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  • Mark 8:40 am on August 17, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , techno-fascism   

    George Soros on the threat of techno-fascism 

    From this speech at Davos:

    The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called “the freedom of mind.” There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated.

    But there is an even more alarming prospect on the horizon. There could be an alliance between authoritarian states and these large, datarich IT monopolies that would bring together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with an already developed system of state-sponsored surveillance. This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined. The countries in which such unholy marriages are likely to occur first are Russia and China. The Chinese IT companies in particular are fully equal to the American ones. They also enjoy the full support and protection of the Xi Jingping regime. The government of China is strong enough to protect its national champions, at least within its borders. US-based IT monopolies are already tempted to compromise themselves in order to gain entrance to these vast and fast-growing markets. The dictatorial leaders in these countries may be only too happy to collaborate with them since they want to improve their methods of control over their own populations and expand their power and influence in the United States and the rest of the world.

  • Mark 10:18 am on March 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , pre-crime, prediction, , techno-fascism   

    The pre-crime assemblage: building the machine that eats bad people 

    My notes on Mantello, P. (2016). The machine that ate bad people: The ontopolitics of the precrime assemblage. Big Data & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951716682538

    Since 9/11 the politics of prediction and risk have created an alliance between security agencies, technology firms and other commercial actors which seeks to create a precrime assemblage: the first generation sought to identify threats through data mining (“search habits, financial transactions, credit card purchases, travel history, and email communications”) but the next generation are “becoming intelligent assemblages capable of integrating data from a multitude of nodes in order to foresee and preempt harmful futures” (pg 2). These advances are being facilitated through cloud computing, machine learning and limitless storage.

    The beta versions of these assemblages are being tested in real world situations, rendering it urgent for us to understand their implications. The first is what it means for criminal justice as a whole when the focus is on the anticipation of crime rather than dealing with its occurrence after the fact. The second is the expansion of surveillance into everyday life driven by the public-private alliances which are driving the agenda. The scope of surveillance is increasing but so too is to civic participation in it, driven by gamified mechanisms which “encourages citizens to do the securitization footwork of the state by offering them the opportunity to participate in do-it-yourself, reward-centered, pro-active, networked and, at times, and gamified versions of automated governance” (pg 2).

    Peter Mantello argues that the allure of technological innovation is legitimating these developments, promising greater impartiality and efficiency, while the reality of their operation is extending juridicial reach in order to identify non immediate threats to the established order. The pre-crime assemblage will function “to preserve the domains of its masters, who will control immense existential and predictive data that will allow them to shape public perceptions, mold social behavior, and quell possible opposition, thereby ensuring the exception incontrovertible and infinite life” (pg 2).

    He uses Massumi’s conception of ontopower to theorise this process, “a mode of power driven by an operative logic of preemption is spreading throughout the various structures, systems, and processes of modern life” (pg 3). Pre-emption itself is long standing but the preoccupation with speculative feelings of non imminent threats was, he argues, born out of the reaction to 9/11. If I understand correctly, the point is that risks are increasingly pre-empted rather than managed, with risk management becoming an anticipatory lens through actors and organisations proactively prepare for imagined futures.

    Exceptionalism becomes legitimate under these circumstances, as anticipated threats are used to justify actions which would have otherwise been regarded as illegitimate. A mechanism like the “public safety orders” enacted by the New South Wale police expand the principle of anti-terror policing to civic law enforcement: “they shift the balance further away from the principles of due process where people are innocent until proven guilty and more toward a new era where crimes are committed before they happen, citizens are disappeared without recourse to defense, and where guilt and imprisonment are based on suspicion, rumor, association, or simply left to the intuitive ‘gut feeling’ of police officers” (pg 4). This goes hand-in-hand with an affirmation of the unpredictability of the future. Randomness and uncertainty mean that crimes cannot be avoided but this is why anticipatory work is seen as so important to minimise the threats on the horizon.

