The Cybernetics of Intimacy


The problem of not mixing metaphors is the praxis of cybernetics. The universal metaphor (a metametaphor) is described as a language – the formalism which demonstrates the equivalence of all situations it describes. Thus, in cybernetic language, social relations can be described as exhibiting the same characteristics as an electronic circuit of hierarchical distribution of electric potential (pressure, power) and volume (voltage), flow (current), capacity and resistance. The surveying, extraction and production systems (the mine and factory) can also be described this way and, not surprisingly, because it is a good metaphor, it works well. It provides commensurability: surveillance, detachment, production, commodity distribution. Manipulable circuits. Control systems.

A good metaphor, the meta-metaphor is also what is known as "elegant". Elegance generates laws of nature. Unfortunately, we are trained that metaphors must not be mixed except in avant garde poetry. That only specialists can break laws recapitulates hierarchy and an interchange of centripetal and centrifugal distribution. Power flows from negative to positive except in ac/dc circuits, but even then, it follows predictable and malleable pathways. It is regulated by control systems – gates (checkpoints, offramps) and storage. No consciousness is required to make informed decisions.

Mixing metaphors is the zoom lens in the camera bag. It allows us to escape rigid lines of thought, to see the small in the big and vice versa. When a metaphor such as cybernetics describes or models something we deem important or ubiquitous, such as the inputs and outputs of economic investments and expenditures, we see that which is described as the model for everything else, a necessity, a law of nature. Taxonomies are reversed. The general economy becomes the unmoving condition, the reality behind the appearance, the law of nature, the competitive "free-market" system which now describes universal relationships as well as personal intimacies. Cybernetics itself is only a derivitive of "natural" cognitive processing and the give and take, accumulative discharges in "natural language" to facilitate manipulation and expenditure. It is an unfortunate confusion of priorities when dynamic life comes to mimic its static description.

The metametaphor fails when it is seen that the "real" concerns not just electricity and plumbing circuits, but the actual fundamentals of the mine and factory. This is our heritage. It is deep. Electrical and hydraulic systems only pattern it. Feedback occurs when the metaphors are mutually reinforcing (hydraulic and electronic systems). One is always explained in terms of the other – soon they become almost indistinguishable. Social relations become simultaneously more regulated, self-running and efficient. We are prone to see all observation systems as surveillance systems. They are synonyms. We "discover", by virtue of our universal metaphor, laws of nature. We submit to its authority.

People who do not share our heritage of surveillance (the predatory eye to detail), extraction and production, who do not view the environment (whether physical or social) as a resource base, are still observers and producers but did not undergo an industrial revolution. Surveillance has shed an archaic meaning, but has only become more hideous since. We do not remember our ancestors.

I love this definition:

Surveillance is characterised as a system of control which is deployed as a tool by a wider system of control. The general purpose for the use of surveillance is the continued reproduction of existing relations under static conditions.

Surveillance is a basic and easily communicable means of extracting significant information from apparently complex and multiple relations; it encapsulates the disproportionate hierarchy that exists between relative positions of watcher and watched. The specific content of the hierarchy is expressed through the purpose and practical requirements for the deployment of surveillance: first it must be decided why this place/this group of people needs to be watched. There is no surveillance without intent. – frere dupont

The etymology permits a less sinister notion in its earlier usage, but there still resides a certain sense of paranoia:

SURVEILLANCE:
1802, from Fr. surveillance "oversight, supervision, a watch," noun of action from surveiller "oversee, watch," from sur- "over" + veiller "to watch," from L. vigilare, from vigil "watchful" (see vigil). Seemingly a word of the Terror in France. A hideous back-formation, surveille (v.), was coined in 1960 in U.S. government jargon. Pray that it dies.
Compare with
OBSERVANCE:
c.1225, "act performed in accordance with prescribed usage," esp. a religious or ceremonial one," from O.Fr. observance, from L. observantia "act of keeping customs, attention," from observantem (nom. observans), prp. of observare (see observe). Observance is the attending to and carrying out of a duty or rule. Observation is watching, noticing. Observant is attested from 1608; in ref. to Judaism, from 1902.

