March 3, 2016 - Week in Review By: Hassan Abbas & Kelly Polasek
Seminar Topic: Protocol and Control
I. Suggested Questions for Discussion
Courtney: What does the concept of dividual mean as opposed to individuals?
Diana: What does Galloway mean (on page 52 in Protocol) when he says, “protological objects never contain their own protocol,” and how does that relate to our coding? What do we do when there is no protocol? How does real life intervene in what we determine our protocol could be (e.g., in the current case Apple v. FBI)?
Noah: What’s going on in the ‘Program’ section of Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control”? On another note, what does Galloway mean in “Networks” when he talks about ‘not logos, but ergon (work)?
Joe: What is Galloway mean by open run time (movement) as opposed to an open source movement? What might this look like? What are the implications of Galloway’s talk about the ‘shift away from reading’ on page 52 of Protocol)? With regard to Blas’s work, how can we take the term anonymity and translate it into resistance?
David: Galloway is ‘demystified’ (on page 53 of Protocol). Can we demystify his demystification?
II. Blas and the Facial Weaponization Suite
The mask is explicitly not a practical solution. As an art project, there’s satisfaction with the bright pink blob on your face, but it’s cumbersome to wear, and if you were to walk around in it, it would be incredibly disruptive to ordinary social discourse. For instance, if it was worn on campus, it would freak people out— the police would possibly show up. In order to disrupt the protological, automatic structure, the things that undo/withhold your identity become incredibly disruptive for your ordinary ongoing life. (Galloway touches on how biopolitics is protocological, and in terms of facial recognition, Blas’s mask is what it would take to actually interrupt these protocols. Suggested reading: Hannah Rose Shell, Hide and Seek (Zone Books, 2012).
This week, we’re talking about neoliberalism but not using the word yet. We’ll see that in the Networks week, too. Liberalism in the strict sense works for a disciplinary society; Jeremy Bentham is one of liberalism’s most important theorists and the influence for Foucault with his panopitcan. Per Foucault, the political rationality of disciplinary society is liberalism. Per Deleuze, the political rationality of control society would be neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is all about markets, and markets can be fostered. Neoliberalism’s governing rationality is to turn everything into a market, that is, to legislate marketization. Deleuze is much more interested in the technologies of political control as opposed to markets; this could be understood as a different articulation of the same thing with different emphases. Galloway teaches us a way to think of periodizing the present not in terms of neoliberalism but in terms of control society and the dividual. If you just conclude that we’re in neoliberalism, that’s not analysis—we need to think about what that means. When Galloway wrote Protocol as his dissertation in 2004, neoliberalism was not the thing, as opposed to now, when neoliberalism is the periodizing thing of our present. What does this shift do to our reading of Protocol?
IV. A Breakdown of Deleuze’s “Postcript on the Societies of Control”
Now, it’s time to tackle the dividual. Per Steve Shaviro, this means that you are less an identity and more an aggregation of data. You’re a credit report, an IP address, medical records, various accounts, etc. You’re endlessly identifiable by parts that are separable from you and have nothing to do with your interiority or the spaces you move through. The dividual’s properties are abstract and constantly modulated. Dividuality also makes for aggregate-ability across locales or institutions (think: “they may be watching at any time”).
Per Scott, the dividual is you insofar as you are a cluster of unique identifying numbers of various kinds. Related is the concept of linkability (think: Citizenfour, the documentary on Snowden): someone can figure out what you’re doing or who you’re around from an account that belongs to you because the number can be aggregated and connected in various ways. Per Kris Cohen, everything we thought belonged to interiority has been made external and countable by desire. We are members of a population subject to aggregation of big data.
Dividuality brings you under control not only of state institutions (emblematic of disciplinary societies). In fact, the concept is detached from institutions. It also doesn’t require any translations between bureaucracies. Here, Joe added that the numbers/data get called and assembled differently in different contexts. This led to David asking whether dividuality is always mathematically or numerically quantifiable. Scott answered that yes, dividuality is always about quantification and computation and added that this includes forms of dividuation that are biometrical (like what Blas is using in the masks).
Courtney asked whether the changes in the school, factory, etc. that Deleuze mentions are a result of the dividual. Scott explained that the institutions will still operate, but what happens is the dissolution of disciplinary society and the subsequent rise of control society, which results in the direct permeability of these things. Deleuze talks about the linear progression from one institution to the next; each one will impose its own forms of discipline and identification. It’s not that the institutions stop working but they stop being bounded, that is, their boundaries get leaky. One way to think about that is that now school systems have become more like corporations. Intimacy is subject to this translatability and osmosis as well.
At this point, we turned to the final page of the Deleuze. Joe noted that we have to come up with ways of understanding how things have shifted from disciplinary to control societies by determining categories or ways in which to think about it. David says that desire may be a constituent of this power paradigm, but the illusion of open space if just as important, especially because our access to this open space is controlled Scott added that those categories need to come from a method of description of something that’s currently existing. To Deleuze, “methods” are methods of exerting technologies of power. He says, “we are at the beginning,” because this moment is new and difficult for us to grasp. The concrete operation of power is inhuman, proceeds through a variety of technologies where there is not an individual subject in control.
V. Protocological Objects & Open Run-time in Galloway’s Protocol
Now we turn to Galloway’s “Networks” and Protocol and dig in, starting with the distinction between open source and open runtime. Open runtime is a term invented by Galloway, and Scott thinks that Galloway may not himself at this point know what open runtime would like like but is imagining what it could mean. Open source is source code available to anybody (e.g., the code we’re writing is on Github, which is available to everybody; Linux; at least certain portions of Firefox and Chrome; Open Office). Runtime is the actual program open and running. The executable code is the application sitting on your disc in the application folder; most Microsoft and Apple software is closed source, so you only have access to the executable code.
