Digital Materiality: Materiality

[WiP this is #1 in a series of 12 weekly essays unpacking the concept “Digital Materiality”.  They are prepared in the context of the seminar of the same name held every Thursday at 2pm at the UdK Hardenbergstr.  ]

“We are living in a material world and I am a material girl!”- PETER BROWN, ROBERT RANS


Is every moment of every lived life equally worthy? At stake are historical human facts, the contributions of lived life to any given technical object (necessarily the product of human attention). How their facticity is evaluated is vital for a reckoning of our civilisation bias. This is particularly pertinent as automation begins to fade forever from view.   We are presented with visions of a post-work society, yet the great majority are working harder for less money. Our civilizations allow for widespread poverty, including child poverty, persistence of slavery and prison labour at the core of the advanced technology production chain, the particular vector of technology which we are persistently told is our best hope for a future.

“Material” is made of human activity. Material is that which is brought (from Nature) into the realms of human affairs. In order understand a human artifact, such as a digital object, open up the “time/space historical fact record” record through the surface of the object. These records/stories making a constellation of fragmentary (factual), even  infinitesimal, non-zero (0<x>n)  human contributions to the production of the object are the social ‘message’ of the product. The social conditions of the production of the material is played back through the use of the material. Is every moment of every human life equally worthy, or are some moments of some lives more worthy? Is it really necessary to know who made Einstein’s breakfasts in order to appreciate the true implications of E=mc2?

Once we start to account for the labour contribution to the contemporary surface, we also need to integrate a placeholder value for “reproductive labour”(1). Reproductive labour has been disregarded at the expense of hagiography interested in maintaining a hegemonic state. Like Feudalism, Capitalism depends on unpaid reproductive labour, in ones own body, ones home and elsewhere, “everyday communism”(2), which is voluntary contribution to socially necessary reproductive practices in “a permanent sense of being mutually indebted“. (3)

The material of “materiality” I am mainly concerned with in this essay is that of physical things brought into the sphere of human attention, and, principally, hyper-modern hyper-industrial production. The materiality which is designated to a realm beyond human empirical or technically-assisted access is of interest here only in as far as it impacts the behaviours of those humans that consider it. As such, we will consider the philosophical realm of meta-physics as materialized in philosophizing bodies by the entire metabolism, including intuitions and apprehensions derived from all the senses,

There is thus a materiality of thought which is the materiality of the mind, such that it must be sustained by the same practices which sustain the rest of the living tissue of the body from which the cogitating apparatus can never be entirely abstracted. Though we may never have the science which can explain how mechanically, chemically thoughts are formulated, we must maintain that the thoughts exist and that they cannot exist without a body. There is no immaterial thought, the thought of god, the divine inspiration, itself must be reproduced in the lightless bowels of its living body. The question of how the living body is reproduced in order to be able to think an ephemeral thought is a social, and, in our society, a political question.

My interest here is to put forward a rather conservative understanding of material, that it resides first and fundamentally with living humans and only with respect to those living humans. This is has the political agenda of elaborating a set of concepts, textures or gestures by which any particular or group of human beings can or is impaired from benefitting from the enormous, but finite social production of human beings on the planet right now.

Digital objects, seem at once, much like thoughts, light-speed, fleeting, almost immaterial, “meiousia” μεῖοὐσία (less material), yet whereas thoughts are reproduced by living metabolisms, digital objects are reproduced by mechanical processes, i.e. concretions of thought processes. We will go more deeply into what distinguishes digital objects in the next chapters, but before this we need to grapple with that which could possibly be ‘digital’ in the first place, the digital object, the materiality which is digital, the matter, of which materiality speaks “qualities of matter”.

Spinoza uses the word substance rather than material “which stands below” the phenomena or the behaviours, which have bearing on us, or which we perceive. For Spinoza, what characterizes material is that it has (fundamental) properties which “come from outside”, which we have not chosen. We can dis-cover these properties through behaviours, which are interactions with our discovery process. Unlike the pre-literate (pre-socratic) Greeks, Democritus, Leucippus, Epicurus, straining through metaphors, trying to elaborate fundamental physical principles of the makeup of the universe, today’s truth and science is about understanding physical behaviours and controlling these for human purposes. This means we only understand the physical properties of substances in as far as we can elicit repeatable, reliable behaviours of them. In other words, to make machines of them (to enslave, and domesticate them). Our process of understanding is anthropocratic, instrumental.

Any politics of this “digital” age which wishes to contest the “distribution of the sensible” as Jacques Rancière calls it, will have to firstly repudiate any contention of immateriality. Digital things, as anything “thengan”(4) operate in a realm overdetermined by human practices, which must be understood as fundamentally material. Thus I will examine materiality as (problematically) anthropomorphic, especially for technical products, especially in the per-industrial “digital” age. I will refer to these products as “things”, e.g. digital “things”.

