The duality of what we are doing, L.M. Sacasas post on “The frailest thing” blog

The duality of what we are doing, Reader’s induction

We are who we are because of what we learn and what we remember.
Eric Kondel, In Search of Memory


Modern technological advancement, is it a risk to dehumanize the humanly ability to a dystopia? Have there any risk factor persists which we’re not even able to face or adapted at future? Does technology be the real threat for machine-dominated slavery? Is there any sign budding in existent surface that could omen the upcoming disaster of human civilization? Is it frivolity to think that we are in the edge of danger, to accept the upcoming landslides of dehumanization, slavery and even the greatest threat of extinction? Technology truly does any harm, for that we consider it evil? Who is responsible for the augmented disequilibrium and anesthetic fragilities of human society? Is it technology? Or, is it the perception we have used to carry in our mind about the impact of technology in daily life? Is technology bless, or the curs?

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Readers, L.M. Sacasas (director of the Center for the Study of Ethics and Technology) tried to discuss all this in his article “Thinking what we are doing” in “The frailest thing.com” blog. He designed his blog to discuss the relation and impact of technology in our social, cultural, political or ethical maneuver of life. Today’s shared post is his projected first part of the named article “The Internet, the Body, and Unconscious Dimensions of Thought”. Sacasas certainly raised critical point in the article, which should claimed attention for future talk and debate.


Question: who is to bell the cat first? Our fate and destiny perhaps depended to solve the question and I hope Sacasas will think more about that.


Let summarize his article first, because as a reader I have to say, the subject of this article is extremely relevant to our present reality and circumstances, but article writer’s approach (with all respect to his stylish locution) sounds academic rather than to reader-friendly. The chosen subject was perhaps more convincing if he uses frequent examples to clarify the inner complexities and philosophical notions moreover. Here I tried to summarize his speech first and then tried to add little more thought of mine, so far I realized it as reader’s sight. Let start:

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Summary: I ingest it so far…: The key-point of his article derived from the opponent’s fear about technology’s impact in human society and proponent’s denial to refute the fear. In his article, he considered Hannah Arendt (discussed more in his another article “Our Digital Idiocy”) and Paul Virilio as the opponents, because both of them echoed the fear about modern technological advancement which represents the fretful dichotomy between “human physique and the artificial physique  (the modern apparatus, invented by the great human-mind)”. Even though human intellect is the root cause of invent the apparatus (for sake of survival and progress of knowledge seeking attitude against all ignorance), but the human intellect gradually being incompetent to match itself to this apparatus based development. As suppose Sacasas quoted Hannah Arendt‘s fear:

“…it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking.”

He explained Hanna’s “nearly prescient” comment in his article includes Paul Virilio‘s futuristic fear that:

“On the eve of the 21st century, similar concerns were articulated by Paul Virilio who believed that our technologies, particularly the Internet, created a situation in which a total and integral accident was possible – an accident unlike anything we have heretofore experienced and one that we could not, as of yet, imagine. Virilio termed this possibility the general accident.”

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Sacasas earnestly explained their fear and tried to refute it by adding Gregory Ulmer‘s as proponent of the fear. For example, he used Ulmer’s opposite reaction (the “Electracy” theory) to solve the fear about techno-based advancement (such as internet apparatus and its impact to the collective society). I quoted here Sacasas interpretation on Ulmer’s disagreement:

“Gregory Ulmer is likewise concerned about the challenges presented to our thinking and our politics by technology, specifically the Internet; but Ulmer is more sanguine about the possibility of inventing new forms of thought adequate to our circumstances.

Ulmer begins Electronic Monuments with a discussion of Paul Virilio’s general accident because, in Ulmer’s view, Virilio has “most forcefully” articulated concerns about “the Internet as the potential source of a general accident.” Unlike Virilio, however, Ulmer believes the best response to the potential of the general accident lies not in opposition to Internet, but through the possibilities created by the Internet.”


…the question of “subjectivity” (see Sacasas’s analysis)1 of anything not depended to the “subjective” (and be collective) opinion of mass people.


Sacasas mentioned the exemplified possibilities as “digital repository”, where internet apparatus now played the depositor of knowledge. We can easily achieve our entire progress (includes every single bit information) to remember and perhaps use it at future, so that we can rectify any errors if situation demands. Not like that, if any threat arise from the machine based advancement at near future (suppose the self-censored robots trying to destroy us), even if it will come to the wrong political decision of any human being, we will hopefully able to recover the loss by using the repository.

