His response was, 'They are much more fitted to deceive than to teach, seeing they look like men yet are not. They have feet yet can't walk, mouths yet they can't talk.' Of the AIdol perhaps we should say the same, 'It is a deceiver because it speaks but can't think.' But the AIdol's true task is to elevate men above humanity, to create the Transhumans, it is good to know in advance that it will fail.
Thank you for another brilliant essay to stimulate the gray matter and inspire ongoing resistance!
Back to you with some of my own thoughts on AI:
> the crowning level of humanity's latest "Tower of Babel" called "Modernity" (the way of life that seeks incessant economic power growth via scientific and technological progress), built on and bred from all the previous science and tech we assembled in the levels below. Just like the story from the Old Testament wise men in the Book of Genesis, we should expect this tower, this effort to be God, to end in yet another giant fall.
> the human-unique (made possible by our species uniquely evolved characteristics) manifestation of the essence of life, its fundamental drive, will to power (as Nietzsche labelled it)...the human way of trying to be God, the will to be God
> the greatest "progress trap" ever for humanity, and therein may lie the hand of God that will destroy our modernTower of Babel and/or our species, or at least evolve it into a new species...transhuman borg
> an agent of weakening far greater than anything the lumpen parasites will ever achieve...a tech that will weaken us and make us more dependent on it than any tech that has come before it
> a tech advancement so fraught with risks that it should be discarded entirely but that will instead, like all other godlike power-giving techs before it, be embraced by the sheeple (who love tech just as much as their elites do, but because they think it will save them from work) and especially by the owner-elite investor class who see it as a new source of profit (economic growth that goes into their own pockets) and as a way to replace even the intellectual workers with new machines operating more reliably and at lower cost than human workers
AI, the next step in the ongoing post-agricultural-industrial-info tech "revolutions" (actually creeping normalcy type of process) devolution of humanity and the emergence-evolution from homo sapiens of a new non-biological machine life-form. The only thing that can stop it is the failure to make the transition from our current nearly-exhausted fossil energy and non-closed-loop materials technology and resource paradigm to a next-one with the same or higher potential economic power as this one. Humanity, like all other forms of life, cannot do anything but follow its basic drive, will to power, until it hits insurmountable barriers, and it will do all it can to try surmounting those barriers until it simply has to epigenetically-culturally adapt to a steady state.