If we can’t come up with a definition for open runtime, we can think at least think about what its function is in Galloway’s argument. Joe says it belies a dissatisfaction with open source movements as not enough. Hassan adds that open source is never open enough because it’s not readable to all and because it’s encapsulated in libraries. Scott says that things that are emblematic of networks involve a dialectic of transparency and obscurism. Open runtime wouldn’t be organized by this dialectic—it’s some form of openness in software, yet to be imagined, that would not be about the transparency of the source, as Chun describes it.
Galloway is tracking Lauren Berlant’s concept of the impasse: because we don’t understand the political forms we’re organized under, we don’t yet know the modality of what resistance might be. Noah believes that the resistance will come from tech, and Scott notes that the things we imagine will be resistance to political power are already constituted in the existing political power. Galloway mentions viruses and distributed denial of service applications as potential genres of political resistance. The reason grassroots organizations won’t work is because they’re distributed networks, and the powers that be are networks, too. If Galloway took more seriously the lived forms to which the experience gave rise rather than thinking the most important thing is the experience of the technology, would we get different results?
This is not so much technological determinism as technological fatalism; we are lashed to the operation of our technologies in this very pointed way. Joe adds that with Galloway and Chun, there’s a drive towards the idea that being an engineer or being code literate matters because that’s the only avenue for resistance. This leads to the idea for a hypothetical potential final project, coined Breaky Breaky, which might involve learning to do a distribute denial of service or some other break. What would it mean for code pedagogy to take this form? The model is normally toward making stuff. Joe also mentions glitch art as a form that could marry some aesthetic responses to this notion of hacking and breaking stuff as a form of resistance.
To address Diana’s question about Galloway’s statement that “protocols are never continuous with themselves,” Scott brings up Gödel’s completeness theory. The theory is that any formal system actually can’t describe all of its own rules itself; there has to be something external to it (e.g., a router uses TCP/IP but doesn’t contain TCP/IP). Similar to McLuhan’s claim that the content of new media is always another media, the content of some protocol might be another protocol (but it’s definitely not its own protocol).
VI. Current Event: Apple v. FBI
We wrap our discussion with an example from current events. In the case of Apple being compelled by the FBI to unlock an iPhone, it’s not that Apple doesn’t have the capacity for the technology, it’s that they’re choosing not to do it. That means there’s something outside and above the technology itself. This case is playing out legally and involves a 1789 law’s interpretation; this weird asynchronous temporality feels significant to Scott. Archaic law co-existing with technology has weird effects. On the other side of things, the reason Apple doesn’t want to do comply with the FBI’s request is that they want to sell the fantasy (and to some degree the practice) of security. At the same time, most hacking has to do with human factors, not brute force hacking. Apple is fighting this as marketing. The government wants to win the case in the name of security in terms of intensified personal control. Here, we have two institutions fighting over which one neoliberalism better. It’s an uneasy coexistence of disciplinary and control society.
The discussion in the blogosphere centered mostly on issues of power and politics that can be derived from living in the digital age, and some contemporary correlates that enact the complex relationships between humans, computers and institutions. Zach Blas’ Facial Weaponization Communiqué may have opened the door for this. Frankly, the underbelly of surveillance and bio-governance that Blas describes hits close to home, although the effects may not be as widespread as we think, lest we forget that these technologies of recognition and control both template and privilege certain bodies (white, male, heterosexual) over others. Being told about these insidious programs can be a sobering experience, especially when one considers their decentralized and distributed structures, their dividualising powers, and their transferability across governmental and corporate institutions. In this way, these bio-surveillance mechanisms preside equally in Galloway via Deleuze, as they do in Deleuze via Foucault.
David pointed to this dispersion of control, which occurs in subtle and insidious ways, and has changed shapes from the confinements and enclosure to its atmospheric, intangible, mobile and diffused form; “Deleuze… sees this form of control as becoming hegemonic extending even to speech and imagination and where control is no longer an exercise in confinement but in continuous control and instant communication”. Further, David finds an overlap between language dissemination and the largely text based communication of the Web, which marks another fuzzy area. One way to think about this is that textual communications via the internet are indeed passed through protocol, but the effect thus produced may exist on the level of interface first.
Joe and Noah noted the particular strain of resistance in Blas’s manifesto, as well as Galloway’s Networks. New modes of resistance to hegemony and control, be they radical imaginaries or actual aesthetic practices, are needed to combat distributed control. As Noah points out, no matter how asymmetric to control networks, resistance networks are still always formally inside of them. Thinking about the alternative models of modern life in this way can indeed be caustic, if not discouraging, but perhaps the important lesson to learn from Galloway and Blas is that a more effective resistance can only be achieved through a diagrammatic and perfunctory knowledge of networks, control structures, governmentality and dividualised existence.
Diana grappled with the idea of protocol in both the technological and socio-political realm. Bertalanffy evocation of the materiality of social and biological systems cannot be far from the materiality of memory, cognition, and media evolution in thinkers like Kittler and Stiegler. While it is true that the confrontation between Apple and the federal government (and the resulting brouhaha) may complicate Galloway’s off/on, possible/impossible protocological regimes, the case can also be understood in terms of opacity and relational non-rilationality to our communication technologies, that muddies up the subject, and may even produce false autonomy. Such is the case for Hodge and the contemporary networked moment this week. So while Nathaniel laments diminishing privacy, and both Diana and Aden try to make sense of protocol in human terms, we find ourselves in yet another realm of computer-human relations: networked living, and what it means to be social over an online connection.