    This anticipatory work tends to diffuse responsibility into an apparatus of knowledge production, identifying networks of connections or regional hot spots which become the locus of an intervention. A whole range of assets are deployed in the preparation of these interventions, as described on pg 5 in the case of Hitachi’s Public Safety Visualization Suite 4.5:

    This includes mining data from an array of various nodes such as remote video systems (hotels/city streets/commercial and private properties/transporta- tion lines), gunshot sensors that alert CCTV cameras, vehicle license plate recognition systems, wireless com- munications, Twitter and other social media, mobile surveillance systems as well as useful data from smart parking meters, public transit systems, and online newspapers and weather forecasts.

    Data visualisation plays a crucial role in this by “compressing vast amounts of invisible data into visible signifiers” (pg 5). However the uncertainty, ambiguity and construction which characterises the data itself is lost in the apparent self-evidence of the ensuing representations. The navigability, scalability, and tactility of the interface then mediates interaction with this experienced reality. The performative power falls away, as diverting police resources to ‘hotspots’ only to discover ‘more crime’ there (either comparable to what could be found elsewhere or encouraged by the aggravating factor of heavy handed police) comes to function as a legitimation of the apparatus itself. The approach also compounds existing inequalities through its reliance on historical apparatus about patterns of arrest in order to predict future offending.

    What I found fascinating was the slippage in the software. An example on pg 6 concerns ‘at risk’ lists, intended to be the basis for social service interventions prior to any policing action, instead being used as target lists for people who were assumed to be likely offenders. This on the ground slippage highlights the importance of understanding the organisational context within which new tools are deployed, as a means to understand how their original intentions may mutate in the context of application.

    The terrifying turn underway is from the deployment of past data to the harvesting of present data in real time. As Mantello puts it, this involves “the real-time extraction of personal data from an individual’s daily life—monitoring their patterns, routines, habits, emotional tendencies, preferences, idiosyncrasies, and geo- spatial coordinates” (pg 7). Enthusiasts claim that the broader the data that is harvested, the easier it will be to identify ‘criminal signatures’ at ever earlier points in time. This converges with what Zuboff has called surveillance capitalism in which behavioural data is leveraged to persuade rather than simply to predict. How might this modus operandi be enacted as part of the pre-crime assemblage? There is a truly dystopian horizon to such a project, described on pg 7:

    Yet there is also the distinct dystopian possibility, in its never- ending ontopolitical pursuit to colonize and regulate all aspects of social life, that it may suppress dissent and discourage nonconformist thought or behavior. Already we are seeing such practices occur today with the increasing trends of self-censorship in social media due to fear of state surveillance and authoritarian reprisal

    The gamified form this takes can be seen in Sesame Credit, produced in collaboration with Alibaba, as part of the early stages of China’s opt in social credit system, with rewards on offer for those who perform in ways that meet expectations. But as this becomes mandatory in 2020, we can expect this to go hand-in-hand with the proactive avoidance of people deemed to have poor social credit and potential sites where negative social credit behaviours may thrive. The author also considers the example of opt-in blackboxes in cars, where rewards on offer for those who agree to such monitoring but which eventually may be rolled out for everyone as part of a transformation of insurance. The City of Boston security app, Citizen Connect, offers ‘street cred’ recognition points for repeated contributions: “users who actively report on suspicious persons, ongoing crime, random acts of violence, or municipal infrastructure hazards get promoted to special ‘‘patrols’’ where they earn special badges of civic distinction” (pg 9).

  • Mark 3:40 pm on March 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , techno-fascism   

    Digital capitalism and the global police state 

    My notes on Robinson, W. I. (2018). The next economic crisis: digital capitalism and global police state. Race & Class60(1), 77-92.

    This paper places digitalisation in historical context, framing the current boom in terms of the fallout from the 2008 crisis. We are seeing a restructuring grounded in digitalisation and militarisation which will aggravate the conditions of the last crisis which still remain in place: growing consumer debt, vast speculative investment and an ever increasing degree of financialisation. Gross world product was $75 trillion in 201 while the global derivatives market was estimated at $1.2 quadrillion and currency speculation estimated at $5.3 trillion per day. Robinson argues that “the rapid digitalisation of global capitalism” needs to be understood alongside “debt-driven consumption and financial speculation” as an outlet for surplus capital (78). This is now coalescing in what he describes as the global police state encompassing:

    1. Ever more ubiquitous systems of mass control, repression and warfare that contain real and potential rebellion
    2. The increasing dependence of accumulation on the deployment of these systems in the face of chronic stagnation
    3. The move towards political systems which can be characterised as twenty-first century fascism

    The potential causes of another crash are manifold: a burst stock market bubble, defaults in household or public debt or new international conflicts. Digitalisation is not a saviour of the system but rather an extension of how past crises have been negotiated. As he writes, “the rise of Computer and Information Technology (CIT) in the 1980s was itself a response on the part of capitalists to the crisis of overaccumulation, declining rates of profit, and well-organised working classes and social movements in the 1960s and the 1970s” (79). These facilitated a global restructuring which freed capital from redistribution at the level of the nation state (e.g. precaritisation of labour, trade liberalisation, growth of outsourcing, distributed global supply chains, increasing capacity to extract corporate subsidy, bond markets disciplining states) while leading to an escalation of inequalities which now constitutes a systemic risk. This has produced a new crisis of overaccumulation described on pg 80:

    Given such extreme polarisation of income and wealth, the global market cannot absorb the output of the global economy. The Great Recession marked the onset of a new structural crisis of overaccumulation. Corporations are now awash in cash but they do not have opportunities to profitably invest this cash. Corporate profits surged after the 2008 crisis and have reached near record highs at the same time that corporate investment has declined.13 In 2017 the largest US-based companies were sitting on an outstanding $1.01 trillion in uninvested cash.

    Where can this surplus be uploaded? Robinson reads Trumpism as a far-right response to this crisis which in fact aggravates it, shoring up the system through a nativist mobilisation of the disaffected but “this repressive neoliberalism ends up further restricting the market and therefore aggravating the underlying crisis of overaccumulation” (80). Accumulation by repression (the war on drugs and the war of terrorism, securitisation, militarisation leading to  Pentagon budget increased by 91% in real terms between 1998 and 2011, while defence industry profits quadrupled) is one response to this crisis which we can expect will be ratcheted up even further by Trumpism. Accumulation by digitalisation is the other outlet, with a transnationalisation of services driven by the platform economy coming to replace a globalisation of production and the financial system in an earlier phase. The growth of the tech sector in this context is described on pg 82:

    The tech sector has become a major new outlet for uninvested capital in the face of stagnation. Investment in the IT sector jumped from $17 billion in the 1970s to $175 billion in 1990, then to $496 billion in 2000. It then dipped following the turn-of-century dot-com bust, only to climb up to new heights after 2008, surpassing $700 billion as 2017 drew to a close.

    In the process a new class of intermediaries has been empowered, accumulating vast reserves through their data driven insertion into existing circuits of production and value. The tech giants have world leading capitalisations and the broader tech sector encompasses the digital economy, in spite of constituting a relatively small part of it once you exclude the giants. Its implications for employment have been bleak, creating unstable and low paid work while increasingly threatening a decimation of established occupations through the roll out of automation technologies. Furthermore, tech companies themselves are strikingly small employers, embodied by a billion dollar data centre built by Apple in North Carolina that only employs 50 full-time staff. Digitalisation intensifies the contradictions of capitalism and ultimately pushes costs down towards zero. If I understand correctly, Robinson argues this leaves it unable to continually absorb surplus capital because its very success erodes that capacity.

    His notion of the global police state theorises what happens when “dominant groups turn to applying the new technologies to mass social control and repression in the face of real and potential resistance” as “digitalisation concentrates capital, heightens polarisation, and swells the ranks of surplus labour” (84). A terrifying new range of repressive technologies has been rendered feasible by digitalisation:

    The new systems of warfare and repression made possible by more advanced digitalisation include AI powered autonomous weaponry such as unmanned attack and transportation vehicles, robot soldiers, a new generation of ‘superdrones’ and ‘flybots’, hypersonic weapons, microwave guns that immobilise, cyber attack and info-warfare, biometric identification, state data mining, and global electronic surveillance that allows for the tracking and control of every Robinson: The next economic crisis 85 movement. State data mining and global electronic surveillance are now expanding the theatre of conflict from active war zones to militarised cities and rural localities around the world.31 These combine with a restructuring of space that allow for new forms of spatial containment and control of the marginalised. The dual functions of accumulation and social control are played out in the militarisation of civil society and the crossover between the military and the civilian application of these advanced weapons, tracking, security, and surveillance systems. (84-85)

    Investment in and deployment of these emerging repressive technologies provides a new vector through which accumulation can take place. A whole range of operations can be encompassed by this, from anti-crime sweeps and humanitarian missions through to drug enforcement operations and low or high intensity wars. It left me thinking of Nervous States by Will Davies and the significance of the eroding distinction between war and piece. It is inarguably that the global security sector is flourishing, ranging from arms manufacturers through to private military and security firms which now employ over 15 million people.