If we use the flexibility which exists in German to address materiality we find two useful words for thing: Ding and Zeug. The ontological truth of the thing is in the fact that people congregate around it. It is both “thengan”/Ding = appointed time (4) and “Zeug” something conditioned by the needs of humans (useful thing) (5) “This text examines only the economy of things in a human universe proscribed by human mortality, life-span and the predilections of the human sensibility, in other words ‘human scale’25 Disruptions of, or interventions in this economy do not matter if they do not effect humanity Once they do they become things in an economy of things in a world conditioned by human scale experience “ (6)

A self-consciously anthropomorphic approach to materiality becomes most useful at the limits. On the political level today we are all divided up into individuals, socio-political atoms with a very abstract homogenous concept of “equal rights”. We know that, in practice we do not have the same right to assert our equal rights, and the dominant means of production perpetuates conditions where some human beings are not able to assert their equal rights at all. This is a problem as old as civilisation, and we must hearten ourselves and each other if we earnestly want to confront it, since it is endemic to the way human society has always functioned. The principle of our society are not the practice, and the showdown comes down on our own bodies, limited (finally by mortality) in physical capacity to participate in socially necessary production.(7)

In the liminal space between the limited (0<x>∞) unique human participant and the quasi-unlimited (∞-n) universality of the species, between the universality of the species and the universality of all material, we are struggling with languages which work out epistemologies derived from human experiential limits on this planet. The translation from whatever there is (noumena) to the realm of our grappling (phenomena) is today of political relevance, since the status of the anthropos is in crisis.

Die Liebe ist das Band, das Vermittlungsprinzip zwischen dem Vollkommnen und Unvollkommnen, dem sündlosen und sündhaften Wesen, dem Allgemeinen und Individuellen, dem Gesetz und dem Herzen, dem Göttlichen und Menschlichen. Die Liebe ist Gott selbst und außer ihr ist kein Gott. Die Liebe macht den Menschen zu Gott und Gott zum Menschen. Die Liebe stärket das Schwache und schwächt das Starke, erniedrigt das Hohe und erhöhet das Niedrige, idealisiert die Materie und materialisiert den Geist. Die Liebe ist die wahre Einheit von Gott und Mensch, von Geist und Natur. In der Liebe ist die gemeine Natur Geist und der vornehme Geist Natur. Lieben heißt vom Geiste aus: den Geist, von der Materie aus: die Materie aufheben. Liebe ist Materialismus; immaterielle Liebe ist ein Unding.

  • Feuerbach: Das Wesen des Christentums. DB Schüler-Bibliothek: Philosophie, S. 21206

Love is the middle term, the substantial bond, the principle of reconciliation between the perfect and the imperfect, the sinless and sinful being the universal and the individual, the divine and the human. Love is God himself, and apart from it there is no God. Love makes man God and God man. Love strengthens the weak and weakens the strong, abases the high and raises the lowly, idealises matter and materialises spirit. Love it the true unity of God and man, of spirit and nature. In love common nature is spirit, and the pre-eminent spirit is nature. Love is to deny spirit from the point of view of spirit, to deny matter from the point of view of matter. Love is materialism; immaterial love is a chimaera.

  • Ludwig Feuerbach, from The Essence of Christianity, Chapter II. God as a Being of the Understanding Translated from the original German by George Eliot

“nun wurde man immer geneigter, das licht wegen seiner ungeheuern wirkungen nicht als etwas abgeleitetes anzusehen; man schrieb ihm vielmehr eine substanz zu, man sah es als etwas ursprüngliches, für sich bestehendes, unabhängiges, unbedingtes an; doch muszte diese substanz, um zu erscheinen, sich materiiren, materiell werden, materie werden, sich körperlich und endlich als körper darstellen”.

  • Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Gedenkausgabe der Werke, Briefe und Gespräche. Band 1–24 und Erg.-Bände 1–3, Band 16, Zürich 1948 ff, S. 448-452.


(1) Sylvia Federicci coined the term as an improvement on “affective labour” used by Michael Hardt, extending from Rosi Braidotti. Whereas “affective labour” emphasizes the care and attention which supports labour, Federici’s “reproductive labour” stresses that labour must reproduced daily in the capitalist extraction process, which only recompenses the laborer on the most exploitative terms, the maintenance of the capacity to work which occurs during the full day, parallel to the daily , is tacitly factored into the wage of the labourer. An assembly-line worker may be paid to complete the same task 30 times an hour, but maintaining the psychological wherewithal to carry out the task each time with the requisite attention, is an expected unpaid contribution of the labourer. Environmentalism, and thinkers like Michel Serres, would extend reproductive labour to the “natural” processes of our planet which we depend on to produce what we need to live together.

“We established that capitalism is built on an immense amount of unpaid labor, that it not built exclusively or primarily on contractual relations; that the wage relation hides the unpaid, slave -like nature of so much of the work upon which capital accumulation is premised. “

  • “Precarious Labor: A Feminist Viewpoint” Silvia Federici, The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, published from a lecture from October 28th 2006 at Bluestockings Radical Bookstore in New York City, 172 Allen Street as part of the “This is Forever: From Inquiry to Refusal Discussion Series.

(2) Everyday Communism compensates for the alienation and extreme atomisation of individuals under capitalism by providing for social needs in assumed solidarity. Capitalism is not a monolith, it requires unpaid, unquantified Communistic practices which reproduce the capacity to produce value for society. It may be argued that capitalism is in turn required by unquantified Feudalistic ownership and competition strategies.

