Lanier states that the purpose of the second chapter is to apply "metaphors from certain strains of computer science to people and the rest of reality." He calls this strategy cybernetic totalism and this chapter is the metaphoric treatment and pragmatic response to "an apocalypse of self-abdication" although I might suggest in the second edition that he reconsider self-abdication and go with self-abnegation instead.
I agree very strongly with Lanier when he states that the "Rapture and the Singularity share one thing in common: they can never be verified by the living." But, ultimately, this chapter seems somewhat flat and wanting of something more rigorous than statements like "Antihuman rhetoric is fascinating in the same way that self-destruction is fascinating: it offends us but we cannot look away." I get the gist, so I shouldn't put too much emphasis on these sorts of statements. Especially since overall I agree with the trajectory of what Lanier's putting out there: that people should not be designing software and gadgets to promote the accomplishment of the Singularity and we can finally slough off this mortal coil we call bodies and live only in our minds. That's a Hale Bopp cult way of thinking.
Again, I agree, overall, with the sentiment that Lanier is putting out there: (some) people (might)are promoting the advent of an artificial intelligence so as to sell apocalypse 2.0. I like statements like,
People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time. Before the crash, bankers believed in supposedly intelligent algorithms that could calculate risks before making bad loans (news flash: they still do). We ask teachers to teach to standardized tests so a student will look good to an algorithm. [...] Whenever a computer is imagined to be intelligent, what is really happening is that humans have abandoned aspects of the subject at hand in order to remove from consideration whatever the computer is blind to.Preach on! I say. But, again, at least in this chapter, Lanier's flat. His worry that "we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process" just limps along in this chapter (although maybe it picks up later, I dunno). And the reason why Lanier's jabs and right hooks can't connect is because they lack what Agamben's essay's got.
The essay begins by suggesting that Foucault employs a term "apparatus" (dispositif in French) to accomplish three things in his body of work:
- the apparatus is the network itself between discourses, institutions, buildings, laws, police measures, philosophical propositions, and so on
- the apparatus is always located in a power relation and has a concrete strategic function (which means that it is not a gesture)
- given these, the apparatus is found at the intersection of knowledge relations and power relations.
Indeed, Lanier's manifesto (or at a minimum the second chapter of it) would benefit from an investigation into the definition of apparatus (French, dispositif) which has these three meanings:
- the enacting clause of a law, thus the section of a judicial opinion that decides
- the way in which the parts of a machine are arranged
- the set of means arranged in conformity with military plans
"God, insofar as his being and substance is concerned, is certainly one; but as to his oikonomia - that is to say the way in which he administers his home, his life, and the world he has created - he is rather triple. Just as a good father can entrust to his son the execution of certain functions and duties without in so doing losing his power and his unity, so God entrusts to Christ the 'economy,' the administration and government of human history."Thus oikonomia became the apparatus that introduced Trinitarian dogma and the divine providential governance of the world into the Christian faith. The downside of this introduction, as Agamben points out, is that God is seperated in His being from His action. This is also the problem of subjectivity in the modern era - how can I be a human being and not a human doing? "Action (economy, but also politics) has no foundation in being: this is the schizophrenia that the theological doctrine of oikonomia left as its legacy to Western culture."
Apparatus designates the way in which and through which we might actualize an activity of governance, but it is devoid of any ontological foundation and this is why the apparatus is said to produce its own subjects.
Agamben recognizes in his essay that to fully accomplish what he must in the interpretation of Foucault's term "apparatus" he must begin to establish his own thinking about the term. "I wish to propose [...] a [...] partitioning of beings into two large groups or classes: on the one hand, living beings (or substances), and on the other, apparatuses in which living beings are increasingly captured." In doing this we are able to return to the theological discussion above and see that we have the ontology of creatures but also the oikonomia of apparatuses that seek to govern and guide these beings.
He defines apparatuses as anything that "has the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings." So an apparatus is just about any thing and certainly any technology.
He defines subjects as "that which results from the relation and [...] from the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses." And so here we see the first volley against Lanier.
Taking a similar tack as Foucault, Agamben points out that "apparatuses aim to create - through a series of practices, discourses, and bodies of knowledge - docile, yet free, bodies that assume their identity and their 'freedom' as subjects in the very process of desubjectification." To illustrate this seeming paradox, that an apparatus creates subjects by desubjectifying them, Agamben points out the apparatus called penance. In performing penance the I that sinned is absolved and thus is created a new I that is capable of entering the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is the same apparatus in addiction "recovery" this is the recovering over.
spectaclism) is this process of desubjectification inherent to them. It is here that Agamben and Lanier are on the same page. Lanier states, "there is nothing special about the place of humans in this scheme [....] Information is alienated experience." Thus, Lanier states, information doesn't deserve to be free contra the Whole Earth Catalog.
But, ultimately, Agamben and Lanier do differ in so far as Agamben finds it impossible to achieve what Lanier seems to be putting forward in chapter 2 of his manifesto:
Here lies the vanity of the well-meaning discourse on technology, which asserts that the problem with apparatuses can be reduced to the question of their correct use. Those who make such claims ignore a simple fact: If a certain process of subjectification (or in this case desubjectification) corresponds to every apparatus, then it is impossible for the subject of an apparatus to use it "in the right way."
Rather than the proclaimed end of history, we are, in fact, witnessing the incessant though aimless motion of this machine, which, in a sort of colossal parody of theological oikonomia, has assumed the legacy of providential governance of the world; yet instead of redeeming our world, this machine (true to the original eschatological vocation of Providence) is leading us to catastrophe.Agamben suggests that we must make profane (the bringing back to the human what was elevated to the realm of the sacred) apparatuses. This rings very nicely with Heidegger's gelassenheit.