    His terrifying suggestion is that the “Global police state and the rise of the digital economy appear to fuse three fractions of capital around a combined process of financial speculation and militarised accumulation into which the TCC is unloading billions of dollars in surplus accumulated capital” (86): financial capital supplies the direct and indirect investment, big tech develops and implements the technologies, the military-industrial-security complex applies these technologies through militarised accumulation. This extends from military conflict through to the spiralling armies of guard labour and ubiquitous private security systems. There is a propaganda component to this, with over 800 major films and 1000 television shows from 2005 to 2016 being influenced by US military and intelligence agencies in order to legitimate these operations and their targets. This is his account of the core contradiction at work, from pg 87:

    There is a dangerous spiral here in the contradiction between a digitalisation that throws ever-more workers into the ranks of surplus humanity and the need for the system to unload ever-greater amounts of accumulated surplus. Once masses of people are no longer needed on a long-term and even permanent basis there arises the political problem of how to control this expanded mass of surplus humanity. Greater discipline is required, both for those who manage to secure work under new regimes of precarious employment and super-exploitation, and for those expelled and made surplus. The entire social order becomes surveilled.

    Digitalisation renders workers redundant and controlling them in their redundancy offers a solution to the problem of overaccumulation that digitalisation has compounded. He suggests that nascent fascisms need to be understood as a preemptive strike at the working class against a backdrop of ever escalating tensions. There is a growing concern for the coercive exclusion of surplus humanity in lieu of a capacity or willingness to secure legitimacy (pg 88). Fascist movements are displacing the anxiety of downwardly mobile but historically privileged sectors of the global working class towards scapegoated communities presented as outside and threatening. The reality of Trumpism has been a neoliberalism on steroids only likely to accelerate the underlying downward mobility and anxiety.

  • Mark 12:04 pm on November 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , smart cities, techno-fascism   

    The Corporate Fortresses of Digital Capitalism 

    I find it hard to read this excellent piece by Alfie Brown and not speculate about long term trends… how easy is it to imagine a world in a state of ecological collapse dominated by a few corporate city states fortified against the wastelands at their walls, as well as the millions of migrants fleeing climate catastrophe? He also makes the important point that coverage of these developments too easily frames this in contrast to the presumed democratic landscape ‘here’ and this misses the real significance of these possibilities.

    Having long claimed to be apolitical, Jack Ma, the billionaire co-founder and executive chairman of the tech giant Alibaba, was recently revealed to be a member of the ruling Communist party of China (CCP). It’s another in a long list of links between corporate and state apparatus that stretch far beyond the borders of China. Nevertheless, a glimpse into the projects the company is working on in Cloud Town, considered in light of these revelations, should set the alarm bells ringing with fear of a dystopian future of state and corporate control.

    Technologies in development at Cloud Town range from AI pedestrian crossing lights that use facial recognition to identify the age of a road-crosser and give them a longer green light if they are old/slow enough, to AI drone cars that can respond to passengers needs.

    The greatest feature of the car, explained the proud representative, is that its media panel, linked to the user’s smartphone, reads patterns of movement, food choices and potentially even photos and comments, and then crosses this with millions of data sets to make predictions about what the user might like to eat and how they might like to travel there or have the food travel to them. In short, the new citizen outsources part of their decision-making processes, and maybe even part of their desire, to Alibaba. Our very impulses are mapped and planned in advance. The triangulation between data, predictive technology and desire could be the single most important relationship taking us into the dystopian smart city future.

  • Mark 9:00 am on November 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , social credit, techno-fascism   

    Is this what techno-fascism will look like? 