(3) “On the moral grounds of economic relations: A Maussian approach “ Graeber, David, Journal of Classical Sociology 2014, Vol. 14(1) 65–77

(4) Things are, as Heidegger pointed out, res publica, “not the state but that which, known to everyone, concerns everybody and is therefore deliberated in public” Heidegger (2001) Sein und Zeit. Max Niemeyer, Tübingen p.174, also “that which concerns man is what is real in res” p.176

(5) “Things in this text are always useful because they do not exist independent of a human being’s employment of them in the constitution or maintenance of their world Whatever is beyond human employ, then, is nothing” Gottlieb, B. “A Pollitical Economy of the Smallest Things” ATROPOS, New York,p.46

(6) ibid p.50

(7) The capacity to contribute to an economy of human affects in socially necessary work depends on material conditions. Sound sleep, good nutrition, maintaining minimum social standards of presentability, are all essential to participation and enjoyment of socially produced goods. Each person has a limited time everyday to insure continued affordance of that which they need. This physical effort/time is limited by the available of corporal physical resources. In the contemporary economy based on individualized contributions and allocations of agency (in the form of money) we are all constrained to maximize individual benefit within an economy of limited available resources, both internal and external.

Inventing the Present

The bold demands on the cover of  Inventing the Future by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams generated much popular discussion on the Left.  Sadly, none of these demands will serve to provide better auspices for the great majority of humanity. These demands are worthy of attention because of the apparent sincerity with which they are declared, not because they are ambitious, but because they are not nearly ambitious enough.

Demand full automation: As long as the automation is monopolized by capital it will first and foremost serve to precaritize and exploit labourers and their class.

Capitalism will not automate itself out of existence. It will not eliminate the workforce, and it will not even try. What it will do is create a deskilled workforce, ever more dependent on capital for the ability to produce, and create a divided workforce, that does not share a common proletarian consciousness, thus diffusing its class power. And, for when and where discontent does bubble up, it will automate the deadly force required to repress uprisings. The brutal Enforcement Droid is much more viable than the pleasant robot servant. 

Demand Universal Basic Income: This is a neo-liberal ruse to side-track more fundamental demands for socially provisioned basic needs, such as health care, housing, and education.

UBI is increasingly advocated by the Silicon Valley elite precisely because it enables more of the neoliberal withdrawal of state provisioning of social necessities. If you ‘choose’ to spend your UBI on fast food and gambling and then end up unable to pay your rent, have a pension, or have health care, its your problem, because there are no more social services to provide for you. UBI will have made it politically tenable to do away with them. 

Demand the Future: The Future can only ever emerge from the present. Left concern for the Future requires the thoroughest concern with the conditions of the vast majority of humanity on earth right now. When Full Automation is advocated with only a vague reckoning of the destruction automation has historically wrought for humanity up to this day, S&W are clearly not with us here today on the ground but off in high concept.

The left imagination, it is claimed, has been invigorated by S&W’s provocations. Such vigor would be well channeled then towards elaborating practices and politics which can fundamentally improve the lot of the great majority of people on the earth right now. Part of this will require us to look soberly at the kinds of technologies we are told are inevitable and evaluate their applicability towards the general emancipation we demand.

Inventing the Future Beholden to the Present (a review)

Srnicek & Williams Inventing the FutureSrnicek & Williams “Inventing the Future” made quite a stir when it was released, as did their Accelerationist manifesto. As usual, when I hear such excitement I am concerned, concerned that a lot of people are getting sidetracked by glamourous, new-sounding formulations, away from the very urgent work at hand, which is to understand, confront and usurp the material conditions for the reproduction of the present.

Srnicek & Williams have done a great service. I strongly appreciate their call for a futuristic, left-promethean imagination, which attempts to promote a technologically advanced yet socially just civilization. However their notion of technology is too narrow. Mitigating the excesses of wealth inequality will foster invention not only based on quantitative performance metrics, and desperate competition for mere survival. Granted, Veblenian leisure-class-envy will always be with us, and will provide endless fodder for the various real life soap operas which get our hearts pumping. However, in a (future, social) world where economic injustice is moderated by dutiful and earnest polity, unforseeable new forms of science and technology will become possible, which will engage us in socially culturally and materially productive activities we are incapable of envisioning today.

We do not need robotics, or “to do away with labour” for this to happen, we need to moderate economic injustice. However, under the prevailing conditions, where the vast majority of new technologies (the futuristic ones, at least) are always industrial and mechanical in nature, where the singular vector of “sensor everything”-and-AI-the-results-into-executable-drone-action prevails, where the notion of progress is overdetermined by regimens of security and defense, there only seems one way forward: new machines.

The problem with the vision of the abolition of labour by machines has been discussed as long as the vision has been projected. The robotics production chain today is still full of labouring human beings. Now, the conditions may not be so bad for those higher up in the production chain, but let us, as leftists, please not gloss over the persistent and, up until now intractable requirement for exploitation of the meanest forms of labour the earth has ever seen as we approach the bases of the production chains. The reasons that automated labour will not liberate us is because it is built with and thus perpetuates the conceptual world of extreme unfairness and despotism. A world predicated on slave/subservient labour will produce societies and cultures which justify this. The imagination of humanity emancipated from toil by slavemachines is a tyrannical one.

But left us grant that we need to be tyrannical to some extent since our enemy is to a large degree “Nature” whose unpredictability threatens to destroy us. How we prevail over the deleterious effects of nature was one of the original drives of science, and has generated so much of the essential knowledge providing some of us the leisure and opportunity we enjoy today. But there is a trade-off, one we are still ill-prepared to make.