OBSERVE:
c.1386, "to hold to" (a manner of life or course of conduct), from O.Fr. observer, from L. observare "watch over, look to, attend to, guard," from ob "over" + servare "to watch, keep safe," from PIE base *ser- "to protect." Meaning "to attend to in practice, to keep, follow" is attested from 1390. Sense of "watch, perceive, notice" is c.1560, via notion of "see and note omens." Meaning "to say by way of remark" is from 1605.

With observance, one can see a circularity, a negative feedback loop which presents an ambiguity as to just who are the watchers and who are the watched. Hierarchy takes a step back. Outside of the clustering and specialization (districting) of the civil relation, some "archaic" peasants and the "uncivil" held to a "keep it living" view of the relations between people and the environment, both social and physical.

The less opposition or separation between what we consider the dichotomy of physical and social "realms", the more this attitude of celebrating life saturates all other concerns. Certainly, early christian peasants could have had little notion of autonomy and self-actualisation in their children when they were "producing" saintly adults immune to the stakes and stocks reserved for heretics. – fendersën

This 'other' observance (or "mindset") is coming to be called in some circles TEK, for traditional ecological knowledge. As Khrushchev and Lysenko discovered, aspects of it can be detached and easily co-opted by industry. The "keep it living" part has usually been shed, but even this is not necessary in the capitalist relation because, for example, even though our children are surveilled, detached, exploited, moulded, and commodified, we do not actually want to kill them in the process, only their proverbial spirit.

An observant apple picker sees not only the specific product to be extracted, the shiny red apple who loudly announces "pick me", but as well the spur to which the stem is attached. To damage this spur prevents the appearance of an apple next year. Production declines. The orchardist transmits less of a keep it living attitude than merely expand surveillance duties to the apprentice picker. There is an accumulation of trade secrets (specialisation) which maintains and reproduces production and hierarchy. All other observances are superfluous and run interference to the circuit – the distribution of product. Surveillance keeps them to a minimum.

Nurturing in "attachment parenting" requires observation. There is no product. What is observed is allowed to be. We try not to be too conspicuously vigilant in the process. The concern is to keep it safe, not to produce a product. It is a policy of guarded but present non-interference. It is still describable as a cybernetic system of flows, feedbacks and decisions, but not in a hierarchical power lathe putting out a specific product meeting predetermined expectations. We are not disappointed when our children do not resemble us ... and then they do. Keeping it living is none other than Heidegger's Öffnen sie zu werden: "openness to being", "flowering".

The celebration and nurturing of a growing individuality results in a collectivity of self-resemblance. This is hidden within the idea of contingencies of reinforcement in operant conditioning - the encouragement of self-motivated behaviour maintains it and not ironically, reinforcing patterns are mimicked, imbibed, observed. It is a matter of aesthetics. Our reproduction through punishment only creates distortions, corruptions of us. It is a matter of neurosis. This came as a surprise even to Skinner, who had spent a professional lifetime concerned with surveillance and control and behavior modification toward desired ends. Yet, put this way, there is a certain horse sense to it. Duh! Unfortunately, Skinner and his comrades in the white labcoats may have seen the sense of it, they were unable to envisage its profound sociological implications beyond more efficient and complex control and management. The discovery of the "mechanisms" or formal description of an "openness to being" did not reproduce it. The lab must be maintained at all costs, as it is our only means to "wisdom". Wisdom is still interpreted in terms of the efficiency of production and the correspondence of the product to our expectations.

Concerning ecology, an Indian friend once said with a look of accusing irony, it was cool that we have come to certain assessments of the universe which resonate with native sentiments. The irony was that the 'natives' didn't have to wage a 500 year war killing fifty million of us to get there.