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In light of Ulmer’s “Electronic Monument”, Sacasas tried to assure the opponent that, the fear is not rootless but it is one-sighted if we consider the opposite that, an open window could also be existed there. Hannah and Virilio tried to calculate the loss and depravation (* unethical and corrupt morally) of human intellect but even not tried to calculate the positive impacts and advantages of digital advancement. Rather than they undermined the possibilities that we can easily use the invented apparatus (such as today’s internet, artificial robots and lots which are waiting to develop more at future) as “prosthesis” to avoid the loss or depravation.


On the other hand, if we created the “machine genius” by otherwise or architected it any other form (with strongly self-censored perception to think good and never doing evildoers bad things), uncertainty still be the same over there.


Individual human mind maybe the inventor of all these apparatus but the beneficiaries here is collective mass (society people), so think about the possibilities and take the responsibility for misuse (digital idiocy) the machine based inventions also be collective here. It seemed to me that Sacasas’s interpretation tried to touch the groundbreaking point that, fear from the apparatus based development truly depends on the following:

a. how we treat the whole digital advancement at the rest, if we treat this as individualistic outcome of scientific thought (and experiment), if we criticized it of chance only to blame the scientific notions, and not try to establish any logical apprehension between science and other areas (philosophy, politicos etc.) of knowledge, —disaster is inevitable. b. today we’re more concerned about “what’ll going to the future” rather to think about that, —what we have done now to avoid unexpected disaster. c. we forget the intersubjectivity nature of human race that by history, we’re more collective in our identity rather to act individual, so the fear of loss could be treated on collective aspect before solve it.

My little annotation: think and consider it so far…: Readers, I hope the “summary” will help you to understand the key objective of Sacasas article, even so if I missed or misunderstood anything you can easily point this by reading the whole in here. Now, let try to consider the entire picture as a reader’s perspective. I bulleted my thoughts here to clarify the whole facts, so far I realized:

I. Hannah and Virilio’s fear-perception (about the occurrence or upcoming disaster) is not exceptional to the milieu. Lot of plebeian (includes mine) have had keeps the same fear into the mind. Today we extremely depended on apparatus-world and obedient to use it in a lot extent, but have you any choice to reject it? The answer is simple here, —no, you haven’t any right to deny it, because you’re not the choice-maker. The amplification of apparatus based knowledge-experiment not made to consider plebeians opinion. Today’s technology (either it is internet, robotics, nuclear bombs or else anything) not depended to the democratic-opinion for moving forward.

Suppose, during the cold-war age the two heavyweight superpowers used internet apparatus for espionage. The CIA used to lick the information of KGB and KGB did the same as well. In mid nineties (soon after the collapse of socialism and end of cold war), the hidden players (inventors, politicians, business Mughals, top executives and policy-makers of the apparatus) now thought this internet apparatus could be used to open a new gateway of open market economy.

“the Internet as the potential source of a general accident.”

The hidden players (I think they’re the actual collective within the collective like mine who is one of the trivial representative of plebeiandidn’t feel any urgency to ask the plebeian, “Hi! What do you think about that? Is it makes the life more easy or the opposite?” They didn’t do that, because, they knew very well yonder plebeian has no idea of that and couldn’t say (or infer) anything positive about it. They’re the same old conservative to take the new heartedly.

So the question of “subjectivity” (see Sacasas’s analysis) of anything not depended to the “subjective” (and be collective) opinion of mass people. We left it behind the remote dawn of human race (the primordial era of socialism), when the implementation of any newly invented apparatus truly depended to the collective discussion and majority’s choice (the primordial voting system), but we left this form the developing moment of “social contract” and “personal property right”. Therefore, definition of “collective” and “intersubjectivity” is not the same as well.

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One craze of digital guru’s I yet not understand, how the today’s collective plebeian partake the “error trial” process (to protect the fear of loss or extinction) when they bound to take everything manufactured by the modernistic “collective” (great hidden players), whom they treat their fate-maker? Nothing in today is plebeian’s hand (even their life-and-death indeed); the decider is here either lab-scientists, techno-gurus, or the ploy-makers politicians. They can elect their leader to guide them but if the leader truly guide them-or-not, is depends on hundreds complicated factors, where everything is uncertain.

The development of human disciplines (I mean knowledge-categories) gives us lot and takes even lot to the parallel, where the plebeian just played the role of a chessboard soldiers. Today the internet apparatus arouses hope that it will liberate the plebeian from the treacheries of modern sociopolitical system, but I think it’ll depend on the fact that, –what do we mean by “liberty” and who spools the liberated apparatus to the last.

Sacasas hopeful scenario not answered it details. A philosophical quest needed here to reach any fine-tuned landscape. Hannah and Virilio probably indicate this. Perhaps I bit conservative to think the negative that, the plebeian could namely role-playing as free opinion-maker in internet but the spool of this “free-opinion” always controlled by the high-intellect collective and their technical agent (such like Google’s authoritative surveillance and so on), and the situation will maybe the same as far future. I’ll not strange (if my aging could stop by scientific research) to see the artificial self-censored being if surveillance me at future.