We enslave nature, and thereby, “provisionally” we murmur, some segment of our own species (in principle equally invested with rights) . But we do not have the cultural technologies to understand the trade-off between enslavement and emancipation. In the coming era (probably brief) of a resurgence of left science as a backlash to neoliberalism, it is precisely such technologies we must cultivate.

Capitalism tightens the screws over and beyond the pain threshold, as it must. Once the economic pressure becomes unbearable, a left swing in politics inevitably ensues, as we are seeing now. This left swing must not be confused with a permanent revolution/evolution in human society/sociability. At best, the left palliative will be able to prevail for an election cycle or two, until, always under extreme duress from capitalist/plutocrat machinations it will cede the gains it had managed to produce (improved infrastructure, improved education, etc. ) again to re-neo-liberalised exploitation.

As we see today a new dawn of socialist consciousness across Europe and even in the USA, we need to prepare well to make sure some of the economic resources released for the social good actually are used not only for the high-ticket science that dazzles us, but on fostering and reproducing the earnest and studious science of engineering how socialism can be sustained (to thrive!) for longer than a couple of election cycles. We need to understand the contemporary and historic trade-off between capitalized labour and civic freedom, and we need to cultivate new technologies,, social and cultural practices which can help us sustain social and economic justice so that it prevails over and subsumes capitalist productivity.

Srnicek & Williams are impatient, this I understand. However, their appraisal of what they call “folk politics” is ungenerous. It is precisely that kind of folk politics which is powering Podemos and the Bernie Sanders campaign, which brought Syriza to power. Admittedly it is not enough and we need more than traditional street militancy to sustain socialist practices. However, visions or projects for teleportation, nano-surgery and socialist Mars colonies, are not going to convince capitalists to stop attacking socially produced value every way they can. We need more fundamental knowledge about how the present is reproduced in this first place, the legacy of colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy and slavery in the very devices we use to understand such things, and we need social and cultural technologies to integrate that consciousness into new behaviours, new sociabilities, new modes of exchange.

Their book has some good history in it. Even if your thesis fails, at least do some good history, then people will still read your book. But as far as the present goes, Srnicek & Williams. “demand” for Universal Basic Income is certainly inadequate. UBI is increasingly advocated by the Silicon Valley elite precisely because it enables more of the neoliberal withdrawal of state provisioning of social necessities. If you “choose” to spend your UBI on fast food and gambling and then end up unable to pay your rent, have a pension, have health care… its your problem, because there are no more social services to provide for you. UBI will have made it politically tenable to do away with them. A far stronger demand would be one for universal basic housing,universal basic education,universal basic health care etc.

There is no reason in an advanced economy why babies are born in debt for expenses they must incur only to live, and for which they must first prepare and then submit themselves to wage labour in order to “repay”. We already have the technologies which can allow us all to live on this earth at excellent standards, they are not evenly distributed, and even when they are, they are wastefully reproduced and employed.

If we are born with any legitimate debt, it is one we owe to the legacy of exploited labour, which, through centuries of colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and other oppression bequeathed us the brilliant affordances of today. Inventing the Future must happen in the present, it is the present which will afford us every future we can imagine. Therefore it is to the conditions of the present inhabitants of our planet we must attend, each and every one of them, with the same care and concern, and with all our intelligence and science, if we want to produce sustainable forms of emancipatory society under the contemporary conditions of extreme capitalist discipline.

If you would like to probe the intractable depths of these concerns, please consider my new book on ATROPOS PRESS “A Political Economy of the Smallest Things”  Gottlieb: A Political Economy of the Smallest Things



structural challenges to technological emancipation (1/3)

structural challenges to technological emancipation:
socially necessary discipline

The interplay between discipline and freedom, how the former generates the latter and the latter requires the former has been a critical dilemma since the beginning of civilization. Without going into the rich philosophical literature on the question of freedom, I would like to outline two paradigmatic examples which epitomise the contradiction, one institutional, and one industrial.

No civl society exists without what I call “the hard shell”, the complex of border fortifications and installations and the personnel which monitor, maintain and provide its more reactive and spontaneous functionality. The officers of the State administration on duty at the frontiers are not free, they must adhere strictly to their instructions, and should an “order” be dispensed from somehwere higher in the very rigid hierarchy within which their duty has bearing, they must unquestioningly obey the order and enact its contents.

gottlieb- socially necessary discipline: the hard shell

The discipline structures of absolute control in the military sector of the society function to provide the spaces where civil peace may prevail, the peace which is required for differing opinions to result not in desperate violence but rather in leisurely conversation and accommodating encounters. Today’s prevalent notion of the virtues of the secular civil sphere: freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, etc. are completely beholden to the freedom from immanent mortal threat provided firstly by the “hard shell” at the borders and secondarily by the “radical lattice”: the structure of administrative laws, manifested physically where necessary in the bodies of policemen, and increasingly in mercenary-type security employees who uphold either state-sanctioned or privately decreed regulations on acceptable behaviour. This radical lattice with its regular machinic availability is also the material infrastructure of the civil sphere, the power grid and Internet, the sewage system and the labour provisioning system which maintains these.

gottlieb - socially necessaary discipline : the radical lattice

Computers are perfect instruments to be employed in military and police work because they behave absolutely, invariably according to command protocols. There is no freedom in a computer, if there were any freedom in the computer, it would not work. The implementation of computerization into social, civil sphere as well means that technology more applicable for discipline s being used “freely” the result is a certain militarization of the civil sphere, and uncomfortable overweening transgressions of the state through shared computational protocols into everyday life in the civil sphere. Networked computers truly bring into being a Cyber-social realm where discipline is not only cultural but structural, new forms of freedom will thereby be engendered but ever more informed by computational discipline.