    In recent months, there has been increasing media coverage of the terrifying network of reeducation camps in which the Chinese government has interned hundreds of thousands of the Uighur people. This is only one part of a broader system of social control in which what Timothy Grose calls a ‘virtual custody’ has been constructed through the proliferation of “convenience police stations” at 200 metre intervals, a digital surveillance apparatus and state sanctioned home invasions in which “big brothers and big sisters” conducted 24m home visits, 33m interviews and 8m “ethnic unity” activities in less than two years. What I hadn’t realised was the role that China’s social credit system plays in this:

    Yet the vast majority of detainees have not been convicted of any crime. Instead, the Communist party relies on an arbitrary social taxonomy – referred to officially as a “social credit system” – to identify targets. Metrics such as age, faith, religious practices, foreign contacts and experience abroad sort Muslims into three levels: “safe”, “normal” or “unsafe”. Those labelled “unsafe” face an imminent risk of detention.


    My understanding is that the social credit sanctions elsewhere in China have been predominately targeted at people in their capacity as consumers. This is not to minimise it because being locked out of credit and purchasing due to being designated ‘dishonest’ is an enormously significant penalty liable to impact upon every facet of life.

    But are we seeing the next stage of this process in the oppression of the Uighurs? How will this trial of the social credit system be combined with other trials when the system is rolled out in full? Are we seeing a concrete techno-fascism being constructed before our very eyes? Not the diffuse fears and harms surrounding surveillance capitalism but a totalitarian system of datafication with reeducation camps at their core? While the potential role of private companies in the operation of the social credit system remains uncertain, firms have signed contracts for implementation with local governments. If the system operates effectively in China how long before these and other firms begin to offer related services to governments around the world?

    • amorinoblog 8:37 am on November 14, 2018 Permalink

      Thank you for shedding light on this. I feel like I was led to this on purpose, because the issue of Chinese minority suppression has been on my mind (the Uighurs and the Tibetans) and I am very deeply interested in critical theory and how China’s state capitalism is evolving into technological authoritarianism. Ardent “communists” will claim that these are exaggerated claims perpetuated by the Western media and the CIA, but it doesn’t take very long to dismiss these arguments as buying into Chinese state propaganda. I found this very helpful

  • Mark 3:12 pm on June 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , techno-fascism,   

    From the mass surveillance state to techno-fascism 

    From The Black Box Society, by Frank Pasquale, pg 52:

    An unaccountable surveillance state may pose a greater threat to liberty than any particular terror threat. It is not a spectacular dangers, but rather an erosion of a range of freedoms. Most insidiously, the “watchers” have the power to classify those who dare to point this out as “enemies of the state,” themselves in need of scrutiny. That, to me, is the core harm of surveillance: that it freezes into place an inefficient (or worse) politico-economic regime by cowing its critics into silence. Mass surveillance may be doing less to deter destructive acts than it is slowly narrowing of the range of tolerable thought and behaviour.

    Where might this lead? What I think of as ‘techno-fascism’ is a speculative answer. How bad could this get if left unchecked? What would life within such a social order look and feel like? Could we imagine a frozen social formation, one able to perpetually recreate itself without change or challenge?

  • Mark 11:28 am on February 19, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , techno-fascism   

    On Techno-Fascism 

    I’m really enjoying Humans Need Not Apply by Jerry Kaplan. Much more so than I expected to in fact. He offers a thoughtful and incisive insider’s critique, in the style of a less verbose Jaron Lanier, concerning the likely trajectory of contemporary digital capitalism. On pg 105 he writes about the “new regime” creeping up on us:

    The new regime will creep in silently and unnoticed, as if on cat paws, while you marvel at how the modern world grows ever more convenient, customized to you, and efficient. But behind the scenes, enormous synthetic intellects will be shaving you the thinnest slice of the benefits that you are willing to accept, while reserving the lion’s share for … exactly whom?

    The idea of techno-fascism I’ve been playing with all year fits nicely into this account. Techno-fascism is a speculative account of what might result when this nascent digital elite, so thoroughly invested in the ‘new regime’ described by Kaplan, find their power and prestige challenged: specifically, if a significant mass use this architecture of modelling and control for explicitly political, as opposed to commercial, purposes. This is a prospect made more feasible by the regulatory vacuum into which this new regime is ‘creeping in silently and unnoticed’, as well as a broader process in which democratic governance has been hollowed out over recent decades.

  • Mark 1:21 pm on December 14, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , techno-fascism   

    What will the Millennial Fascist look like? 

    love this post by David Banks on Cyborgology:

    the future Millennial fascist will need to employ a highly adaptive messaging system enabled by what Zeynep Tufekci has called “computational politics”.

    Computational politics allows political leaders to portray themselves very differently depending on whom they are talking to. By using finelytuned algorithms fed by enormous databases of our past decisions, leaders will find a way to promise exactly what matters to you. Hitler may have been limited to a single message of strength but future fascist will be capable of deploying multiple messages of softer and more comforting propaganda. Instead of a single, one-size-fits-all message of brute strength, cupcake fascism will find what makes you feel comforted.

    Cupcake fascism augmented by computational politics is not just different wrapping on the same rhetorical structure. It dispenses with the unitary collective all together and asks you to embrace a juiced up but well-worn brand of uniquely American individualism. It can offer the palliatives of a Tumblr featuring hot drinks on cold nights in a safe and clean home. It can serve up promises of new applications for masculine discipline, courage, and strength even as war and industry are increasingly automated. It can make up a hundred more emotionally evocative messages that all end in a promise that theses promises can be real if this single candidate is elected.


  • Mark 5:14 pm on November 24, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , techno-fascism   

    techno-fascism and six factors which could bring it about 

    An interesting article on Truthout which has some degree of cross over with the ideas I’m developing at the moment. I agree with quite a lot of this in its own terms but see it as a tendency, susceptible to being resisted, emerging against a background which makes that resistance decreasingly likely (depoliticisation and the fragility of social movements):

    Techno-fascism is characterized by the ways more aspects of daily life are becoming dependent upon digital technologies that lead to many benefits while at the same time reducing the diversity of cultural ways of knowing and by increasingly subordinating human thought and behaviors to the dictates of machines.

    Unlike the racist mythologies of German fascism, the mythic dimensions of techno-fascism are rooted in ancient religious narratives about humans naming and taking control of the environment, and in the abstract thinking of philosophers who laid the conceptual and moral foundations for the modern myth of progress, including the idea that human life is mechanistic in nature and is driven by nature’s law governing natural selection. While the moral foundations of techno-fascism align with the values of market capitalism and the progress-oriented ideology of science that easily slips into scientism, its level of efficiency and totalitarian potential can easily lead to repressive systems that will not tolerate dissent, especially on the part of those challenging how the colonizing nature of techno-fascism promotes consumerism that is destroying the environment and alternative cultural lifestyles such as the cultural commons.

    The primary characteristic of all fascist modernizing movements is conformity of thinking and behavior, which is directed and controlled by total surveillance systems that track people’s thoughts, behaviors and relationships. The latest in the emerging techno-fascist arsenal of surveillance technologies is the new facial recognition system now being adopted by local police, which will shortly become part of the FBI’s $1 billion Next Generation Identification program. Photos of people not suspected of criminal activities, as well as those who are, will be instantly available to 18,000 local, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies. The facial recognition technology can identify 16,000 distinct features of a person’s face, and compare them at a rate of more than 1 million faces per second, with other photos held by police agencies.

    Three of the most important threats to what remains of our civil liberties include how social unrest resulting from extreme environmental changes can easily lead to redefining what constitutes criminal behavior. A second major problem is that the facial recognition software has a 20 percent failure rate. And the third threat is the one now plaguing local police across the United States: namely, how their biases and misinterpretations lead to police actions that result in the death of innocent people.