II. Hannah and Virilio echoed the “futuristic fear” of losing the control over everything we have made to boost up the progress. Is it anything new? I don’t think so. Here we can easily remind Stephen Hawking’s repercussion that human intelligence would have risk of defeat if we failed to establish the balance between “machine and human intelligence.” The computational power of the machine is simply tremendous (and it’ll more tremendous at future) than the human computation capacity of everything. Hawking’s comment not meant that human brain-capacity is feeble than the machine (in fact we human is the creator of this artificial genius), but the sense-of-coherence is strongly needed here to avoid future collision between human and machine-human.


…from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking.


Readers, I used “machine-human” term, because we’re now thinking (and already started to work on it) to develop the self-censored machine (just like us), and here it’s urgent to consider the whole paradigm often-and-again for future sake. Because, future-reality is not an alien, future depends on the present movements taken by the “collective decision maker” (sorry to say, not the plebeian; they’re just out-of-focus, because the centralized power-and-profit-oriented wisdom ruled them now to tell what they’ll do next).

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Now, come to the reality, what’s going on today? They think (and work) to develop the artificial genius just like the copycat of any good human being, which has a benevolent attitude to everything and which perhaps unable to doing anything bad. Natural! We cannot think otherwise since we are the creator, but the fate of this artificially created “machine-human” is uncertain (here we can remember the biblical fable, God created us in heaven with curiosity to live there without any curiosity, and then Adam and Eve did mistake for the curiosity, and lost the paradise to the rest). So reality is more uncertain than the craze to build a copycat version of us.

On the other hand, if we created the “machine genius” by otherwise or architected it any other form (with strongly self-censored perception to think good and never doing evildoers bad things), uncertainty still be the same over there. Who could tell what’ll happen next! We know the sensory perceptions (includes a million nerves and braincell) of human is not rigid, they have genetic bonding but evolved by the long run of random chance and “error trial” process and still be evolving to follow the previous trail.

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Created “machine genius” certainly developed it as we developed us, then what? If he grabbed evildoer attitude to its mind to kill us, how we’ll react then? How we’ll face the new reality of killing and domination? The question seems absurd for today’s perspective but today’s movement is the fate of tomorrows, which the Indian philosophy named “KarmaPhal” (your future fate depend to your present status that how you relate your body-mind to everything). Sacasas sliding the reality to imposed Ulmer’s thought (see the paragraph), I think fact is more complicated than his easy-cut solution.


Is it frivolity to think that we are in the edge of danger, to accept the upcoming landslides of dehumanization, slavery and even the greatest threat of extinction?


III. And to the last, I truly salute his explanation of Ulmer’s “prosthesis”. It’s urgent to realize the fact, if we needed any positive change, the “coherence” between usability of apparatus’ “body physique” and human’s “body physique” is not enough, we needed to fight for the “coherence” between “prosthesis of collective plebeian” and the super-intellect “hidden players” first, so that the collective get some clear idea about the ethical fate of apparatus booming.

Question: who is to bell the cat first? Our fate and destiny perhaps depended to solve the question and I hope Sacasas will think more about that.

Thinking What We Are Doing by L.M. Sacasas
Part One of Three (projected) article:
“The Internet, the Body, and Unconscious Dimensions of Thought”


Writing near the midpoint of the last century, Hannah Arendt worried that we were losing the ability “to think and speak about the things which nevertheless we are able to do.” The advances of science were such that representing what we knew about the world could be done only in the language of mathematics, and efforts to represent this knowledge in a publicly meaningful and accessible manner would become increasingly difficult, if not altogether impossible. Under such circumstances speech and thought would part company and political life, premised as it is on the possibility of meaningful speech, would be undone. Consequently, “it would be as though our brain, which constitutes the physical, material condition of our thoughts, were unable to follow what we do, so that from now on we would indeed need artificial machines to do our thinking and speaking.”

Arendt was nearly prescient. She clearly believed this to be a dystopian scenario that would result in the enslavement of humanity, not so much to our machines, but to one narrow constituent element of our humanity – our “know-how,” that is our ability to make tools. What Arendt did not imagine was the possibility that digitally, and thus artificially, augmented human thought might avert the very enslavement she foresaw.

On the eve of the 21st century, similar concerns were articulated by Paul Virilio who believed that our technologies, particularly the Internet, created a situation in which a total and integral accident was possible – an accident unlike anything we have heretofore experienced and one that we could not, as of yet, imagine. Virilio termed this possibility the general accident. Like Arendt, Virilio believed that the emerging shape of our technological society threatened the possibility of politics; and if politics failed, Virilio claimed, the general accident would be inevitable. Again, like Arendt, Virilio too seems unable to imagine that the way forward may lay through, not against technology, particularly the Internet.