The philosophical problem in understanding our societies as a trade-off between discipline and freedom has troubled humanity since the first civilizations. The society where the excesses of State control can be relaxed will mean that ordinary everyday discipline will have to take up the slack. Cultural forms, traditional religious mores etc. have customarily provided this discipline. The International should in principle do away with the need for borders and the military ”defense department” prerequisites for civil peace, but until the “lutte finale” towards the International has has been victorious, every nascent communistic society of any scale will need a military and face the same problematic trade-off.

Historically there have been some promising results in the experiences of the USSR, East Germany, China and Vietnam, we can see the hints of what a society where the understanding of the trade-off between discipline and freedom has been engaged more maturely. We can see there the problem is not technology but social structure and the only way to improve concepts of social structuring and provide sustainable innovations is to study existing societies carefully. How well the prevalent computational vector of knowledge production will be able serve that kind of study remains to be seen. It is evident however, that the reduction of everyday desperation about the capacity for any participant to engage in social production can provde enormous increatses in in the ingenuity and assiduity of the general intellect, with or without computation.

The absolute discipline in the micro-, nano-mechanical functioning (on the level of the chemical composition of CPU functionality) is what provides the emancipatory potential (freedom from toil)

Marx wanted to elimate work because he wanted to eliminate toil – an alienated labour deprived of its social integrity through capitalist exploitation. Work without exploitation is not work in that sense. But what happens is: Capital manages to extract value also from activities which are not perceived as being work, that are offered up voluntarily as a part of our unspoken social compact. “Everyday Communism” in acts such as picking up deliveries for neighbours on vacation, watching somebody’s bag, or helping someone with advice, are not commonly considered work, and are not usually remunerated, but contribute to the life of the worker, and therefore to her ability to work for Capital As such “everyday communism” is also indirectly exploited through the capitalised worker.

Likewise the deeply embedded work or toil of the reproduction of the capacity to work, “reproductive labour” as Silvia Federicci calls it. Reproductive labour is on the first level domestic labour, the feeding, clothing, and the many ways of caring for the worker’s capacity to produce work to be sold to the capitalist. The wage earned by the worker is thus not only for the hours of work performed directly by that person but also of the network of unpaid contributions to the capacity to work.

The reproduction of the labourer’s capacity to work also depends on agriculture and the distribution of food, provision of clean water, nowadays also electricity, transportation to and from work, shelter and many other assumed resources, which the capitalist who employs the worker need not provide. Much of these requirements for the reproduction of the labourer are supplied by the state, under capitalism as a subsidy to business. Especially on the federal level in a capitalist system, workers are taxed, but receive only benefits which subsidise their employer. Under neo-liberalism, necessities provided by the state at moderate cost are being privatised. This means rather than public spending subsidising reproductive labour, workers pay fees from the wages they receive from capital to other capitalists.

Capital’s unbending requirement to derive maximal profits disciplines the worker. Adam Smith praised the productivity gains of the division of labour, which, industrialised and scientifically managed through Taylorism, lead to pervasive automation in production of socially necessary goods and services. Amazon workers in the “fulfillment” center are part of a machine-human symbiotic labour-unit where the human part is subject to a control regime which is constantly adjusted to maximize productivity. The non-mechanical, intangible quality of the human participant is assumed as part of the wage, as 50 years before on the Ford or Lada assembly line, workers were evaluated on the number of pieces completed per hour, the psychological and emotional work they performed internally which made their physical performance possible and sustainable for day after working day was an intangible, expected ancillary labour on top of the that demanded by the employer.

Automation has always been there to discipline the worker in order to maximize profits. Automation of the workplace and contemporary capitalism are indistinguishable. The perfunctory modernization and industrialization programs in the former Soviet Union, in China and elsewhere in the early and mid-20th century were the application of automised techno-industrial (Taylorist) means borrowed from capitalist enterprise, with all their profit-oriented performance metrics, towards nominally socialist ends. It is not surprising that they failed to produce the ideal society for which they were invoked. Not only the regimented and alienating performance-oriented discipline in the factories but even the understanding of an emancipated society based on mass-production materials in general is fundamentally flawed. On a collective farm, the step from ox and hoe to petroleum-burning tractor is not simply progress, it is the disciplining of materials (in this case metals) into a robotic form made of standardised and replaceable parts, which in turns, disciplines the farmers into being appendages of the apparatus. The massive scale agriculture of the 20th century is a product of standardization-automization and the machines are a product of a way of looking at labour which is utilitarian and abstract from the integrity of the living labourer and its society..