    I also think the potential causation at work here is very complex. I increasingly see this as a sui generis socio-political tendency, originating out of a very specific set of circumstances and unevenly generalised to the population at large through a diverse range of factors, which might in turn be compounded by a number of distinct though potentially mutually reinforcing tendencies. For instance:

    1. One longer term possibility is the increasingly proactive interventions of defensive elites, against a background of rising instability which they experience as leaving their (increasingly likely to be inherited) privilige at risk.
    2. Another is the latent totalitarianism that can be found within more extreme advocates of copy protection: how far into ‘private’ life will the enforcement of intellectual property rights lead the state to intrude? Cory Doctorow has explored this very provocatively across a range of novels, articles and talks.
    3. What’s the end game for the ‘war on extremism’? Given the tendency for wars on abstract nouns to generate more of precisely what they attempt to oppose, should we expect that the current military lock down in Brussels and the effective suspension of Democracy in France become ever more common occurrences?
    4. What role will depoliticisation 2.0, as I’ve become facetiously prone to thinking of things like TTIP and the Troika’s rampage through southern Europe, play in facilitating what might be a genuinely (techno)-fascistic tendency originating sui generis?
    5. If the present ‘migrant crisis’ in Europe is merely the tip of the iceberg, how will the further fortification of what is already fortress Europe compounds these other trends? What role will the Other, now here rather than there, play in fermenting (digital)  nativism? How will depoliticised governments respond to this tempting electoral inducement?
    6. What about the possibility of actual world war? The geopolitics of the Syrian crisis are so mind-bogglingly complex as to leave systemic risks multiplying with each passing month.

    The very depressing prognosis of the article quoted above is that techno-fascism would go unrecognised. I think it overstates the point somewhat but this is largely what I’ve been trying to get at through my account of distracted people.

    Digitally mediated learning, which is heavily dependent upon print- and data-based accounts that encode the taken-for-granted cultural assumption (and ideology) of the people who write the programs, reinforces a mindset that responds to short explanations that do not lead to the experience of boredom associated with long-term memory, narratives and written accounts. The ways in which the social media reinforce the importance of the shifting sense of immediacy and instant responses to the anonymous Others ensure that the emergence of a fascist state will go unrecognized. The systems of local control involving a variety of democratic practices and traditions of ecological wisdom must first be lost to memory. Where in the digitally mediated curriculum will students learn about these traditions, when the ideology underlying the digital revolution represents traditions, including local decision-making, as sources of backwardness and as impediments to students creating their own ideas from the wealth of context free data available on the internet?


    In order to understand the traditional defenses against totalitarian regimes now being lost, we need to focus more specifically upon the cultural transformations that occur as students spend more of their day in classrooms where computer-mediated learning increasingly displaces face-to-face interaction with teachers and professors who might spark their curiosity to explore beyond the orthodoxies of the day. The many hours of the day texting friends, playing video games and exploring the seemingly endless boundaries of cyberspace also shorten attention spans in ways that undermine long-term memory. Speed and context-free slogans have now replaced depth of understanding and critical judgment.


  • Mark 12:50 pm on November 23, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , techno-fascism   

    the slippery slope towards techno-fascism 

    There’s a great section in this paper by Frank Pasquale, The Algorithmic Self, which relates to my developing and deliberately provocative account of techno-fascism:

    Stray too far from the binary of Democratic and Republican politics, and you risk being put on a watchlist. Protest shopping on Black Friday, and some facial recognition database may forever peg you as a rabble-rouser. Take a different route to work on a given day, and maybe that will flag you—“What is she trying to avoid?” A firm like Recorded Future might be able to instantly detect the deviation. Read the wrong blogs or tweets, and an algorithm like the British intelligence services’ Squeaky Dolphin is probably keeping a record. And really, what good is site-monitoring software in the absence of laws that punish, say, the use of jackhammers at construction sites before daybreak? Will the types of protesters whose activism helped make cities livable be able to continue their work as surveillance spreads? Billing sensor networks as integral to the “smart city” is only reassuring if one assumes that a benign intelligence animates its sensing infrastructures.


    My suggestion is that these tendencies, as a slippery slope that is reversible but thus far isn’t being reversed, intersect with existing trends towards authoritarianism and depoliticasation. They increase the likelihood that the very scary things incipient within the ‘war on extremism’ and the ‘post-democratic tendency’ will come to pass by contributing to the fragility of social movements and the distraction of the people who comprise them. They also provide a socio-technical infrastructure through which this dystopic potential might come to be realised by defensive elites, effectively unopposed within the polis, who seek to ensure their privilege (more and more of which will be inherited in coming decades) against a backdrop of social upheaval caused by climate change, unprecedented mass migration and structural unemployment driven by automation.

  • Mark 6:46 pm on November 10, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , fundamentalism, , techno-fascism   

    the affective basis of techno-fascism? 

    From InfoGlut, by Mark Andrejevic, loc 2580:

    As Zizek puts it, the paradox of the decline of symbolic efficiency results in a version of what he calls a resurgent fundamentalism: “what is foreclosed in the symbolic (belief) returns in the Real (of a direct knowledge). A fundamentalist does not believe, he knows directly.” This formulation sums up the attitude of “gut” knowledge: “don’t bother me with your so- called facts, I already understand at a level that they cannot touch.”

  • Mark 7:33 am on July 25, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , , , techno-fascism,   

    imagining post-capitalism and techno-fascism 

    Last week Paul Mason posted a provocative Guardian essay suggesting that the end of capitalism has begun. It’s a precursor to his upcoming book PostCapitalism: A Guide To Our Future which is released in a few days time. I’m looking forward to the book, not least of all because it’s an optimistic counterpoint to the gloomy thought experiment I’ve been intermittently working on for months now: what would techno-fascism look like? I finished my first piece of work on this recently, a contribution to the Centre for Social Ontology’s Social Morphogenesis project, making the case that digital capitalism is giving rise to ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ while also facilitating surveillance and repression of a degree of efficiency exponentially greater than any security apparatus that has previously existed in human history.

    My rather depressing conclusion concerns spiralling obstacles to durable social movements exercising a sustained influence over political and social life, though not necessarily to protest, politicisation or critique. As the project progresses, I want to explore two tendencies towards digitally facilitated suppression: the ‘hard’ strand, the openly authoritarian mechanisms through which digital technology is used repressively and how they might diffuse, as well as the ‘soft’ strand, the increasingly designed informational environment and the cognitive costs involved in escaping it, as well as their implications for collective action.

    I situate these in terms of post-democracy and the political economy of the second machine age: crudely, I’m suggesting that the interests of elites in defensive repression, in the face of growing structural underemployment and unemployment driven by automation, creates a risk that ‘soft’ repression (already a problem) comes to be conjoined with ‘hard’ repression, with a post-democratic political climate likely to render popular restraints upon this drift ineffective. This is compounded by a political context in which the war on terrorism is giving way to the war on extremism, normalising repressive measures against those whose ‘ideology’ (let alone their actions) put them outside the political mainstream. Underlying this analysis are some much more specific arguments about ‘distracted people’ and ‘fragile movements’ which I won’t summarise here, as well as an argument I want to develop of where a trend to vertical integration is likely to lead the tech sector and how this might further incline the culture within it in a way susceptible to acquiescing to some rather extreme measures.

    It’s a depressing argument. But I’m looking forward to developing it. The project has been on hold since I finished my CSO paper because I need to finish Social Media for Academics. But I’m presenting an initial version of the overall argument at a Futures Workshop in August and then I’ll begin work on a book proposal in September. I’d like to include two chapters of design fiction in the finished book: one envisioning post-capitalism and another envisioning techno-fascism. I don’t believe either outcome is inexorable but I do find my own arguments worryingly convincing (I’m often very critical of my own work but I’m really pleased with the CSO chapter, it went through a slightly  brutal multistage review process and it really shows) at least in terms of currently inoperative social mechanisms that one could easily envision kicking in under future politico-economic circumstances not much worse than our present ones. But if Mason’s book is as provocative as I suspect it will be, I’d like to use it as an optimistic foil, not least of all to preserve the social optimism which I’m concerned that I’m in the process of losing.

    This extract from a recent Guardian debate with Mason (HT Phil BC) gives a taste of what the book will be like: https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/membership/video/2015/jul/23/paul-mason-is-capitalism-dead-video (unfortunately it won’t embed on wordpress.com)

  • Mark 6:54 am on September 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , techno-fascism,   

    Is this how the Circle got started….? 

    The ApplePay system aims to kickstart the so far slow-moving market for mobile payments, which banks and credit card companies have struggled to get people to adopt, but could also give Apple growing power in the payments industry. “ApplePay will forever change the way all of us buy things,” said Cook.

    iPhone 6 payment system


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