If the concerns expressed by both Arendt and Virilio continue to resonate, it is because the structure of the challenge they articulated remains intact. The pace of technological development outstrips our ability to think through its attendant social and ethical implications; moreover, the political sphere appears so captivated by the ensuing spectacle that it is ensnared by the very problems we call upon it to solve. We are confronted, then, with a technologically induced failure of thought and politics, along the lines anticipated by Arendt and Virilio.

Gregory Ulmer is likewise concerned about the challenges presented to our thinking and our politics by technology, specifically the Internet; but Ulmer is more sanguine about the possibility of inventing new forms of thought adequate to our circumstances. Electracy, according to Ulmer, will be to the digital age what literacy has been to the age of print: an apparatus of thought and practice directed toward the perennial question: “why do things go wrong?”

Ulmer further elaborates the function of electracy in reference to subjectivity:


If the literate apparatus produced subjectivation in the mode of individual selves organized collectively in democratic nation-states, electracy seems to allow the possibility of a group subjectivation with a self-conscious interface between individual and collective . . .


Ulmer begins Electronic Monuments with a discussion of Paul Virilio’s general accident because, in Ulmer’s view, Virilio has “most forcefully” articulated concerns about “the Internet as the potential source of a general accident.” Unlike Virilio, however, Ulmer believes the best response to the potential of the general accident lies not in opposition to Internet, but through the possibilities created by the Internet.

In The Human Condition, Arendt set for society a very straightforward goal: “What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing.” While Arendt goes on to help the reader understand “what we are doing,” the matter of thinking what we are doing remains an elusive task.

Ulmer attributes our inability to think what we are doing to the blindness that plagues us, both individually and collectively, and he draws on a combination of Greek tragedy and psychoanalysis to frame and theorize this blindness. Reflecting on Greek tragedy, an “oral-literate hybrid” bridging oral and literate forms of problem recognition, Ulmer explains, “The aspect of tragedy of most interest in our context is (in Greek) ATH (até in lowercase), which means ‘blindness’ or ‘foolishness’ in an individual, and ‘calamity’ or ‘disaster’ in a collectivity.”

The sources of ATH, according to Ulmer, are “those circumstances already in place and into which we are thrown at birth, providing the default moods enforcing in us the institutional construction of identity.” Marshall McLuhan captures a similar point in characteristically pithy fashion when he observes that, “Environments are invisible. Their groundrules, pervasive structure and overall patterns elude easy perception.”

In the concluding chapter of Electronic Monuments, Ulmer further clarifies the concept of ATH with reference to Jacques Lacan’s exposition of Antigone: “Lacan is interested in ATH as showing that exterior that is at the heart of me, the intersubjective nature of human identity.” Ulmer also refers to the intersubjective nature of human identity in describing the Internet as a “prosthesis of the unconscious (intersubjective) mind.” On more than one occasion, Ulmer identifies this metaphor – the Internet as prosthesis of the unconscious – as one of the key assumptions informing his development of the apparatus of electracy.

Taking Ulmer’s discussions of ATH, intersubjectivity, and the unconscious together, the following picture emerges: For Ulmer the unconscious is not necessarily a realm of repressed trauma or libidinal desire, but rather is shorthand for the countless, unarticulated ways in which subjectivity is constructed by the social world it inhabits. From one angle, Ulmer has given Freud, not a semiotic spin as Lacan had done, but a sociological spin. The unconscious names the group subject – the exteriority at the heart of me.

The Internet is a prosthesis of this unconscious in the sense that it is a virtually limitless digital repository of all of the features of the social world that have imprinted themselves on the subject. On Youtube, to take one example, a viewer can locate the toy commercial from their childhood that is still vaguely remembered, and then have links provided for a multitude of other more forgotten commercials, themes songs, and cartoons that, once seen, are remembered, and whose significance can be startling. Like T. S. Eliot’s “unknown, unremembered gate” in “Little Gidding,” the Internet operating as a prosthesis of the unconscious allows the user to “arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”

This collective element of group subjectivity, until it is made accessible through the practices of electracy Ulmer develops, functions as a blind spot (ATH). It is a source of judgment and action that remains hidden from conscious thought analogously to the traditional psychoanalytic unconscious. This blindness, therefore, presents a powerful obstacle to Arendt’s plea, that we think what we are doing. Ulmer’s project, then, may be understood as an attempt to employ the Internet in an effort to make conscious thought aware of the way in which it has been constructed by the social.

who is to bell the cat first?…

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To read more L. M Sacasas article click: the frailest thing

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