A civilization for which the emancipation of every member is the absolute priority will have to approach automation as a very dangerous concentration, in the way certain herbal or mineral extracts are poisonous in an undiluted state but can heal at lower concentrations. The problem is that we need the entirety of the globalized techno-industrial dispositif to produce the high technologies we invest so much hope in today, and this cannot be moderated. It seems the problem is either all or nothing.

This is where technological disobedience comes in. Technological disobedience, a term coined by Cuban-American artist Ernesto Oroza, calls us to use technological products in ways which were not intended by the manufacturer and also for longer than intended. It aims to curtail the demand for new production of automation by deriving better products based on technologies which are slightly behind the “cutting edge”. These technologies, already magnificent feats of human engineering science and the techno-miracle of collaboration (albeit under capitalist discipline) on a global scale have so much under-utilized potential. It is an obscene waste to simply dispose of these highly sophisticated and capable instruments, but they are not built with repurchasing in mind. Technological disobedience, through generating alternative automatised economies of scale where access to cutting edge instruments is difficult, and by reducing demand for cutting edge industrial products, can contribute to a moderation of the particular prevalent innovation vector in automated capitalism and perhaps open up somewhat the field for other modes of technical innovation which do not serve capital so effectively.

The wider availability of re-purposed electronics can also support an ecosystem of software which can perform excellently on older machines. One of the principle objectives of counterantidisintermediationists is to design robust networked communications functionalities which do away with the need for centralized server architecture. Each participant on the network provides both storage spce and computationality and the application runs distributedly on the ad hoc network which cannot be owned but only shared. Such a network could ideally be used to coordinate communal production and distribution as well as to provide capacities for forms of research and exchange of information and ideas which are less under the pressure to produce exchange value from still prevalent capitalism.

The machines, and automation themselves are not the enemy, they simply avail capital of great means to instrumentalise and disenfranchise our living capacity. The vision, imagined by Marx and Engels, anarchists and communists, of general emancipation from desperation and subjugation, requires not more automation but rather a transitional re-purposing of existing automation for the specific computational and productive needs of communist communities, i.e. how to federate communal production, how to efficiently reproduce the infrastructural requirements (water, sewage, health care, elder and child care, etc. ) for a self-emancipating society, and how to do all this in a way that, under constant pressure from prevalent capitalism, maintains its domain of autonomy over the conditions of reproduction.

The machines themselves, computational and otherwise, and the immense miraculous techno-industrial dispositif which reproduces them and their ability to function, operate on fundamentally unfree principles. The globalised logistics chains, the dickensian conditions in tungsten mines, the reliable functioning of the power grid, all requires unquestioning discipline. Who will contribute that discipline under what conditions? What is the trade-off? How can we elaborate the notion of freedom anew in a way that integrates acknowledgment of the ambient social requirement to subjugate ones own freedom for the benefit of all? Technologies re-imagined to serve global emancipation and redistribution of socially necessary discipline are urgently required.


Saturday, monochrom and Telekommunisten are hosting DISMALWARE2 at Supermarkt Berlin, we will be screeing the movie DIE GSTETTENSAGA: THE RISE OF ECHSENFRIEDL, here is a guest post from Bonni Rambatan about the movie

Bonni Rambatan

(Contains movie spoilers.)

If the film is the defining medium of the 20th century, the social media is what defines the 21st century. That much is clear to anyone who pays attention to the way media constructs the lives and desires of contemporary society. If the film, as Slavoj Žižek remarks, teaches us how to desire, the social media, as it were, sets those ways of desiring into stone by determining how we like, how we share, to whom, to which things we are exposed, and so on. All is codified within the realm of technology, that—at least to non-hackers—remain opaque, even invisible. And all, of course, are presented as comfort—a perfect illustration to the Foucauldian “society of control”,
This is where the contemporary romaticism of nerds as agents of change often falls short—and precisely the target of Johannes Grenzfurthner’s latest film, Die Gstettensaga: The Rise of Echsenfriedl. In the film, we follow the adventures of two young nerd protagonists who are hired by the old media mogul, Thurner von Pjölk, to find and interview via live broadcast the reclusive new media mogul, Echsenfriedl—only to find that all is von Pjölk’s scheme of banning television and other forms of new media, because the live interview would turn all viewers into stone (because Echsenfriedl is a basilisk), hence creating mass hysteria of the dangers of new media.

It’s easy to see the Edison-vs-Tesla mythology at play in the von Pjölk-Echsenfriedl relationship constructed throughout the film. Much to the delight of the nerds, Echsenfriedl (obviously the more Tesla of the two) eventually won—but this twist brings a problematic ending. Echsenfriedl becomes the new media mogul, and the nerds overtly rejoice, even starts burning books and other forms of old media. In the narrator’s own words, “today … creative technophilia is not expressed in underground makerspaces, but out on the open streets!” and Echsenfriedl says “I like it when young people do something” and that he trusts “the wisdom of the crowd.”

It brings into question, then: are movements like Occupy Wall Street really “movements” in the traditional revolutionary sense? Is it not, rather, more of an expression of “creative technophilia”? There is nothing wrong with that, of course—as I have said in many of my other writings, hacking and play are the roots of revolution, since they shed light on new possibilities. However, what we should be careful of—and about which the film warns us so cleverly, if tongue-in-cheek—is this all-too-readiness in today’s otherwise potentially revolutionary petit-bourgeoisie to embrace technology and crowd wisdom as a sort of romantic proto-revolution for a more equal future, while it in fact remains firmly planted in the capitalist universe. In the end, it is Echsenfriedl who has the last laugh, while the nerds, as one can easily deduce, are “doing things” and producing “crowd wisdom” which produces yet more data and more market for the new media business.

