Domestication (The Cannibal)

Domestication (The Cannibal) is a visual essay I wrote in 2016, concerning the idea of total knowledge and exclusionary humanism. Where many technologists would be concerned about the relation between technology and the labor market in excluding people from society, this essay deals more with the philosophical side of being unable to contribute to the world.

Read Domestication (The Cannibal) in its entirety over at my site or read a somewhat edited introductory passage below.

-”…There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
- Donald Rumsfeld, February 12, 2002

Imagine a world in which every corner is mapped, every decision is preordained, all possible actions are always and only sanctioned by some external power, nothing that can be spontaneously unearthed without the means and validity of serious science remains to explore, sense or interact with.

All information and all layers of knowledge are already exposed to everyone— It is a world which is predicated on possessing information. Those who possess no information are the new poor.

Everyone is perpetually poor when it comes to such information, but some are at least entitled to sift through the information and delegate a society that has become a permanent bureaucracy.

Sources of knowledge other than scientific proof and raw quantifiable, processable data are deemed, at best, as intellectual embellishment, a sign of highly cultured senses — a sparkly merit in the curriculum vitae. Such ”other” information would unlikely be valued as critical, if push comes to shove, which it has always-already come down to.

Real information grants power, influence, capital. Other information turns into trivia. Real information is dangerous because it can manipulate the physical world — its most damaging function may well be when used as an element of hermetic truth within ideological reasoning.

In statecraft there has, throughout history, been several examples of deterministic and science/logic-driven ideological movements. The overarching goal is to somehow understand every relation as mechanistic and strictly adhering to rules, which are to be uncovered by the intellectual and scientific elite, and then correctly dispose the citizenry through the dictates of politicians. There is an explicit proper order of things, which must first be settled and then acted upon. This is the base information that guides Western capitalist democracies. It cannot be owned by individuals any longer — being far too costly and clandestine to produce and act upon.

The condition is one of permanent crisis. Always at a loss, always lacking, every action is an expenditure of resources. Every action a cost to be reimbursed somewhere else. Statecraft must find ways to bear its own costs in its production of reality.

Through financialization the individual cost of living becomes a complex mesh of economic relations. While holding on to the liberal notion of ”absolute freedom” of the individual, this becomes practically impossible to attain, making citizenship less a matter of loyalty or history, but instead something one buys into through total economic dependency via mortgages, student loans and credit debt — just in order to be part of such a state: freedom within very enclosed limits. The pervasive reflex of government is to conceptualize and provide a legal framework for what is right, ”best for you”, and best for the general good. What is highly specific for post-democracies is that the prevailing idea is that one is fundamentally free, however also highly attached to the economic foundation of the state in absolute ethical and ideological terms.

”Freedom” ends up becoming a range of escape fantasies. The sensory world is made the frontier of entertainment-aesthetics, simulated with ultra high-end technology and stimulated by neuropsychological means, mastered by a new era of black sorcerers who are now called medical professionals, scientists and psychologists.

The liberal citizen is still left in ideological terms, unscathed, however the world outside has become transit areas, entertainment-spaces and lowest-common denominator housing. The world inside, psychologically, turns to a mixture of economic survival instinct and endless multiplication of moments, trying to secure a foothold in a landscape that is devoid of texture because it is changing so often. In conditions of such unrelenting change and uncertainty, identity projects and ideological cores calcify. ”Change” — as in positive, active development in the name of some type of progress — begins to look similar to vulgar luxury when ”change” is more akin to trying to face a tsunami without being swept away: a force that has no concept, wish or goal other than wreaking havoc on our civilization. Paralyzed, the logical existential conclusion becomes to dig in and prepare for the worst.

Indeed what starts to form is a total stasis, a winding-down of mechanisms that previously had continuously liquified borders, and made people transgress what is expected of them, forming actions that question what is possible.

Nothing remains to add to this total world-image-in-becoming, only elements to be removed, if even that. A dichotomy is assembled consisting of addition or subtraction: allowing or disallowing, entering or exiting, gaining by expending, expending to gain. The initial arithmetic is simple grade-school math. It is when time and prediction of future histories enters the equation that the bureaucratic mindset begins to kick in.

This ideology is born from the military as well as the bureaucratic traditions. They are both binary systems — both search vigorously after that which does not fit the mold. The military gaze is predicated on finding the offending patterns and eliminating them, just like austerity capitalism is as vigilant about observing financial deficit as it is adamant in pursuing those who cost more than they produce.

The spectacular qualities of this society may seem far-fetched and as Markus Gabriel has written about, all-encompassing world-views are logically impossible. An object or concept — a certain society, a certain Utopia, a certain community — cannot contain every possibility or permutation or use, whether intended or not, or humanly knowable or not. It cannot, for that matter, contain every other object as a by-product inclusion. That is: a world-view cannot be singularly shared or understood, and it cannot contain every type of possibility or answer to every kind of contingency. Objects or concepts are not infinitely malleable. The promise of one certain mega-object, the all-encompassing democratic world-view, has to some extent been created specifically to force everything within its own framework, even that which threatens to destroy it.

This specific Western dream for totally smooth, conflict free, unquestioned ease in daily life and politics has overshadowed the necessarily harsh legal implications of the bureaucratic system put in place to enforce this smoothness. It is a kind of bureaucracy that surpasses liberalism, socialism and any other obvious, historical political notion, as its features are shared among each and every mainstream political ideology. Its necessary driving energy is regulated fear.

”Threat is from the future. It is what might come next. Its eventual location and ultimate extent are undefined. Its nature is open-ended. It is not just that it is not: it is not in a way that is never over. We can never be done with it. Even if a clear and present danger materializes in the present, it is still not over. […] The future of threat is forever.”
— Brian Massumi, ”The Future Birth of the Affective Fact”, p. 53, from ”The Affect Theory Reader”