The fact is, we are not there, and this doesn't mean "there" is somewhere we need to be, a destination. That idea only keeps us vigilant producers and our children are still commoditities. The self-managed home is still a factory until we decide to view it as what it is, life. "It" is already in us. "It" is not something one acquires. This line of thinking is not confined to positing an origin and means to a terminal end. It is about seeing bigger pictures, a superstitious perspective which allows us to question our own confinement, where liberation or "disalienation" is not a project and does not require liberators. This is not to deny projects and helpers and creations. It does not deny a militant self-defense when attacked nor a vengeful chase. It allows the gift to lose all sense of economic value and the giving itself to become a human value, a life value, something we esteem and pass on. Home is not an isolation chamber but a refuge welcoming of refugees, where trade becomes what one does with one's enemies. In the absence of enemies, the home is no longer confined to the house. A true sailor is at home in every port.

When it is one's 'nature', this coming into the alienating world in which we find ourselves alienated, to "blow your mind" is not a destructive act! It is an inspired breakthrough – this de-fetishisation of perspective. But as you say,

The appearances of ghosts, or dissonances, within self-managed systems are indicators of different associations between parts and alternative means of attributing significance. Ghosts are disturbing because they threaten the coherence of the circuit.

That there is magic and science (a continual shifting of attachments and detachments, associations and dissociations) does not mean there are magical or scientific solutions. There is mindfulness, but no omniscience. Detached observation is still surveillance. Parenting is participatory, a performance art. Revolution should be no different. Trying to do things differently must remain organized with the mindfulness of what it is we wish to change. Abuse is never transformed. It is prevented, the reproductive cycle is broken. This is a matter of interfering in the reproduction of one feedback loop so another is "allowed' to sprout forth. It is a slippery slope but not a double bind to understand that we cannot be mindful of the totality of influences nor exercise even adequate control over our situations. It does not say "give up observation, stop making waves". Sometimes the most influential effects arise from the most limited intentions to control them.

And we are most pleased and surprised when we are encouraged and allowed. Treating ourselves to this is not self-control or self-management when mindfulness does not become vigilance, that is, controlling. Lived life as social beings is not submission to democratic forces. That is not what Kropotkin meant by mutual aid. It's a matter of mimicking what looks good (is reinforcing, encouraging, aesthetically 'pleasing'). It only looks like democracy from a detached position, the position of alienation. It is an anacratic system of inclusion and choice – a practical Utopia unconfined to the future or distant lands and where all is not roses. There are also dandelions.

FOURTH LAW OF CYBERNETICS: The openness of any circuit is proportional to the diverstity of weeds allowed to thrive in the front lawn.

If any idea seems hitherto to have eluded all efforts to reduce it, to have resisted down to the present time even the most out-and-out pessimists, we think it is the idea of love, which is the only idea capable of reconciling any man, momentarily or not, with the idea of life.

Each time that one loves is the only time one has ever loved. Difference of object does not alter singleness of passion. It merely intensifies it. We can have but one great experience at best, & the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible. – Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Yes, I believe, I have always believed, that to give up love, whether or not it be done under some ideological pretext, is one of the few unatonable crimes that a man possessed of some degree of intelligence can commit in the course of his life. A certain man, who sees himself as a revolutionary, would like to convince us that love is impossible in a bourgeois society; some other pretends to devote himself to a cause more jealous than love itself; the truth is that almost no one has the courage to affront with open eyes the bright daylight of love in which the obsessive ideas of salvation and the damnation of the spirit blend and merge, for the supreme edification of man. Whosoever fails to remain in this respect in a state of expectation and perfect receptivity, how, I ask, can he speak humanly? – Andre Breton

The intimate order [nonrepresentable and nondiscursive being] cannot truly destroy the order of things (just as the order of things has never completely destroyed the intimate order). But this real world having reached the apex of its development can be destroyed, in the sense that it can be reduced to intimacy. Strictly speaking, consciousness cannot make intimacy reducible to it, but it can reclaim its own operations, recapitulating them in reverse, so that they ultimately cancel out and consciousness itself is strictly reduced to intimacy – Battaile.

 


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