The film doesn’t beat around the bush and pretend to give us a solution to this conondrum, but nor does it have to. What it does is that it forces us to think deeper about this conondrum, and the fact that much of today’s romanticized revolutions often go eerily hand in hand with the development of digital capitalism. Few films today, if any, manage to do such a feat.
Baudrillard mentioned, regarding to pornography, that what is being offered is a seduction of not sex but scientism, of objective close-ups, subsuming the real into the hyperreal. Might not the same be said today of prevailing discourses of digital revolution? What is being offered is a seduction not of true change, but of digitalism, of making the real world work more like the computerized world—a subsumation of the real into the computerized. And while on the one hand this may bring about new possibilities of equality, let us not forget that the decentralization of power it offers is a thin veil of power’s evolution as distributed biopolitical control.

(„Die Gstettensaga“ can be seen at various film festivals, hacker cons and on Pirate Bay.)

Bonni Rambatan is an independent critical theorist and cultural researcher with a main focus in digital culture, psychoanalysis, and Left-wing political theory. He has given talks and published writings in various seminars and anthologies in Europe and Asia. A graduate of English Literature, he now studies Management in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia. He also actively writes novels and makes films.

Twitter is like Coca-cola

Is “free expression” a right or a product?

If Turkey shut off its market to Coca cola or McDonald’s would there be the same outrage and ridicule we see today? “Wait! Twitter is not Coca-cola!” you cry? Just as Coca cola is not all beverages, Twitter is not the Internet. It is not “free speech” or “free expression”. It is a private company owned by private shareholders, some of the largest players in global finance. What does it mean to complain that people are being deprived of a corporate product worth billions to a handful of global finance investors? Who is generating the contemporary outcry for what purposes?

Is “free expression” a human right or a product of global finance capital? Inversely, is anything which exists outside of global finance capital automatically not free? For all those around the world who believe in the emancipatory potential and the democratic exigency of free expression, and that this can be fostered on the Internet, the technology is there to provide it for everyone. This is a provocative point of Telekommunisten’s Thimbl. Thimbl is a distributed microblogging platform based on Finger, a protocol from the 1970s which is still usable today to provide robust networked messaging around the world. Thimbl is an artwork which proves the point that anyone could implement an alternative distributed global networked messaging system.

The reason a platform like Thimbl is not being used right now to circumvent official Turkish censorship is because it does not have the finance capital investment necessary to be able to provide the extent and ease of services any web-user could use. The web could offer a plethora of federated, distributed, and also publicly- and commonly-owned-and-managed networked messaging platforms, a beautiful, diverse landscape of services whereby users could choose myriad alternative paths to the people they wish to reach or, if desired, broadcast to the whole freedom-loving world.

That monopolistic platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have come to be synonymous with “free-speech” and “free-expression” indicates the conflation of these ideas with “free-trade”. This “freedom of financial expression” is the historical meaning of ‘liberal‘. Resistance to this ‘freedom’ is historically called “conservative”. What we are more likely seeing in Turkey today is a desperate stand of a cabal of (conservative) local oligarchs against a (liberal) insurgent bourgeois with globalist finance capital backing.

Let’s try to disentangle our terms to understand what is really happening so that we can channel our anger to challenge what we truly cannot accept.

emancipation-ists of the world unite!
keep the focus of our indignation
on the right fight
global finance capital
will own our days and nights
until we all can coalesce
our power and insights!

a heavy heaving freedom

This world of high technologies is positively breath-taking, dizzying, ecstatic. The birth of the machine for work was the birth of the machine for pleasure.

The freedom we taste is contingent on a very regimented and domesticated environment. The freedom of the bungee jumper is contingent on the perfectly functioning textiles technology in the bungee cord. If the bungee cord is not manufactured according to stringent disciplinary standards, the freedom of the jump will become its opposite.

From the factory floor to the infinitesimal transistors inside every computer chip reigns an unfree hegemonic regime. Like the soldiers who provide the protective shell within which texts such as this can be ‘freely’ composed and published, the workers assembling computers can have no freedom in their duties. They are entirely subjugated to the demands of their jobs, which are imposed to a large extent by the science of the technology they are assembling.

In other words, we freely use the instruments they produce, and these function reliably because they were assembled exactly according to the rules. There is no place for dissidence on the assembly line. Dissidence would result in malfunctioning technologies.

Similarly, and this is not a metaphor, the chemical reactions inside the computer CPU are slave-like. They have no freedom. Any freedom there is error and sophisticatedly filtered out of sight out of mind . The weaknesses in the production chain produce substandard apparatuses, these are sold at a discount or trashed immediately. We all depend on the slave-like behaviour of the electrons in our circuits submitting to the laws of physics and chemistry.

Such ‘scientific’ laws are entirely abstract. By this I mean that they employ only chemicals which have been abstracted from their ordinary heterogenous suspensions in the atmosphere and in the plants, bodies and earth. These chemicals which behave so reliably must be abstracted from their accustomed habitat, purified and concentrated to the extreme. Often this means that they become deadly poisonous and horrifically polluting, but they behave! They behave marvelously to the beat of the electric current, the tribal drum of the electronic age. The electrons course around like infinitesimal remote controlled ants (or drones) through the circuits delivering charges. Hegemonischer gibt’s nicht!

The ‘creative’ ‘freedom’ we enjoy with computers, manipulating highly abstracted and disciplined images and sounds and texts on our devices, is predicated on unfree practices. This unfreedom is central and compulsory, inexorable to ‘free expression’.

We need, as Evgeny Morozov recently emphasizes, a much deeper analysis of the tricky and morally fraught relationship between techno-industrial unfreedom and social rights. And we need to acknowledge, honestly, scientifically, fundamentally, our continuing beholdenness to traditions of slavery-like unfreeness in the production chains of modernity.

Finally, we need to acknowledge, or at least earnestly envisage that, were programs, strategies and practices to become prevalent which could sustain other less-hegemonic conditions of production, such forms of productions will likely not be able to supply us with the same technological devices, and same techno-scientific vectors we are persistently informed are the unique guarantee of our survival as a species.

We will increasingly need to rely on much more involving and troubling things, possibly somewhat less convenient but potentially even more breath-takingly fulfilling and redeeming. We will need to rely more on eachother.

We can ground the ‘freedom’, especially that which is expressed in the unconditional enjoyment of automated services today, by countenancing the individual and social human legacies inscribed in the materials of the technologies.

Join the NUMBERS community!



When a name is lost, communities and individuals can cease to exist. FEAR OF LOSING NAMES ACTS AS A DISCOURAGEMENT TO GETTING NAMES AT ALL.

The people, not having their own names, use names granted by the CONSCIOUSNESS INDUSTRY, granted only to gain access to the words and images that the people see and share, and to know which people share with each other, these names are granted for the sole reason of TURNING THE PEOPLE INTO AUDIENCE COMMODITY.

THE NAMING OVERLORDS USE THEIR POWER TO REMOVE THEIR ADVERSARIES FROM THE NETWORK MY TAKING AWAY THEIR NAMES. This is a very insidious form of censorship, a theft not only of voice, but of identity.


The NUMBERS COMMUNITY is a clandestine network, disciplined and diligent, dedicated and ready to act. The NUMBERS STATION broadcasts day and night. NUMBERS AGENTS listen and decode the cryptographically encoded messages and act in the name of NAMES FOR ALL.

The NUMBERS COMMUNITY works to overthrow the name system and end their dominance over names on the network.

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.






THE WEB SERVER DOES NOT SERVE YOU. IT ENTRAPS YOU. As the web has been transmogrified by capitalist enclosure into a social tar baby, a honey pot for attracting communities and families into apparent sharing. Intercepting what could otherwise be direct communication and interjecting its systems of surveillance and control.

THE END TO END PRINCIPLE WAS WHAT GAVE US HOPE THE INTERNET COULD BE A PLATFORM FOR FREEDOM. A platform that would not only transform the way we communicate, but WOULD TRANSFORM SOCIETY ITSELF. Information would route around censorship. Speech would be free and no voice could be silenced. Privacy and anonymity would be inviolable.

THE WEB SERVER PUT AN END TO THE END TO END PRINCIPLE. The web server stands in between browsers, vetting, verifying, measuring, monetizing. CONTROLLING USER INTERACTION AND DATA.


DOWN WITH THE WEB. WE DEMAND DIRECT, UNMEDIATED, COMMUNICATIONS FOR ALL USERS! WebRTC is too little, too late. We must act now! We must be relentless in our resolve.

The NUMBERS COMMUNITY is a clandestine network, disciplined and diligent, dedicated and ready to act. The NUMBERS STATION broadcasts day and night. NUMBERS AGENTS listen and decode the cryptographically encoded messages and act in the name of UNMEDIATED COMMUNICATION FOR ALL.


“Will you log into my platform?” said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little platform that ever you did spy;
The way into my platform is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne'er come down again.”





"The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways—the point however is to change it"?

Now is the time to do it. Now is the time for the NUMBERS COMMUNITY.


The IPV4 Regime keeps addressability under the control of the privileged. IPV4 scarcity is distorting the network, rather than the symmetry of universal addressibility, address translation warps and degrades the topology of our platforms. Deforms freedom. Censorship and surveillance develop in the choke points of asymmetric networks. The CONSCIOUSNESS INDUSTRY manoeuvres to control the choke points, the gateways, the means of addressibility and impose their rule over the network, reducing all participants to AUDIENCE COMMODITIES.

The NUMBERS COMMUNITY is a clandestine network, disciplined and diligent, dedicated and ready to act. The NUMBERS STATION broadcasts day and night. NUMBERS AGENTS listen and decode the cryptographically encoded messages and act in the name of ADDRESSABILITY FOR ALL.

The NUMBERS COMMUNITY works to overcome the IPV4 system of privilege, of divisions between those that can be addressed and those who can not. IPV4 is a feudal and obsolete system of control.

The NUMBERS COMMUNITY militates for the immediate adoption of IPV6 and the delegation of address space for all.

And the great owners, who must lose their IP addresses in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are without addressability they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed