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Dale W. Eisinger: Your God is Too Small: The Condition of Asynchrony
I. IN SEARCH OF METHOD
II. PANDEMIA: AN ASYNCHRONOUS CASE STUDY (APPENDIX A)
I Have So Many Wishes Inside Me
If I Muck Up it’s Only the World Watching
It Would Be A Dream That Had Never Been, That Would Come True
We’ll Find As We Go I Suppose
III. THE PRODUCTION OF ASYNCHRONY
The Meter and the Milieu
The Absolute of Relativity
Global Cybernetics: Computations of Repetitive Corollaries
The Gregorian Protocol
The Arbitration of Asynchrony
IV. FEAR OF MY OWN SHADOW: THE ASYNCHRONOUS APPARATUS
AND THE POLICE FIRST STATE
The Asynchronous Apparatus
FOMOS (Fear Of My Own Shadow)
From Police State to Police First State
V. ASYNCHRONY AND CINEMA (OR, HOW I FORGOT THE FUTURE)
Locating Hauntology (Cinema Without the Cinema)
Node 1: The Emergence of Time
Node 2: The Madness of Time
Node 3: The Failure of Time (The Production of Asynchrony)
VI. ASYNCHRONY AND CLIMATE CRISES
VII. TERRORISM AND SYNCHRONIZATION (GENERAL INTEREST EXTREMISM)
Anarchism and Kaczynski’s Acolytes
Accelerationism, Leftism, Ecofascism
Cyberterrorism, Conspiratorial Episteme, Critical Infrastructure
“General Interest Extremism”
I. IN SEARCH OF METHOD
I write of a ‘politics of time’; indeed, of all politics as centrally involving struggles over the experience of time. How do the practices in which we engage structure and produce, enable or distort, different senses of time possibility? What kinds of experience of history do they make possible or impede? Whose futures do they ensure? These are the questions to which a politics of time would attend, interrogating temporal structures about the possibility they encode or foreclose, in specific temporal modes.
– Peter Osborne, 1995
There are so many infinities. From Xeno, an enduring and fundamental paradox, one can never articulate the complete motion of the material universe–and for what would be the satisfaction of obtaining the asymptote? Laplace’s demon emphasizes our own integration into the object of our own measurement, the requirement of a sample size of infinite duration from which there is no possibility to grasp within a finite consciousness that attempts to measure inward. Yet materially, whatever happened, at what physics calls the beginning of time, there began a great explosive tumbling of particular infinite regress; I mean this in the material sense of “particular,” in that any body in motion embodies a particle. “Regress,” of the infinite, the all-powerful, all-knowing motion of all particular motion, the godhead, neither begins nor ends–yet endlessly collapses and expands as to the absolute limit and its infinitely dense opposite. The filament of creation unravels in eternally cyclonic spumes and recoils with the same reversal of fortune but in a duration of infinite negativity, an energy of unfathomable violence. When the perspective of the Moebius strip flips from expansion to contraction, imagine the quantum entanglement involved with an explosion\implosion of such density that, at once, it contains all matter and all motion in the known universe. From what love does the miracle of consciousness break through the quantum field in this violence? To what greater-dimensional timescale does the unity of consciousness owe? Paraphrasing Camus: You explain the universe to me with an image–you have been reduced to poetry. And what greater miracle could one encounter, in this horrifying abyssal maw, than poetry. To what desire or delight does this knowledge apply? The purest mediation. Already so many infinities clash inside of you. Fanged Noumena foolishly chased this to the end of time: “Why does the sun take so long to die?” You are searching for entropy when negentropy exists in equal measure as sought. The all-consuming fire of nihilism turns the insensible compulsion of knowing to ash–in such a paranoia, there’s nothing left to wait for but the world to burn. You cannot see the limits of the circuitry in which you attempt to measure. Yet I suffer a fate strapped to such calculations of decay (the fading of the light, the cesium atom, rates of profit). In use value, such entropy–when on the hunt–is nothing more than the calculation of repetitive corollaries. This one material dimension of time, that which we fascinate on as the functionally singular plane of terrestrial motion and thermodynamic dependence, is not a mystical phenomenon, but one of predictable attraction and repulsion. Consider the immensity of the timing systems of which we willingly avail–an unreasonably expansive and expensive system of coordination. Keyed in by the mobile market device, time is a free service: you are the exchange value, a particle in synchronization to a system bound to theoretically scalable infinite sets. The billions of years between now and then, the smallest atomic visions commensurate to the largest cosmic agitation–the same vital force drives all. But that force could not possibly be a material time, as nothing ever exists twice. The term “fourth dimension” is an erroneous application of interdimensional unreality to a particular material repetition. The mass consciousness of time severely underestimates its depth. The infinite series that is the universe we abide, and all other universes, must be conceived from infinite infinites: a plane of immanence without any characteristic because it cannot be perceived at the aspect of dimension we call duration; rather, this temporal regime of which we are subjected should be named extensity.
Presently, we maintain this singular dimension as an electric time: transmissions organizing social simultaneity, through rhythm, duration, and decay. The frequencies of these pulses derive from spatial departure and arrival of some external repetitious source and broadcast as symbols from centralized transponders to diffuse receivers. These broadcasted measurements, maintained through political alliances with science (often the invented universal, a trend not unnoticed by the revolutionary Daniel Bensaïd) are agreed upon in variations of communal, provincial, national, and international law. Concentrations of power arbitrate these agreements often in the terms of peace treaties, or after revolutions, unifying time to the sovereign within the realm, in order to expand the synchronization or configuration of simultaneity across an endlessly enlarging geopolitical space. This is not enough space, as more earnest discussions around interplanetary colonization imply an extraterrestrial time. Will “geocentric” soon replace “Eurocentric” as the next concern of the academic Left? Time can be considered easily from here (off-earth) in its most basic characteristics: the measurement of gradient between light and shadow in what we call the rotational planetary day, solar revolution through the year, earth’s axial relation in the seasonal, the sidereal monthly designation derived from viewing stars. These are terrestrial perspectives, including that problem in positioning constellations as a constant, confronted with more specificity in quantum perspective and the very construction of simultaneity as an error of judgment.
The current experience of time and space—the condition of asynchrony—threads totality together, in conditions of global precarity (a temporal phenomenon) and the refusal of international capital to relinquish the prospect of “growth” (an assumption of futurity). The developments of technics, strategies of power, economic revolutions, and cybernetics all inform the possibility of a new dimension to the potential of global timing systems. Asynchrony must be seen not only as a spatial-temporal experience, but also as a conceptual apparatus to reconfigure time, timing systems, rhythms of life, interdependence of alternative lifestyles, time as praxis. Asynchrony demands critique because it appears as a universal and at every juncture. The demands of current systems of production quite obviously breach planetary limits—even on the exchange level of microbes—and therefore stretch beyond time as we might fathom. Humankind’s broken covenant with nature reaches its punitive phase, pitting the Earth against the leviathan. Time levitates around concrete-abstracts depending on the broadcast and interpretation of visual cues, then used to condition systems of reproduction. Temporal experience arises from this broadcast and its use in the mode of intercourse. Attitudes to time reflect the organization of societies, yet societies shape time, radiating from power centers. Times then become cybernetic feedback systems searching an equilibrium, defined outside the system–uncontested against the dependency of its inner use. Commerce, wealth, and conflict force communities and nation states into regulation and full coordination of time scales, shifting from religious ownership to the alliance of the scientific and political, never acknowledging this outside, demanding a dyadic certainty by enclosing territory around expansive timing systems. Systems of domination retain the fictitious immutability of time and space, claiming time itself as the fundamental fiction conquered in the coordination of humanity. An interconnected global perspective beyond the inappropriately valorized notion of Relativity emerges. I suggest the current temporal regime is breaking down by computational excess.
In its simplest, time emerges from distinctions of light and dark, pulses of on or off, what a binary mechanism defines as I/O. Peter Galison notes: in the 1800s “Cambridge physicist James Clerk Maxwell had produced a theory that showed light to be nothing other than electric waves and so unified electrodynamics and optics.” Fundamentally, I see “time” as the appearance and evacuation of power. In the hands of the state, it is not the monopoly of corporeal violence, but a monopoly of synchronicity, a violence of a hauntological value—the future forecloses possibilities outside this temporality, by coordinating a social centerpiece appearing to have no politics. But that is the absent ideology of science through history, particularly when shielded in the rationale of pure physics. Where political interests lie or the foundation of a center of study with financial backing do not tell us enough. We must interrogate: What is the sovereign exception of the science that is produced under its domain? Which field abandons time? The church burned Giordano Bruno at the stake, in 1600, not for cosmology but for the required heresy of his infinite-yet-indifferent universe. “Your god is too small,” he told them all. The Vatican now maintains celestial observatories, in its various attempts to retain control of time—in particular the pagan cover-up of Christmas and its solstice antecedents.
Maintaining the project of consciousness is the wager—eliminating the space between the future and a future, the cognitive closure of alternate possibilities. We access time as a semiotic-material intermediary of theoretical physics, a concrete-abstract mediating interior and exterior coordination, a construction and projection of one framework of synchronization, put into symbolic broadcast and used to coordinate material flows. In the years since David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity (1989) which contains a massive amount of reflection on the experience of time, GPS systems have become a global public utility, inducting individuals into satellite networks of large-scale military and commercial coordination; we now have one or two generations reared under the completed, publicized net of GPS—these satellites are simply orbital atomic clocks, towering above us in geosynchronous orbit.
The five scales of abstraction Harvey refers to, with examples inflected, as a general perspective of asynchrony: the individual, the ability to produce and subsume Reason disconnected from the flow of Reason of all other induction; the particular spatial-temporal, with time systems so consolidated the time system becomes a given; the general behavior of capital, perhaps asynchronous accumulation, not unrelated to what others call ambient accumulation; class division, where value sits in the proposition of asynchrony; and life in general, which can be seen as advancements in medicine or changes to the general experience of being, such as second-order consciousness that guarantees a synchronized core, the abstraction of humanity away from “natural” process. In the semiotic arc, the interwoven communication networks actuate asynchrony among the material flow. Bratton’s outline of The Stack is useful in its broadest framework. Here, it includes six layers: user (individual), interface (mobile market device), address (time stamp proof of work), city (coordination and contrast of time stamps), cloud (virtual space of information processing), and Earth. Holding this rudimentary-yet-complex sketch in mind should be sufficient to imagine the frame of reference in which the condition of asynchrony persists—yet the possible permutations of these two perspective matrices might require an algorithm in which to know the limits of asynchrony. Every layer and every permutation of this matrix accesses the same rhythms via freely available timing systems–every computational impulse depends on a simultaneity of a knowable comprehension that nevertheless could not be understood in totality, even when attempting to combobulate the cybernetics at which the entire machinery operates. The time of the timestamp contains a remarkable history of power and contradiction, crucial to every inflection. I suggest Paul Feyerabend’s “epistemological anarchy” with Chomsky’s anarchy in mind, in that the burden of proof in favor of time rests on those in its maintenance; the argument of this essay is that this burden is no longer met.
The condition of asynchrony must account for a circuitry of global simultaneity running throughout retailers, banks, production centers, distribution networks, treasuries, black and gray markets, naïve cultural exchange, calculated intelligence operations, central banks, a washed colorless propaganda that generates its own oppositions on autodactic biunivocal algorithmic discourse, channeled in all radii from the individual, commensurate to scalable infinite sets, prefiguring a system of capital that runs on an impossible-to-ensure future that is nevertheless predictable from an averaging of mediation and commodity delivery to the molecular org chart of these corresponding radii; the greater the archive of exchange to a greater degree the future can be conditioned into a presumptive kind, a self-organizing feedback loop of a certain temporal regime, requiring an ever-expanding maintenance of archive to further analyze repetitive corollaries. Capital haunts the past as it plans these futures, calculating buying habits of the mobile market device into a likelihood of what can be convincingly sold. What is the analysis of markets other than pattern recognition in difference-of-kind, distilled to the singular difference-in-degree of capital?
A strong motivation of the US first adopting Daylight-Saving Time in 1918 was to maintain at least one overlapping hour of financialization with the UK stock exchanges. The condition of asynchrony obviates this, as a robot delivers an anonymous short sell to a market in a time zone across the world three days from now, tempered by AI, the heraldic nonsense of insider trading erased by the technicality of global timing systems. In 1611, the corralled open-air Amsterdam stock exchange, the first of its kind, commenced under the aegis of a huge clocktower, in order to make trading securities more efficient. Following a shift in scale of capital from the Dutch to the English, the United States enlarged yet again. To what scale does the next hegemon shift? As the limits of spatial expansion are met, the solution seems to be a dislodging of time, an inward expansion to the polyvalent framework of asynchrony—the invisible disruption in the next era of capital expansion, where time can be exploited such that time collapses through computational excess of capital management. When all is subsumed, there will be nothing by which to measure outside this correlation of infinite sets. Georg Simmel, in The Philosophy of Money, discusses the tribal chiefs of Oceana, who could not even conceive of stealing, because everything already belonged to them.
Jonathan Martineau writes, “an analysis of time in contemporary societies gains from taking into consideration the development of capitalism as a contradictory social system.” Martineau tells us clock time takes on different characteristics after the advent of capitalism, that clock time, despite popular conceptions, is not a product of capitalist societies. We cannot flail from this outside but, rather, mold the boundary that redirects conditional flow, the procedure and product of algorithm, of which every node inflects influence. Time depends on an interior/exterior agreement. It is not the expression of relativism that sustains this, but the story of time as ritual, the guardians of this ritual inherited and applied. Foucault asks: “How is it that rationalization leads to the furor of power?” This reconfigures our perspective of time by mediating the relationship between rationalization and power, to reintroduce as false problems the elements of assumed temporal truth. In the triumvirate of Gilles Châtalet—cybernetics, politics, economics—the production of asynchrony becomes the structurally cybernetic model of time, in that its first order consolidates around an observed core, the second-order observation a condition of the atoms of distress. This is a story about the production of synchrony first, and then the elevated valence of the mode in question. That is to say, the condition of asynchrony relies on full synchronization.
First appears the élan vital, the vital impulse, that phenomenon imperfectly grasped by science, a sense of constant pulsation, giving life an unstoppable surge that cannot be captured or restrained in full measure. Vitalism and the quantum uncertainty effect, life as observed, blossom outside the “irreconcilable dichotomies that characterize modernity.” Henri Bergson obsessed over a continuity of a different kind than the maintenance of the temporal regime: duration, the heterogenous quality of dynamic real time, in which contextual margins collapse endlessly and escape measurement, the unstoppable and innumerable of the élan vital. Duration opposes extensity, the homogenous and fractured, the measured and quantified production of “time.” In Creative Evolution, the defining work of the élan vital, Bergson defined it as a retarding force that worked against degradation. It was “attached” and “riveted” to matter but not entirely part of it. Accordingly, living bodies were part matter—they were “riveted to an organism that subjects it to the general laws of inert matter.” But they “tried to rid themselves from those laws.” They “did not have the power to reverse the direction of physical changes, such as Carnot has determined them.” But they were nonetheless “a force that, left on its own, works in the opposite direction.” Incapable of “stopping the march of material changes, it nonetheless is successful at retarding them.”
What we must, then, insist on is critique that considers the work of Bergson, Schrodinger, Planck, Heisenberg, Bohr, and de Broglie, to what Sartre, in his own Search for a Method, his reconciliation of his existentialism with Marxism, remarked on as the “practico-inert,” the nuance of subjectification, and the necessity to take into account a kind of study that weighs the observer as a modifying aspect of the system—the absolutist Einstein refused to account for this, saying, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Latour characterized the aporia in slightly different terms in Reassembling the Social—maintaining the perspective of mediation that does not privilege human action. The negative hermeneutic must be weighed against logical positivism. To consider the opposition of the Marxists to Foucault—a devotion to the dialectic and Hegel’s philosophy of history—now arouses a line of questioning that asks: does the Marxian-derived critique of time insist on production and circulation, in a descriptive capacity only? Is this not a hyper-Newtonian metaphysics that presupposes time as absolute, homogenous, even if it is an absolute of the material, time as pure physics, pushed through industrialization? When Tombazos uncovers the varieties of time in Capital it is with the force of the Hegelian category of measure and the thesis-antithesis of Volumes I and II, to the synthesis of Volume III. If capital determines or relies on specific temporal modes, to what benefit does the extrapolation of these modes offer a resistance effort at the end of time—not in the sense of Foucault or Mill, civil society overtaking the state, but the end of sustained consciousness? A non-ideological reading of Capital builds a more efficient capitalist.
In cybernetics, timing takes a central position, the gauge by which the social-mechanical organizations of such approaches can be grasped. Early influences on cybernetic theory were experiments in which the structure of the human brain could be derived by the difference of neurological reaction times. In the supplementary book to the landmark Cybernetics, Norbert Wiener stated his thesis of The Human Use of Human Beings: “… society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever-increasing part.” How is the consolidation of time a feedback system of the social organism itself? The densities of populations and the division of labor inform the necessary configuration of simultaneity, which further necessitates further precision, which further informs the configuration of simultaneity, which allows for greater concentrations of populations, which requires further precision… until the proper micro-derived frequency can radiate in past the skull, broadcast to the pineal gland, and charge the single life with the rhythm of the social—the speed of broadcast through Relativity accounted for! Galison writes that at the turn of the 20th century, the era of Einstein’s emergence as the scion of a new physics: “Time coordination in the Central Europe of 1902-06 was not merely an arcane thought experiment; rather, it critically concerned the clock industry, the military, and the railroads as well as a symbol of the interconnected, sped-up world of modernity. Here was thinking through machines.” Similarly, Wiener’s cybernetics made time central and unitary, wherein he developed the “brain clock hypothesis,” in which he posited the human brain as nothing more than a timing device for processing information. This flattening of the milieu, individual, and machine to the same level reduces all to a temporal unity of extensity in an indifferent network of particle economics, and one that must be tuned to a universal standard—the universal standard of an extensity. As Henning Schmidgen recently commented on Wiener, “From the standpoint of cybernetics, these entities or ‘systems’ did not so much differ in essence, that is ontologically. The main difference among them was rather chronological—that is, it was tied to their respective temporal regimes.” The history of time consolidates these temporal regimes into a normative unilocular homogeny.
Wiener introduced an idea of time he believed would end the debates between mechanism and vitalism, by unifying interior and exterior synthesis. Yet he did believe the servo mechanism lived in Bergsonian time. The division of academic labor in regard to time allies it with serious study in the realm of physical science; time takes on an absolute character that tends to make fools of those in other disciplines after a certain juncture; this is not the first paper to suggest this rupture emerges between Einstein and Bergson,demonstrated further through the work of Jimena Canales. Norbert Elias, in an immense essay on time, saw its dualisms as representative of academization and knowledge production, excluding social sciences and philosophy from the mechanical aspects, forcing the topic on a “serious” or material level to the realm of theoretical physics. To excise the full potential of asynchrony, we might recover these splits in the order of an interdisciplinary approach. While Wiener’s could be argued as one version of this in his quest for an inner-outer mediation, his goal to transcend nuanced perspectives of the false problem speaks only to the strength of the temporal regime. He wanted to end discussions of time. We need theory in the vacancy of intersection, and so the current work is not one of mere curiosity, but of an attempt to venture through this absence of interdimensional thought.
Bergson and Poincare both argued that measuring time destroys it–the most polished razor leaves its residue, the most supple medium shedding its excess, the action itself excising the extensive from the durational. What we then discover is a plane of temporal immanence from which any manipulation of synchronization can be made. Before the revelation of quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle, Schrödinger’s cat, the observational effects of measurement on matter, et al, this concerns the mystery of continuity as much as science—the practico-inert, the phenomenological inheritance that limits the true actions of one’s freedom. We now understand this occurs in quantum measures and alter-states. How are we not to infer that time, being just one of these unseen (yet rather felt, intuited) dimensions, expels the patterns of behavior in observation? Better ways of planning by the measurement of the future are not dependent on the consolidation of the present. Any temporal society is a planned society. Time is essential and constitutive of a planned economy, with the GPS the largest social utility in history, benefiting less the viewer of it, and more those who make use of the measurements thereby viewed—and, in asynchrony, the analysis of this use. These are social measurements as much as they are scientific measurements, and they bridge a gap of understanding that needn’t necessarily arise from the perceptual. The other side of that bridge—the wager of simultaneity—is a wager of the heart. It arises from a good faith argument in defense of my fellow. To agree on next month is to agree on the invisible orb of right now. And here is the contradiction. Because the precision of broadcast time is not a purely social mediation, but an instrument of a rationalized science; we might ask to what extent this instrument no longer bears the burden of its legitimation. That is a vacancy of critique, a demand for uncertainty, the discomfiture that is outside the I/O, an application of affect theory to science studies itself.
II. PANDEMIA: AN ASYNCHRONOUS CASE STUDY (APPENDIX A)
I Have So Many Wishes Inside Me
One in every 153 US workers dawns the helm of the arborescent, a shrinking megafauna that now emits more carbon than it eats, a site of tropical ecocide, a mythic that consumes its own potential, a geolithic tragedy of the fall of one biological organism giving rise to a cybernetic inversion of its own disorder and demise: Amazon. These workers pee in bottles or defecate on strangers’ front lawns, in order to meet quotas derived by off-pace algorithm, calculated for a machinery of profit that exceeds the time scale, broaching an inhumane asynchrony. A worker in one fulfillment center had a heart attack, fell to his death, ignored on the warehouse floor for 20 minutes, coworkers dusting up their packaging quotas rushing by. As labor moved to organize, management countered just as quickly to its own information strike, propagandizing aggressive anti-union campaigns and digging up the old Pinkerton spies. The wiry clutter and radiating filth of the cyberpunk vision entered the firmament, establishment media posting headlines like “Amazon’s New ‘Factory Towns’ Will Lift the Working Class,” an image viral of a giant company warehouse surrounded by slums. Employees became aggressively monitored down to the second and the keystroke, alternating regulation of paranoia, leading the invasive surveillance to be dubbed by labor researchers a “panopticon.” Does the media hand us this language for the reason of folding into critical theory that somehow makes Foucault into a prankster? A pandemic swept the globe, and a worker at an Amazon fulfillment center in Detroit begged a battery of video cameras at a news conference to stop ordering the delivery of sex toys. He led a walkout among unsafe working conditions, in which many contracted this virus, and then he was fired. The gleaming head of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, not so unlike Foucault’s, later flew an ultra-phallic rocket ship to the edge of space, landed back on Earth, put on a cowboy hat (the headwear of the frontier, the protection applied post-coitus) and declared: “I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you paid for all of this." What kind of analysis is necessary here? They carve these monuments out of nothing, out of the empty promise of a myth that had never been. First, they erase the skies and then claim to travel beyond the stars that don’t exist.
The asynchronous laborer compounded the exploit in pandemia: thousands of “essential workers” risked life or fell to death to keep the engine of commerce burning. This “essential worker” designation set fire to the moral receipt of an economy dislocating to service jobs, in this case valorized by the necessity of porterage. The delivery drones had yet to be calibrated against the birds of prey who knocked them out of the skies. The state mediated the conditions of production by revealing the tolerably baseline laborers as the only real source of prosperity at the perihelion of simulacra. Isolated, we watched on screens as the elite engorged the journey to the middle. The ultrawealthy gained $3.7 trillion in wealth, while ordinary people lost an aggregate of $3.6 trillion over one year of pandemia (“probably just a coincidence”) an imaginary, virtual sum nevertheless representative of real brutality. Haunted by subsistence, paid to do nothing, the expression of consumption remained the universal exercise of individual control in an idle petty bourgeois, as the synchronized libidinal core could not be rocked from its nesting place in the global north, aligned to the Atlanticists’ stars. The individualist spirit of liberalism, so deep in mediated consciousness, rationalized the paranoia of lockdown, the service industries now asynchronous in their unlimited operation, invisible in their service, sterilized, hermetic; groceries, meals, consumer goods appeared on doorsteps as if left by helpful-but-probably-vengeful ghosts, the SEARS Catalog staffed from Kurosawa’s Dreams. The only self-assertion into this world was the codex: not everything we need, but anything we want, figments of lost hope cast into binary analyses. Consumer sovereignty ruled the exception, revealing the psychic violence at hand—a broken time scale, shocked into the truth of asynchrony, the urgency of the moment not disrupting the assurance of getting anything now.
This virus swept in, but the reproductive cycle required the continuity of the temporal regime. This depended on the education system distributing labor among its strata. At the teenage circuitry, New York City high school students attended classes from home, using video conferencing. A year of this went by and then the virus receded. Quarantine protections lifted, after the military administered vaccinations, and these same NYC students returned to synchronized spatialization—yet continued video conferencing. A few dozen students sat next to each other with one overseer administering discipline IRL, but the pupils corporeally in the schoolroom connected to different instructors, pulsed through the net device equipped on each desk. One student observing a physics lesson sat next to a student observing an English lesson who sat next to a student observing a math lesson, all concentrated in the space of the school, but constructing diffuse knowledge, centralizing students while dispelling instructors. This seems necessary only to reinforce the monopoly of space, unified by timing systems, the invisible hand of this investment power forced by pandemia. This corralling keeps New York the most segregated school system in the nation. And make no mistake, hardline broadband access itself is segregated, a redlining of cutting-edge transmission equipment from historically oppressed people. The silent laptop overseer in the example, if not for the imposed spatial necessity, knows the truth: the quality or content of education could be separated from the space in which truth and knowledge are constructed, a ratiocination of space from which institutions historically derive their power, a scaffolding of cybernetic maintenance constantly spidering out of archaic formations. Because the answer to the question, is education of a positive net worth? sidesteps just who determines the very measures of worth. The discipline of primary education tethers to place. The more pressing query is: of what use is the curriculum to operating in this world? Not, “What is it?” but, “Does it work?” Show one the chain of contingencies holding them up and they will be in no better a position as to fending off the wolves. To paraphrase a great philosopher, contradictions never killed anybody. Yet it is these contradictions that reveal the crossroads of determination. Here, it is the potential liberatory function within a racialized meritocracy, shown through a contradiction in the very proposition of space.
In pandemia, the knowledge economy boomed on. The divide between public and private times disappeared for the intellectual laborer, for the educator, for anyone lucky enough to work behind a laptop, while illuminating the truth of financialized, synchronized space: emptiness. “Globally, in the knowledge and technology industries,” Jodi Dean writes, “rental income accruing from intellectual property rights exceeds income from the production of goods.” The outdated necessity of an office dissolved, as the home wired to the web fully broke the privatized barrier of the mainstream workspace to continue this production of virtual, intellectual value—maintaining the power of asynchronous information overload. Relegated to the conditions of hermetic precaution, the web became somehow more crucial to commiserating this anti-social society. Workers in office administration, public relations, culture industries, and digital media especially—called depreciatively “fake email jobs” by those lucky to still have them, or what the late David Graeber might have called “bullshit jobs”—now untethered from the organization of clock time that synchronized spatially dependent work gatherings, posted to the internet the increasingly prevalent sentiment: “What even is time?” This was not a question of the philosophical or scientific type, but an irony-poisoned expression of the irrelevance of the clock, the suddenly fractured durational aspect of the calendar, and instantiations of the mobile market device.
A question once reserved for philosophers and physicists becomes a prevalent statement of psychic dislocation: “What even is time?” It cannot be answered because time has been dismantled, not in the sense of obliteration, but by constantly shifting centers away from collective notions of experience, constructions of historicity, and disengaged from space. In a rhizomatic potential, this should benefit a syndicalist development of honest, multitemporal variety, or an amodern decolonized time; however, the dictation of time and space as absolute in social reproduction makes minute synchronization compulsory to subsistence in the asynchronous marketplace—transmissions of time stamps of varying quality refracted through analytic algorithm of upward mobility, scalable radii of infinite set size. The mechanisms behind this information gathering are so pervasive and powerful, the US intelligence apparatus uses “ad blocking” software itself, so that compromising information might not be disclosed through targeted marketing, thereby becoming victims of the very open system exploited for national security ends. In a mechanism known as “bidstream,” data brokers hold “real-time” auctions for the placement of mobile market ads. In this, user data has already been collected. In one case, that data was purchased by the US Customs and Border Patrol, through an outsourced government contract, leading to the arrest and expulsion of immigrants. What are known as “cookies” themselves are a function of prosthetic memory of this apparatus, “saving” time by harvesting and storing market information in an archive, a memory of consumer function, a necessity presented in the violence of synchronization to keep pace with the machinery of accumulation and maintain the rhythm of market computation. Most internet interfaces don’t even function without the host OS synched to Greenwich mean time. Why? So that the timestamps sent in both directions can locate the device of access in space, using time (the legacy of longitude, a recent scientific-historical development) and so further generate relevant proximal data, while also maintaining the computational metric output of production cycles. Commodity production must have space in which to rationalize the abstraction of value, actual places through which capital can manage its flows. The kids must be kept in school.
In pandemia, skyscrapers and strip malls alike became vacant (what Fredric Jameson referred to as “zombie buildings”) towering and squatting reminders of the manifold precarities and contingencies of modernity (as described by David Harvey, himself inspired by Baudelaire) despite the asynchronous pathology guaranteeing the conditions of full network/supply chain activation (as described by Jonathan Crary) synchronized to such a degree that dis/engagement itself hides behind milliseconds. The rhetorical question (“what even is time?”) interrogates the obvious compaction and dislocation of time when valor cannot be derived from an immediate sense of self, where the established bias of communication fails, where temporal systems collapse under the force of pandemia’s cultural trauma. Because value emerges on the comparative level (as Marx showed through Hegel) and what might disrupt this sense more than being thrown into isolation, having only virtual labor to wage against a virtual stream of commodities shown specifically due to past purchasing and ad-interaction behavior, building a contingency of future value on the internal fixed data set of the rotating drum of consumer codex. This occurs as the 24-hour day reaches the capacity of populations and the limits of full employment. Time value diminishes because human labor can no longer keep pace with the planned global growth of capital—but only when kept under the yoke of scarcity (as described by Sartre). The common position becomes that the Irish potato famine was not an aberrance, but a trial run for this biopolitical exemplar. Asynchronous labor becomes useful, where no shifts are ever changed but instead overlap or radiate, traditional operating hours fluctuate at will, and employment becomes possible or necessary at the portal of the mobile market device—if we were not so tightly bound to the temporal regime. “What even is time?” If we have lost time, we have lost a claim to the vector of value.
This is the core of asynchrony, the temporal-spatial mode of now. Asynchrony functions through the developed rational technocracy, arising accidentally from the human use of human networks as the end function of an administrative temporal algorithm. Asynchrony overcomes distance by the instantaneous, thereby erasing the power of distance. Asynchrony does not encompass all, but, actuated, it is all encompassing. It hides the character of its use under that use itself. It is the floating point of individual mediation wherein contingencies of modernity maintain a shield of Gaussian blur comprehensive to the individual. Pandemia broke the tension between spatial-temporal synchronization, the perversity of a less-than-optimal asynchronous mode, and the demonstrable cruelty of demanding synchronization in a society capable of something else. Asynchrony works as an affect, a condition, a technical infrastructure, a pathology, a result of consolidating interdependent systems of organization and transmission, a clock of a second order. It is the quality of asynchrony in the recent shift that sustains the entirety of this essay.
If I Muck Up it’s Only the World Watching
In pandemia, the project of asynchrony appeared complete. In mid-March 2020, I flew into JFK airport in New York City. I walked through the empty airport to baggage claim. Huge, wall-sized ads for this thing called Zoom confronted me. I had, to that point, never heard of Zoom. I would come to use this video conferencing software daily, a software that rapidly and inexplicably became the only choice in education and work applications. This kind of market adaptation is either too good to be true, forged from the coincidental backdrop of ironic cosmic misery, or coordinated such that the mechanisms in place behind advertising, technology, and global pandemics are somehow interrelated. A shorthand for this could be the asynchronous apparatus.
Gilles Châtalet, in To Live and think Like Pigs, his 1994 engagement with the theory of James Buchanan, describes the emergence of a “triple alliance,” that of politics, economics, and cybernetics, which becomes “capable of ‘self-organizing’ the explosive potentials of great human masses.” I would like to expand on this idea throughout the rest of this essay, specifically with close attention to the time at the center of that triumvirate. Through history (or since the church lost control of time) science operates in the background of politics and economics, even in the context of major world conflict, with the savants or scientists emerging consistently on the side of the victor, with an easy social relation to truth that endows an unprecedented political mobility. Anyone with a cursory understanding of Operation Paperclip should agree here. Time slides through the French Revolution, both World Wars, the Cold War, the War on Terror; each period marks a specific development—from the idea of personal determination arising from the French Revolution, to the telegraphic and radio broadcasts of longitudinal World War use, to the Cold War satellite race, to the drone bombing campaign of the War on Terror—and the construction of time-broadcasting infrastructures are identical to those of the expansion of empires casting out their nets. Currently, we sit in the age of asynchrony, a style of time that makes inscription so dense that time is not thought of at all—until the shock of pandemia revealed asynchrony through its very sudden vacancy, an absence of intensity.
Châtalet’s engages not president James Buchannan, but the mid-20th century political theorist who engages rational or public choice discourse with the likes of Gary Becker and Milton Friedman. Buchannan developed the darker side of game theory at the Rand Corporation, discarding altruism in human behavior. The self-interest of politicians and bureaucrats then dominates the decision-making process, and Buchannan finds this a positive fact, one from which repetitive corollaries can be calculated. Becker, Buchannan, and Friedman represent several facets of the midcentury neoliberal project. The name drawing more attention in the context of cybernetics is Rand. The neoliberal expansion (a stealth political project designed specifically for economic ends) corresponds directly to the development of cybernetics. “To make an institution out of an idea is the surest way to stop it,” cybernetic pioneer Norbert Wiener wrote in 1948. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, in their 2015 prospectus Inventing the Future, sketch a compact-yet-comprehensive history of neoliberalism that illustrates the virus of individuated market-driven self-interest working through the state by way of think tanks, media, and other cascading networks in a long-term purview of social control—that is to say, the soft exercise of power through a multivalent broadcast web, the self-correcting tendency of systems making bedfellows of the cybernetic and neoliberal approaches, and disseminating as idea through institutions, rather than becoming one (in a party apparatus). Srnicek and Williams declare the paramount result for the neoliberals has been the construction and maintenance of markets, with an emphasis on the state, and actuated by exterior means.
The ends of cybernetics—refining systems of modified data sets, defined by an inside/outside equilibrium. Wiener, who wrote one of the first texts on the matter, saw all biological, physical, and human movement as concentrated around messages of some kind. He simply defined cybernetics as "control and communication in the animal and the machine.” Andrey Kolmogorov took this a step farther, defining cybernetics as "the study of systems of any nature which are capable of receiving, storing, and processing information so as to use it for control." In the context of this essay, systems of time are coordinations of social reproduction that, in the feedback of the organization resulting from the time system, allow the time system to intensify and refine, thereby coordinating a greater concentration of social reproduction, and so on. The feedback of the time system (the product of the temporal organization of social reproduction) feeds into the organizational capability of the time system. We can only know this in the cybernetic paradigm, in that we define not only understanding, but the understanding of understanding, what Heinz von Foerster called “second-order cybernetics.”
Asynchrony, in the individual, dislodges second-order understanding, consolidating the first order of an observed system as a given, making the observing system an isolated formation of experience by interdependent dislocation. By fully activating the synchronized core, the second-order floats as if disconnected—when in truth it may access so many nodes as-good-as instantaneously that it is always connected—the rhizomatic captured, functionally regulated through timestamp tracking. Herbert Brun defines cybernetics as "the ability to cure all temporary truth of eternal triteness;" The project of asynchrony fits perfectly within that temporal vision. But pull back from a positive approach to the “California ideology” in engagements with cybernetics and a pull toward the subcultural. It is there—cybernetics—first disengaging from the music of salesmanship, to understand the underlying systems of organization or domination in which we willingly participate: “cyber” as the Greek prefix for control or govern (with another longitudinal aspect in the etymology of steering a ship, the Platonic ideal fixed to time) and time as a cybernetic system within a centuries-long and ever-tightening feedback loop. Ponder Stewart Brand, one of the ideological wanderers coming out of the ‘60s counterculture, a cybernetic advocate and a commune idealist, fervently supporting a project called The Clock of the Long Now This clock wound to 10,000 years sits inside a mountain on the territory of Jeff Bezos. Fading eschatology built into the hubris of asymptotic machine power enacts the assertion of the endless self. The development of information technologies has been explicitly tied to time and human control, especially in the psychic realm; the gesture of the 10,000-year clock implies a consciousness of precarity, a fear of evacuation or abandonment, the continuous insistence of time systems as representative for the zombie extension of a system failing more often for all but the elite—or this is simply the design of the clockwork.
When McKenzie Wark declaims in 2019 that “capital is dead,” the ownership of the means of production transmuting to the means of organizing the means of production, discerning a sense of complete synchronization—meshes and networks overlaying one another in intense coordination, ensuring flows of goods and capital remain fluid, out of control in the sense they need no control, synchronized to a degree of the apparently automatic, the consolidation of the first-order observed system. I see Wark’s melodramatic book, Capital is Dead cited often; the climate-futurist-hyperstitionist Holly-Jean Buck borrows language from it, and Jody Dean’s 2020 piece on neofeudalism begins with a question posed by Wark (“is this not capitalism but something worse?”). But Châtalet had already written in 1994, “capital is no longer a factor of production, it is production that is a mere factor of capital,” making a comparable point as Wark’s in a more constructed folio. What we take: that the exploitation of labor, financialization, and global infrastructures interlock to the point that value is constantly produced in the efficiency of a self-organizing feedback loop, to the effect that these mass amalgams require a new set of second-order capital handmaidens, the derivative function of neoliberalism overtaking actual material, as Brian Massumi writes in 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value. Wark, at the least, provides a useful shorthand for the echelon of global capital, namely the “vectoralist” class, the ultra-billionaires of the extraterrestrial century who coordinate the networks which coordinate. I see the vectoralist as the steward of asynchrony. The vectoralist tugs the cybernetic capillary of feedback response that runs on the same infrastructures from which other transmissions were constructed (always networks of time transmission) and upon which more will be relegated.
The ownership and privatization of time no longer comes into question—on both long- and short-term levels. Many forks in the road of social progress meander back toward the ruts, deceptive routes to reproducing aesthetic and economic conditions without substantial systemic change, a turmoil of predictability that Giorgio Agamben recently identified as “stasis,” the perpetual movement between the private and the public, a coordinated tension of the biunivocal. The increasing frequency of historical-level events, and the rapidity of course correction away from possible new futures (including that of Trump, the failure of a coup, protected from without by The Corporation) make this subtly apparent, and what once seemed a mainstay of postmodern theory becomes a mainstream statement of ever-common observation: we, as subjects tied to the static fiction of the synchronized, stick in time, dislocated from the limits of the clock, in interleaved networks of telegraph and telephone, the airwave modulation of radio and television, the pulses of fiber optic cables, cellular networks, and satellite beams. The newest development of communications technologies allow developing nations to leapfrog over industrialization and into the world computer-knowledge economy. All the while, data compression achieves new tiers of clarity and economy, as Moore’s Law—an empirical postulate originating around 1970 that the presence of transistors in a dense circuit (i.e. computing power) doubles every two years—oscillates in harmonics. And this is the level of “inward growth,” the attempted interior extension of eternity. For example, in 1967, we moved from reductions of “the day” as the standard of time measurement, to 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the cesium atom in its ground state, in this precision coincidental duration to what we’d already determined by centuries of rationalization to be the second. “What even is time?” In this case, a number of a microscopic immensity, the frontier to the right of the decimal.
When time expresses urgency as its dominant characteristic—an overlaying rapidity of simultaneously constant, segmented, and multivalent transmission—even in a pandemia of forced immobility, it is not the virus itself that corresponds to affect, but the viral. Through Lukacs we might abstract why one might decline to wear a protective mask in pandemia: an unwillingness to come to terms with the category of totality itself. Žižek, in one of two 2020 books on the pandemic, subverted Hegel and told us not that spirit is a bone, but that spirit is a virus. How could one argue with unmasked intolerance? Vaccination blocks the path of history! Bad science allies with the wrong side of history! Kamala Harris stood on the debate stage with Mike Pence and declared she would not take a vaccine developed under the command of Trump. The current of asynchrony demands complicity of the individual, an imposition of universalism, false or not, of the most particular kind, to the consensus negotiation of politics and science. In a refusal of that, the horizon of belief turns inward—as the scalar of time moves inward—unable to coordinate with the reliability of the Other, by negating Reason, or, somewhat disastrously, constructing a false and unfounded Reason—the lack of proof being the proof— in the narrative construction of the asynchronous apparatus. The asynchronous subject fails to negotiate good faith amid accelerations of life-threatening proximity—Pascal’s wager but for a liberal democracy on the brink of collapse. Pandemia forces this bifurcated thinking to not only the possible, but to the Real, by immobilizing entire populations, applying the biopower of nation states to the representation of efficacy on a world map, and implementing biometric tracking to the individual. Even the most blinkered are forced to contemplate (this is not to say accept or embrace) the intricacies of a world system and the global flows of commerce and communication in which they are but a data mote, and in fact little more than a vector for disease. This represents the asynchronous cognitive map: an impossible attempt to situate oneself amidst the synchronized core, precisely because it is not within this core, but without, a transcendence of the concrete aspect of time-space relationship to a disoriented abstract, a position that holds possibility at arm’s length through the alliance of the technocratic arts.
It Would Be A Dream That Had Never Been, That Would Come True
As a result of its comprehensive machinery, asynchronous temporality itself in the recent past moved into the static realm, where the public time of commerce and the private time of leisure merged to full solution, beyond working hours never ending, where leisure activities generate value in their various strands of feedback, as Neta Alexander described in the context of David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism. There, at the cybernetic streaming service, an often-repeated observation of the globalized, “late capitalist” world is the apparent endless present, where culture, upstream from politics, folds back onto itself—both due to and despite increasingly segmented and fractured experience, dissected by ever-more precise instruments—where time does not pass, but simply “is,” infinitely dense in its inscriptions. Governed by a cybernetic warden, human archetypes of postmodernity become little more than “thermostats” of input-output signals making fluid the “market democracy” of tertiary industrialization, the move from producing value in the factory to value on the screen. The turbo power of communications networks aggravated the isolation of pandemia, the endless screens and screening and screens within that screening—the nightly news blaring from the flat screen in the vaccination site—the asynchronous totality, the reality of the new condition of pandemia, being certain of so much, with a knowing complicity in the system of domination and exploitation (a second-order understanding of the violence of synchronization) and without a way to disengage (asynchrony) if only for the social responsibility of isolation. This is the intensity of the “now,” the deception of the endless instantaneity that we have indeed met with some kind of political and cultural singularity. To be sure, it is false! It is a coordination of time-space and information systems that exceeds the limits of physicality by inward growth and vectoralized calculations, so dense its absence shocks more than the audacity of its presence, as pandemia revealed.
This position of timelessness in advanced/late capitalism, first theorized by Fredric Jameson and Jacques Derrida as a cultural phenomenon, atomized into daily life, in the decades since, from the macro to the micro, into a technical and psychic phenomenon: asynchrony. In music, the proliferation of “the loop” represents a certain dislocation from forward movement in time, remarked on often in the anthology The Politics of Post-9/11 Music and elsewhere at length by Mark Fisher. This reflects “[...] the dominant mode of being of external reality [as] time itself,” as Jameson presciently wrote in 1971, at the nascence of the neoliberal consensus. Time freezes like a river—the surface can be grasped in representative solidity, while the flow remains out of touch. The very system of measurement sits outside the argument by fiat, a hyper-Newtonian constructed psychic absolute. This disconnect between the awareness of time passing and its incommensurate experience reflects the state of the asynchronous subject. The individual—like two students in one room constructing different memories—generates a monadic vision through the mobile market device, incompatible with totality and contradicting all others, while simultaneously overlapping with all others—yet because of the multivalence of the experience, no two Venn diagrams, in the endless universe of overlap, are the same. A contradiction, to be sure, and one arising from the ubiquity of information and entertainment that the individual constantly may reify the conditions of existence. The triple alliance ensures flows of economy, including—as David Harvey described in The Condition of Postmodernity (1989)—economies of image. We now face more coordinated iterations of Debord’s “integrated spectacle,” both diffuse and concentrated, emanating from power centers but lacking permanence in social cohesion, isolating and thereby unifying by the very isolation of the atomized mass. In pandemia, cultural institutions closed—cinemas and the like had already been on the brink, as a consequence of on-demand/asynchronous entertainment technology. There, the asynchronous subject nullifies the “boring” as a narrative category, even in staying home for days on end, fearful of death, the invisible death of Covid-19; the demand for affirmation of life becomes immediate, constant, and asynchronized. Formally within the asynchronous, always available are spectacles in durations either monolithic or miniscule. The former arrives in the phenomenon of the “binge watch,” a practice of durational masochism and an affect of uselessness, the cultural expression of mechanical malaise, the second-order observation of a system observed—the quarantine of pandemia enabled a never-ending binge watch. Here, the viewer watches episode after episode of a television serial and entire “seasons” exhaust in a matter of hours. The viewer may “skip intro.” Content needs no introduction.
In one episode of a reality show called Wife Swap the one family was devoutly Christian and the other actively Atheist. The father figure of the Christian family described with relish his practice of soaping a child’s mouth over and over, “until he [the child] cared.” The Atheist family sported a husband figure known in a niche internet micro community, where he spends 18 hours a day broadcasting an Atheist internet talk show. One son in that family does chores all day and his younger brother is sent to a daycare, so that the wife figure could have all day to manage a second, digital family in the video game The Sims. How does a family function in the production of the virtual? The thing to look at is the position of labor and the production of morality by the contrast of the edit, the absence of unified time in the godless home. In a different but similar episode opposing the pastoral and the secular, a super-structured family swaps matriarchs with a more deconstructed family. The deconstruction wife, upon seeing how regimented her host family lives, throws their “brain” in the fireplace. Their weekly planner smoldering in the hearth, the 15-year-old son, pious and kind, erupts in anger. He yells, “How are we supposed to know if family came over for Christmas?” One faction sees the calendar as crucial personal history, the other as a potentially repressive grid of social organization. Gender norms for whatever inscribed meaning are queered, here, in Wife Swap by a simple side-by-side of time. The performance of gender is put on blast by the sheer contrast of an opposition—not a full negative, but any opposition at all. By filling this absence that it creates for itself, Wife Swap functions as critique. In yet another episode, a Mennonite family swaps wives with a family of punk rockers who operate a bar and small music club out of their home. During the filming of the episode, the father figure loses his job as an office administrator, relaying to cameras that his superiors did not find it appropriate he aspired to the rock star life. Had this been filmed within the paradigm of asynchrony (this particular episode was produced before 2005, the advent of the mobile market device) it is possible the punk father may have distanced himself by gig work from both an authority of lifestyle and the aesthetic judgment of the subculture in which he aspired. The personal becomes irrelevant to the production of value. Skip intro skip everything. In media res replicates in social conduct. Why then does the media report that, under pandemia, workers who dropped their commute in order to work from home ended up working more hours? Skip the intro of commute, the environment completely virtual, to labor in the enterprise of intellectual property, a demonstration of the asynchronous position of labor and the irrelevance of what Debord called pseudo-cyclical time. In the virtual environment, communal affirmations of the self, an ordering of one’s place in the world, dislocate to neurochemical feedback loops of social media dopamine production. Economy and cybernetics ally easily, here, building an instant affirmation into value production. This personal archive of the post ritual exists ostensibly for virtual others, rendering the subject virtual, holding the position of privilege. To Lacan, the true purpose of the masochist is not to provide jouissance in the other, but to provide its anxiety—the asynchronous. In the digitally constructed, voluntarily virtual, the self is an individually affirmative hall of mirrors, a Narcissus without an Echo. The constantly mediated must not distinguish hyperreality from experience (I’m reminded of the intelligence gatherers in Neil Stephenson’s book Snow Crash) and the construction of the subject becomes completely virtual, foreshortening time, triviality, the “boring” narrative of life itself. The declaration, “I saw that on Facebook already” brings conversation to a halt. Skip intro skip everything. When all is “post,” that is to say after, past, already happened, intro-to-be-skipped, the present exists previously (and tomorrow is already algorithmically accounted for) purely as a mechanism of reflexivity, the anxious affirmation machine. Yet the celebrity theater of the biunivocal political spawns enough interpretative surplus value to make an opinion generator out of the most discontinuous subjects. The already ruthless efficiency of consensus politics accelerates by way of allowing extremism to appear, only in order to distract from the inaction of the center. That’s the purpose of the Dwight character on the US television series The Office, the exquisite form of binge-watch, a show about a dying paper company—that is to say an asynchronous gestalt guidebook to ascending labor to the virtual. Dwight’s amodern/fundamentalist prosthetic (revised past-future perfect survivalist) is made to look absurd, against the hauntology of Pam’ and Jim’s Protestant Oedipal ethic. “Good Mommy, Good Daddy/Bad Mommy, Bad Daddy.” Taken further, off the screen and onto the other screen, when it comes to online dating, algorithmic matching masks a technological form of arranged marriage, dislocating the importance of cultural/social reproduction to the technocratic success of copulation, a thoroughly dishonest arrangement that postures individuality against the cold logic of machines. The success of matchmaking television like The Bachelor or Married at First Sight rationalizes what was once fully Othered, through the Western language of the Oedipal image commodity. In the malaise of pandemia, we binge-watch Sophocles, a Sophocles so on-the-nose it feels fake. The asynchronous apparatus incorporates the first-order function into its own second-order critique. The often-ambiguous Love on The Spectrum holds the position as a future-leaning attitude toward sexuality and psychology; this program follows adults with autism on their quest to find life partners. The titles of the sections here are quotes from the earnest and ultra-logical subjects of that program.
We’ll Find As We Go I Suppose
As I write this, we gaze into an ocean of fire, microplastics move into food supplies and appear in the bodies of newborns while outnumbering stars in the Milky Way, inequality gaps widen to the abyssal, floods sweep lands in a biblical prelude, and so on and so forth, all the anxiety inducing news that’s fit to arrive on the same devices through which we conduct our labor, leisure, and love. A reassessment of spatial-temporal mode presents an opportunity to reclaim productive, meaningful, and human endeavor beyond sustainability in a world more fraught with precarity than ever, and somehow simultaneously measured as more prosperous than ever—yet only by ratio, the inverted pyramid a colossus of chit. It would be disingenuous to hide in darkness the tremendous hope of a strategy that reconciles this gulf between dispossession of a foreclosed future and a prosperity that spans humanity. Already I run the risk of banality: world peace is the answer of the pageant winner, the universally appropriate abstraction to the question of, “why?” Yet it must be articulated: there are vastly different versions of peace. Fascism offers its own—the boot on the neck of the Other, the obligation to a fixed ideal (the devotion to the Oedipal). Would it then invert tyranny to suggest disengaging from the dominant thought of the last few thousand years? If this implies a new balance, it must be theorized from a new source, beyond liberal democracy as we know it, where “value” diminishes in the gravity of history and the escape from this endless present shifts to the consciousness of a before and thereafter, the history after the end of history. These phrases such as the “end of history” indicate a blunt kind of indebtedness, that of political jingoism nonetheless deeply influential to shaping the world from which these thoughts arose. Fukuyama, in particular, shoulders the blame for the spread of a blasé attitude toward the destructive pace of liberal globalization in the 1990s and exploding after the neoconservative rationale provided by September 11; even if Fukuyama’s essay is misinterpreted commonly (Hegel had already made such a pronouncement a century earlier) the title alone provided the motto for an expanded American global hegemony. Is this the peace we wanted?
The endless war ends again, the Bad Infinity, and the 20th anniversary of the towers crumbling passes like salt into pixels. Marking a derogatory shorthand, hardline liberals, naked imperialists, and war crime apologists quipped on the “forever war” spawned from that tragedy. But it must be considered: the dictum, “never forget,” is itself a political slogan of time, and the ultimate instance of the postmodern revisionist project. The fact the establishment borrowed the phrase from the Nazi holocaust should demonstrate this, for the reason it has overshadowed the Nazi holocaust by shorthand. Position “never forget” against its inverse, “always remember.” In the secondary farce (after the first tragedy of fascism) “never forget” lacks the heart of “always.” The heart of “always” is love; the heart of “never” is indifference, assumes indifference. “Forget” is a warning; “remember” is the language of the fond. We are not meant to remember. We are meant to never forget, the insistence of that affect; we do not forget empire, a formation of imperialism that we can never forget, lest we become subject to history, and halt an economy of speculation relying on movement around a nexus so complex it appears unknowable, unrepresentable, to know the opposite of what should be known: powering down the imperial engine. That serves the exact opposite function of never forget—it is the phantasmagoric othering of then, the impassable present, rather than the apprehension of the impossible: always, eternity, beyond sustainability. We are not meant to remember, because we are meant to transverse the rupture of that moment as if it never happened, an attempt to freeze the meaning there and continue on the toric path at the end of history, the biunivocal tradeoff that extends endlessly the temporal regime of communicative capitalism. The dialectic between pandemia and a post-Afghanistan America radicalizes a new horseshoe contingent, moving by interior failure to exterior consciousness. The lie of American omnipotence eventually fell, while the war of infinitude (we’d traded cowboy hats for assault helmets) stretched back into the homeland by an incomplete sense of concept—the broken conclusion to the founding mythology of the frontier. Who are we without a war? The new threat is within, as white Christian sectarians begin militating in a way not unlike the balkanization of Islam following the American ventures for oil in Central and West Asia. By some legitimate reports, there are currently double the threats of domestic terrorism in the US against international variants. In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky made this remark:
Suppose that on 9/11 the planes had bombed the White House. Suppose they’d killed the president, established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international terror center that was carrying out assassinations, overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history. Suppose that had happened. It did happen, on the first 9/11 in Chile in 1973, except America was responsible for it, so no one even knows about it.
What he refers to is the coup in which US intelligence services helped overthrow democratically elected Salvador Allende and install the junta of Augusto Pinochet. The latter, a brutal dictator of untold horrors, sits high in David Harvey’s neoliberal pantheon (along with Reagan, Thatcher, and Deng Xiaoping). Chile in the ‘70s became the testing ground for the theory of “The Chicago Boys,” the monetarism of Milton Friedman, and the disruption for the explicitly cybernetic socialism designed by Stafford Beer and Project CyberSyn; I think the span between the two 9/11 operations can be seen as the era of unchecked neoliberal expansion. The era after 2001 seems to be the beginning of the end of American hegemony, even in the economic standard indicators of human rights indexes (freedom of the press, inequality, instability, and so on). While I am positioned in what follows to comment on the US as the focal point of these remarks, it comes to terms with a counter-hegemony, against a failed emancipatory project.
III. THE PRODUCTION OF ASYNCHRONY
Physics, today, no longer denies time. It recognizes the irreversible time of evolutions toward equilibrium, the rhythmic time of structures whose pulse is nourished by the world they are a part of, the bifurcating time of evolutions generated by instability and amplification of fluctuations, and even microscopic time, which manifests the indetermination of microscopic evolutions.
– Isabelle Stengers, 1997
From the intellect, biology and physics bind into rotation in the earth, of day and night, of seasons (though seasons are themselves contingent on climate stability and therefore not absolute to region or temporal stasis). Yet these motions of bodies are dividends of the aggregate of a universal motion that, until fully indexed–an untenable possibility at present–the project of “time” can never be complete. Terrestrial time is rote, basic, and leveled by the observable. Social constructions of time have ancient commonalities, even if coincidental, including the development of weeks of different lengths, the coordination of lunar cycles, and religious festivals—psychic consolidations of repetitive corollaries. You’ll understand me, then, to distinguish the extensive future of measurement from the durational eternity. As Bossuet said: “By means of the time that passes we enter into the eternity that does not pass.” A fine line or no line at all separates what we may never imagine, and what we may never know. It is that very imagination to which I appeal—the wager is not the impossible, but the impassable present. A high-stakes and urgent present populates the consciousness. The future arrives by means structurally suspect, yet appearing logically sound—or worse, rational! Though he slept through it, Gregor Samsa’s alarm clock made “an ear-splitting noise” that morning. Better still, take “The Warden of the Tomb,” who never sleeps in order to guard a centuries-old body, 60 years of dreamless sentry; he has worked himself not to death, but to whatever the opposite of living is. This projection of coordinated life calculates averaging functions, the micro divisions reconciled to a unilocular stasis, the condition of asynchrony.
We explore the relationship between time and power—the structural development of precision predictability. All time systems account for a future. The planning of agriculture, in the first instance, presents a self-evident temporal forecast of social reproduction. In anthropological study, the markings of notches on excavated wooden rods have been interpreted to be coordinating the week, they tell us, tracking sunsets for the meeting of a marketplace. These are the determinants of algorithms that foretell the mediating presence between at minimum two nodes, for the purpose of reproducing social conditions. It is the same wager of an alarm clock in modernity, the supposed agreement between expanding populations on a fixed frequency of simultaneity, the wager that when I leave for the office so, too, will you. Every clock on earth directs a momentum of social life (an attempted containment of the élan vital) through a temporal organization that synthesizes the determinate future. As populations and territories expand, it falls upon power to consolidate simultaneity. It should be an obvious thread to pull, as these systems of organization are fundamentally linked to some external indicator and therefore some kind of common sense. “The opening lines of Hesiod's ‘Days,’” Harold Innis wrote, “mark out the two chief moments of the farmer's calendar, ploughing and sowing, by the rising and setting of the Pleiades; and that faintly glittering constellation has been a farmer's guide through many centuries.” Yet we construct this common sense, in the case the problem of simultaneity relating to a certain constellate perspective; what we find in this “natural world,” the boundary of which we also construct, is interpreted in ways that become convenient to advancing certain practices of governing, inscribing the subject with a rhythm of governmentality. These rhythms through history become increasingly dense until the opacity of synchronization reaches a point that makes time useful in new ways. It is at that point of opaque synchronization that asynchrony appears as an instrument dislocated from the produced continuity of time, by appearing above and around the fully solidified temporal core.
In a 1915 essay by J. T. Shotwell “The Discovery of Time,” the author distinguishes between the calendar and chronology. The first is the mathematical calculation of repetitive corollaries; the second is the study of time itself, which cannot be measured, but is made in the instant of the everyday, flowing constantly from the flux of human activity. The calendar made chronology possible, as the rhythms of the market (for why the week was first coordinated) the ebb and flow of agriculture, one that recasts the book of Genesis as attributing to the feminine the synthesis of predictability (for why months and solstices are calculated) and the seasonal patterns of hibernation (for how the future is negotiated) allowed the derivation of record keeping. Shotwell argues these are the basis of scientific history and to a massive civilizational extent. The sun provided the framework for the calendar. In other words, the origins of the calendar precede the origins of chronology. The origins of the calendar, says Shotwell, are from when man settled in the soil and began to farm it. He claims time and space are joined and the first to accept this was they who cultivated earth. This assumes futurity, as does the hunter who negotiates feted prey. The discovery of time shifts epistemology toward a self-conscious imagination and memory, the building of pattern recognition and correlative function of future anticipation, an internal synthesis of exterior stimuli, a computation of messaging. We make time from reconstructing the past—not that we know the past; we know things in the past happened at frequencies of predictability, within the limits of our perception. Shotwell concludes that the Greek and Roman rivalry, in the disagreements about beliefs of the moon, could be reconciled in their consistency in their belief in the stars. At that point, the maintenance of continuity becomes less tied to agriculture and more to the scaffold of empire.
Synchronizing world time in the late 19th century—a process of war, conquest, capital, and reconciliation—flattened vernacular time, through the 1884 Meridian Conference and other agreements after World War I. Among these was the 1912 agreement between France and England to privilege derivation mechanisms in Paris, while the center of longitude remained Greenwich, for its primacy in seafaring. Synchronizing systems of production and culture—that is, time—internationally was seen as necessary for stability and peace, after the empire-fracturing traumas of the World Wars. The League of Nations attempted to make distribution and standardization of time and calendars a priority, in the Committee on Intellectual Cooperation, of which Bergson was president and Einstein a member. Canales claims making time universal was seen as crucial to world peace. Yet these concerns are also imperial, such as an attempt to resolve border disputes in French-Spanish Morocco, French-German Congo/Cameroon, and French-Italian Tunisia. Strategic use of mass media and diversions in political alliances among schools of thought allowed certain attitudes toward time to dominate through the 20th century. Time’s privatization becomes less contested as its arbitration becomes more hidden in the fracturing precision of the laboratory. After “the end of history,” questioning the organization of time became hysterical, in part due to the rapid, global spread of communication networks that made time an absolute. The increasing density of time inscriptions, to the current state of opacity, reduces temporal interaction to a clock-punch in an asynchronous apparatus, a destination from which the cybernetic analysis arises. This situates the role of time-broadcasting devices in tandem with systems of media delivery, as media is a temporal ritual of increasing density that attempts a synchronization of ideology.
The Meter and the Milieu
Galison notes that clocks in 1870s Vienna and Paris were set by pneumatics, with subterranean streams of compressed air coordinating public timepieces. These pneumatic clocks were quite inaccurate, as a delay of up to 15 seconds occurred in the time it took the bursts of air to reach their destinations. Countermeasures were added to account, with little urgency, as the clocks had no second hand anyway. The public still registered the differing clocks. Galison notes that decrying the 15-second delay by citizens in the milieu shows an acute and developing social awareness of time—clocks did not have a minute hand until the 1800s, and now a 15 second lag would be noticed and remarked upon. This standard was soon unacceptable, as astronomical time in the late 1800s became much more precise than this pneumatic broadcast. In 1875, Urbain Le Verrier, director of the Paris Observatory, suggested time be coordinated by electric signal. By 1879, a dozen electric clocks around Paris were connected to the “mother clock” in the observatory by telegraph wire. These secondary clocks radiated time to locations such as schools, churches, and government buildings. But this system, too, worked poorly, as wires were severed in the Paris sewers by accident, and public clocks again differed radically from one another across the city. The chief engineer of the project fumed: “In regarding the clock face at any moment, the observer must have the absolute certainty that the clock is correct to within a few seconds at the most, not to within five minutes.” Do we now question the integrity of the time? No, because the observable systems are so synchronized to such a density and so plainly hidden, there is no reason to cast doubt.
Stephen Kern in The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918 argues that “a series of sweeping changes in technology and culture created distinctive new modes of thinking about and experiencing time and space.” While he argues that ideas of the past and future did not change so much, the sense of the present was “distinctively new, thickened temporally with retentions and protentions of past and future and, most important, expanded spatially to create the vast, shared experience of simultaneity.” This arose from the international scientific imposition of World Standard Time in 1884, agreed upon at the International Meridian Conference in Washington, DC of that year. This allied explicitly economics, politics, and nascent cybernetics, amidst the telegraphing standards of time that crisscrossed the globe, in tandem with the railroad oligopoly coming to terms with the dangers of an unsynchronized system. Participants at the 1884 conference voted by miles of rail track they owned. Time became unitary.
As Galison argues, a name vacant from the popular narrative of time is Henri Poincare. Poincare was a French theoretical physicist and philosopher, regarded in more granular scientific history as prefiguring Einstein. By synthesizing the work of Hendrik Lorentz on “local time” with his transcendent position of epistemological relativism, Poincare developed a theoretical physics that carried an interdisciplinary spirit: “In December 1900, he ‘reviewed’ Lorentz’s theory, turning Lorentz’s mathematical fiction ‘local time’ into a telegrapher’s procedure, where observers moving through the ether synchronized clocks by exchanging signals […] Poincare was working out a new concept of time, showing how it fit into the rules of three different games: geodesy, philosophy, and physics.” The geodesy came on the back of Poincare’s mission to continue the French project for precision mapping. This project had carried through the Revolution, and has not truly ended (as the imperial standards of a resentful British science continue to reject universal claims in the public measurement of inches, yards, and miles) while the accuracy of mutating globe cannot be eternally discerned despite best measures.
This was the project of the meter that intended to decimalize and refine standards of measurement, principally to mediate disagreement of exchange, commerce, and trade. Savants derived the meter from a near-precision ratio of the circumference of the earth, and calculating longitudes by various triangulations of landscape markers, often church bell towers. This project continued through the establishment of the Third Republic because the various governments continued to pay for it, in the service of international competition of transatlantic telegraph cables that would be used to develop longitude and then more accurate maps by exchange of timing signals. The excision of the sovereign on the science arose from the measure of extending the very boundary of the empire. Only the codification of space enabled the extension of the temporal regime. The longitudinal time of empire refined to account for the interlocking, complex formations of colonization. In the later years of the 19th century, the meter project transformed into a broader endeavor of mapping empire. Poincare took on this task globally with the help of the new technology of the telegraph. Submarine cables stretched across the Atlantic, transmitting time signals to a new degree of precision, to map coastlines and the interlocking nuances of 19th century imperialism. The UK, US, and Germany all sunk their own telegraph cables not only into the Atlantic, but all bodies of water dividing the colonies from the radiating power of the imperial core. The established frame of reference directed space using time. As Poincare hauled the receivers and transmitters of time across the hostile territories, Einstein sat comfortably at his patent office desk. Poincare literally did the heavy lifting and abandoned the pursuit of a concretized frame of temporal reference, due to his insight of its banal convenience to scientific consensus and its impossible-to-capture true nature. Poincare saw the time he helped construct as arbitrary.
A century earlier, in 1792, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-François-André Méchain were appointed to derive the meter. They began measuring the length of the meridian arc running from Dunkerque, through Paris, and down to Barcelona. They hoped to use this as a global standard of measurement which would solve international disputes, one ten-millionth of the length between the North Pole and the equator, which they extrapolated in their surveys. Alder details the minutiae of this project and its challenges. Measurements used in commerce during this period were diffuse, Alder estimating some 250,000 different frames of reference to negotiate trade throughout the world. The Parisian toise, for example, was a bar of iron mortised into the foot of the stairs leading into the Châtalet courthouse. Yet over time this iron bar buckled under the weight of the building settling, demanding a replacement. To derive a system of measurement from something eternally steadfast made the most sense to the savants. Delambre and Méchain’s colleague, Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat de Condorcet, described the meter as “for all people, for all time.” The interest in a broad and globalized system of measurement arose from the ideology of the Revolution, where liberty and equality extended through the universally applicable laws of science. Of course, no measurement is truly fundamental or universal, derived endlessly from other measurements and their contingencies. The assumption of universal ascent to this utopia reflects the false global eminence of Enlightenment thought.
Nevertheless, to define something indefinite is no simple task. The challenges of accomplishing the precision measurement of the meridian arc met with violent conflict against England and Spain both, especially as opposition forces confused observation equipment as weaponry. The revolutionary French government had the provisional meter in hand and wanted to hand off the measurement to the 25 million French citizens, an egalitarian symbol of a country of “one weight, one measure.” In 1793, the Academy of Science, in charge of the surveying of the meridian, in the interest of developing the meter, released a “provisional” version. This was a holdover approximation, an in-process thereabouts, until the more precise calculations were complete. This provisional meter was only released under pressure from the government, who argued the meter’s project was the only rationale for funding of the Academy of Science, the rationale of science for the use of the sovereign.
In January of 1798, the Paris Academy of Sciences announced to the world it would hold, in September of that year, a conference for a global community to review the measurement of the meridian, and thus derive the meter in a world-communal way. This would be the first international scientific conference in history, a moment of overlooked cosmopolitan privilege. In the further construction of the system of measurement, a proposal was indeed introduced, in the late 18th century, to derive the measure from the length of a pendulum swing in one second, thereby uniting space and time measurements. However, it was already known that the length of a pendulum’s second varied based on its geographical position; a savant had, in 1672, noticed the slower beating of a clock during a journey toward the Caribbean. The deduction was made that the earth could not then be a perfect sphere, as the effects of gravity fluctuate at different points.
A problem arises when the corollary between the sexagesimal time measurement and centurial length measurement cannot be resolved—time cannot be measured against the meter. We use the sexagesimal system to measure arcs, angles, and time. The sexagesimal system has ancient roots, in Greece and earlier, where fractions were expressed this way—its primary use. Fractions were only written as 1/n, except for 2/3, which had its own symbol. But prior to this, integers were expressed in the sexagesimal. Thureau-Dangin writes, “before becoming an academic system, the sexagesimal system had been the common and exclusive mode of numeration with the Sumerians, that is with the predecessors of the Babylonians.” The author points to Ptolemy as a point of early reference, who noted 60 was the easiest with which to handle numbers with many divisors. Historians point to the “natural” eruption of the 60: 360 days of 24 hours of 60 minutes. Yet neither geometry nor astronomy account for a system of numeration, an abstract construction of immediate convenience. Thureau-Dangin writes: “the sexagesimal system was the result of a union between two peoples of whom the one had brought with it the decimal system while the other had a 6-system, based upon a special mode of numeration on the fingers.” So, do we measure time in this way because ancient people found it convenient to use a 6-based system to tally and tabulate, with their hands?
The author asserts the opposite, that the vast majority of the world emerged with base-10 systems because of the ten fingers on the hands. The decimal system became common in the second half of the third millennium. Prior to the end of the third millennium, the sexagesimal system disappeared from the vernacular. The origin then lies in the written system. “It seems certain that the Sumerians were the first Asiatic people to rise to the stage of a civilization based upon the knowledge of writing. Their culture, remarkable by its homogeneity and originality, was a powerful focus, radiating light,” the author writes. Numerations based around 6 are useful because of divisibility by both three and two. 60 has the character of having the first 6 integers as factors. But there is evidence of combinations of the decimal and sexagesimal system, the Schock, “three-score,” and the Grosshundert, for example, all equal 120. What I want to suggest here (with note of the British currency before 1971, that did indeed rotate around the 6) is that organs of power and particularly capital accumulation benefit greatly when duration and extensity are rendered nonequivalent and in a dualism outside an absolute, when the Hegelian comparative category of measure is set aside by an initial disjuncture of terms. It is a similar relationship to the reformation of measurement to the meter, which alienated labor to a new abstraction of quality from quantity.
Alder makes a significant point as to value in the instantiation of the metric system, or any standard of measure:
Many Ancién Régime measures—especially those that related to the world of production—had at their origin an anthropometric meaning derived from human needs and human interests. This does not mean that they directly reflected the size of the human body, the pied (foot) as the size of the king’s foot, or as the length of the average human foot. Rather, many Ancién Régime measures reflected the quantity of labor a person could do in a given period of time. Thus, coal in one region of France was measured in a charge (“load”) equal to one twelfth of a miner’s daily output. Arable land was often measured by the homme (“man”) or journée (“day”) so as to designate the amount of land a peasant might plow or harvest in one day. […] Moreover, these measures did not simply express the value of the land, they guided work rules and set customary limits on the labor a landlord might extract. […] In this sense, the anthropometric measures of the Ancién Regime acted as a control on productivity, and indeed, masked the very idea that productivity was a value that could be measured.
This provides the framework to understand the abstraction of value away from the individual ownership of labor and more toward what Marx called surplus value, while also reflective of his notion of commodity fetishism. The egalitarian purpose of the measurement system appealed to laissez-faire liberalism, moving from the market as a place, toward the market as an idea. In the first instance, a third party to a transaction implied an arbitrator. In the second, the universal system of measurement allows market force to overtake labor force.
Late in the Security, Territory, Population lectures, Foucault describes four shifts to governmentality leading to the 20th century. He digs into the relationship between the claim of the state and so-called natural processes:
An entire domain of possible and necessary interventions appears within the field thus delimited, but these interventions will not necessarily, or not as a general rule, and very often not at all take the form of rules and regulations. It will be necessary to arouse, to facilitate, and to laissez-faire, in other words to manage and no longer to control through rules and regulations. The essential objective of this management will be not so much to prevent things as to ensure that the necessary and natural regulations work, or even to create regulations that enable natural regulations to work. Natural phenomena will have to be framed in such a way that they do not veer off course, or in such a way that clumsy, arbitrary, and blind intervention does not make them veer off course. That is to say, it will be necessary to set up mechanisms of security. The fundamental objective of governmentality will be mechanisms of security, or, let’s say, it will be state intervention with the essential function of ensuring the security of the natural phenomena of economic processes or processes intrinsic to population.
First, the state has created a new category for which it can intervene, but this intervention will not be so much, if ever, defined by rules or regulations, but, in our case, a universally sound system of reason. Therefore, this new field (or milieu, as Foucault calls it earlier) needs some kind of encasement or perhaps an escapement not unlike a clock that ratchets as necessary, when deemed so by the state, but only to maintain the natural, and to only regulate when in the benefit of the natural—the metric system. Yet the nature of regulation and the occurrence of natural phenomena requires an order of security by which the state can guarantee if not stability then at least a predictability to disruptions of this field, a stasis. New methods of security must then be erected to account for the unpredictable, in ways predictable from the measure of intermittently intravenous security put in place.
“Natural” needs the most interrogation here. By keeping certain mechanisms in the domain of the “natural” which Foucault traces through the scientific recovery of economics in the 18th century, the population loses control of the milieu. The fusion of a temporal regime to an ideological liberalism encapsulates this, as does the metric project, making the market “free,” as Alder argues, by leveling discrepancy of commerce, but answerable to the sovereign by the state-backed rationale of the savants–a wild inversion. In this passage, we see Foucault prefiguring the critiques of neoliberalism by several decades, identifying aspects of the neoliberal order moving from a micro to a macro scale: strong state, deregulation, domination of private interests, competition. Foucault does this by retracing the changing role of police (movement from general distribution of resources to deterrents of “certain disorders”) but also the question of the state, and, crucially, to what is considered natural. When the economistes recover the lost paragon of the divine from the Renaissance age, they do so in a language of observation that makes their diagnosis irrefutable in the domain of the sciences. The question becomes: how can something so indefinite be intervened with yet unregulated? Besides the metric system, perhaps the Marshall Plan or TARP, or bailing out the airlines in 2020 are good examples. There we see what is natural (continuous, endless circulation) and what is unnatural (contracting markets). When economist Paul Krugman posits the shipping container as one marker of globalization—a ubiquitous presence on trains, on ships, on docks and trainyards, appearing only mid-20th century—this bridges Foucault’s police in the neoliberal reading with measurement, not only of space, but of power and movement needed in order to move goods from the ship to the shore and elsewhere. I hope it becomes obvious that time, when consolidated against such measurements as the journée becomes a similar regulator of the milieu, by creating a temporal regime that demands intervention only to maintain the natural order of things, and moving power to an absent mediation of impenetrable repute. Thus, science must remain apolitical even as it cannot.
Lynn Hunt argues that the new relationship to time could be seen as a defining development of the Revolution. The newspaper Révolutions de Paris, for example, in its second issue referred to the third week in July 1789 as “a week that was for us six centuries.” “The Revolution consequently opened the prospect of a new kind of voluntarism, that is, the notion that human will could consciously shape the future and thereby accelerate the effects of time. At the same time, it also cleared a path to a new kind of determinism.” As the Jacobins attempted the revolutionary development of measurement, a proposal was indeed made for a metric system of time as well. In this, a new calendar was developed. The Revolutionary calendar came into existence in 1794, and backdated to 1792, the date of the revolution that coincidentally fell on the Autumnal equinox. This union of nature and reason represents Enlightenment ideals reflected everywhere from art to philosophy and, to here, governance. The break from the Gregorian standard meant to indicate a more realistic proposition for the peoples of France, away from the union of church and monarch of the Ancién Regime. 12 months of three ten-day weeks, called decades, were instantiated. National festivals would be held on anniversaries of significant revolutionary moments, as opposed to the previous model of religious events (pagan placeholders). “A perfect alignment of Republic and nature was not a simple matter,” Alder writes. The imposition of measurement on a universe not made for human conception attempts to reconcile with the unnatural, impossible abstraction of government. “Do you want us to legislate eternity?” One member of a government committee concerned with time asked the scientist Delambre.
While the Year Zero of the revolutionary calendar is well known, the universal aspirations of the French revolution included a decimal metric time, dividing the day into ten hours of one hundred minutes, of one hundred seconds. This would effectively slow down time, squashing the ratio of the minute to the hour. Normal folks fundamentally ignored decimal time across France. When the National Convention passed the law of 18 germinal III, or the Gregorian April 7, 1795, the metric system as we know it today was implemented. Here, legislators abandoned the decimal clock, “ostensibly because of the cost of replacing all the nation’s clocks,” and because of a perceived bias between ordinary people and astronomers (whom the committee thought the time change only to benefit). Rather, the rapidity of time inscriptions, versus the density of the broadcast of time, could not translate at the appropriate speed to make such a system useful. The time of time failed in the rapidity of the necessary shift. It could not be coordinated with the rapidity required of such a drastic change and so eventually abandoned. Had metric time instantiated after the Eiffel Tower started broadcasting radio time in 1915, the rapidity of the transmission would have ensured compulsory adaptation of the temporal shift.
The International Conference on Time, in 1912 Paris, consolidated the system for determining and transmitting accurate time signals. This redoubled the 1884 International Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C., which established the 24 time zones around the globe, cementing the prime meridian on the Greenwich observatory—a secular Line of Demarcation that repositioned commerce above the church in matters of time. This had been agreed upon because three-quarters of the world’s shippers already used this longitude as time’s center. Germany adopted the standard in 1893 to coordinate military movements. The French did not accept the standard until 1911, however, placing Paris nine minutes and twenty-one seconds ahead of Greenwich. The historical scientific/philosophical rivalry between France and England is long, and this was the moment the two countries subsumed one another. The 1911 French law stated that “the legal time in France and Algeria is the mean Paris time slowed nine minutes and twenty-one seconds.” World Standard Time, Hunt says, “got its biggest push from the railroads […] reached the point of density at which coordination [of time] was becoming a necessity.” The railroads had already agreed in 1883, in the United States, to a four-zone time system divided along the 75th, 90th, and 105th meridian lines. “This agreement opened the way to the imposition of a world standard,” Hunt argues. And although international calendars were proposed to the League of Nations in the 1930s and the UN in the 1950s, these failed because of resistance from the US government.
The Absolute of Relativity
Thw Bergson-Einstein split encapsulates time as a permanent aspect of mass mediation. As Jimena Canales demonstrated in The Physicist and the Philosopher, this debate forged an academic fission in which a somewhat externally manufactured rivalry drove a wedge between philosophy and physics. Einstein represented the time of the universe, Bergson that of our lives. The supposedly Enlightenment-informed, rational scientific rigor of the former expelled the theoretical ethics of the latter—rationality versus intuition. Time is action for Bergson. To Einstein, either time is what clocks measure, or it is nothing at all. Einstein claims the time of the philosophers simply does not exist, and divides time into two categories of understanding: physical and psychological. Relativity renders time and space non-absolute, dismissing the scientific proposition of the ether, and hopelessly and irrevocably establishing a relationship between space and time. The principle insight is time dilation, that time slows down at fast velocities and completely stops at infinite ones. The counterargument, in the allowance of the continued micro-presence of time measurement, is that by reducing all life to the discontinuous, perceptions of time halt altogether. This split led to a 20th century characterized by technological innovations that appeared not at all for the sake of themselves (chief among them GPS, the most concretized use of General Relativity) nor as a showcase of technological determinism. By becoming pure science, the abstract phenomena of time fall away and so time escapes as an object of theoretical critique. What this involves, then, is the construction of Einstein as a scientist or physicist in the public sphere, rather than a philosopher or some other title. This involves his enthusiastic use of fledgling mass media and celebrity—Einstein should be considered an early beneficiary of celebrity culture, according to Boorstin’s criteria. Bergson’s reticence to the same kept him out of sight, in a world fascinated by the fresh developments of radio and cinema. Exercising a posthumous control of image, Bergson prohibited his letters and notes published, while Einstein allowed his correspondence published, and thereby propagated a “veritable Einstein industry.”
Though it is almost irrelevant in this context what he stood for, Bergson’s disappearance from the popular narrative of time demonstrates the efficiency of the event. It must be noted: Bergson advocated for an interior life that could not be reconciled with mechanical measurements of time. Meaning, the experience of time, as opposed to the measurements of time, differs by the distinction of intuition from scientific instruments, which bifurcate rather than assemble. To continue briefly with Deleuze on Bergson, tracing the latter’s philosophy of time and multiplicity to theoretical physics: Duration as a psychological experience is a transition state, the very becoming of becoming. “But it is a becoming that endures, a change that is substance itself.” Experience always gives a composite of space and duration. Duration is not merely experience but a condition of experience, an interior succession without exteriority. Space, on the other hand, is an exteriority without succession, fundamentally the memory of the past. The two combine, duration’s intrinsic continuous heterogeneity and space’s extrinsic discontinuous homogeneity. We then view this composite juxtaposed in an “auxiliary space.” In the necessary dismantling of the perceptible composite, as there is no ontological origin of space, duration is the only pure side of the composite, space “the impurity that denatures it.” The important fact here is the emergence of two multiplicities, one of space, of exteriority, of simultaneity, order, quantitative difference in degree, a “numerical multiplicity, discontinuous and actual.” The other multiplicity appears “in pure duration: It is an internal multiplicity of succession, of fusion, of organization, of heterogeneity, of qualitative discrimination, or of difference in kind; it is a virtual and continuous multiplicity that cannot be reduced to numbers.”
This idea of multiplicity, Deleuze says, is more important than has been considered. It is a larger idea than simply a noun that corresponds to multiples. Rather, it is not about opposing multiples to the One, but about distinguishing between two types of multiplicity. Deleuze attributes this “problem” to a physicist and mathematician called G.B.R. Riemann. Riemann postulated two multiplicities, discrete and continuous. The first type contains “the principle of their own metrics.” The second a metrical principle “in phenomena unfolding in them or in the forces acting in them.” Deleuze positions Bergson against Einstein by way of Riemann, on whom Relativity depended. But it is not simply to distinguish between duration and extensity in the field of time dilation; rather it is Bergson’s entrance into this dual multiplicity that maintains the object as an infinitely divisible lack of the virtual that, in dividing, does not change in kind. Bergson argued often that his theories of duration, matter, memory, extensity, and so on were not mutually exclusive from Relativity. Bergson did not deny Einstein’s theory, but simply stated that it did not all end with Relativity. Einstein refused this, on the basis of a concrete universal system of measurement. The distinction here reveals the devotional to a single multiplicity and a public excision of philosophy from theoretical physics. Einstein said, of himself and fellow scientists, that they were, “a supratemporal community of exceptional minds that existed in a universe parallel to that of the philistine masses.” So perhaps he didn’t believe what he sold.
It is important that science hold the position of an exterior rationale for the measurement of time, that economy be bound to the mantle of the divine. In this method, the natural world, the physical sphere, the unquestionable defines the interior synthesis of the individual—and cannot be questioned for the demonstrable rationale of the experimental. The social regime of time cannot be questioned because the production of truth and knowledge from the physical imbues it with a power of not the uncontested but the uncontestable by the paradigm of scientific consensus. It is fairly evident Einstein’s theory weighed more in the production of knowledge in the calculating prescience of this theoretical physics. That is to say, Einstein’s solutions were not only formulated in a discourse that proceeded from Poincare and Lorentz (he from the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887, the proposition of the ether) but also the most salient instrument through which the energetic system could be carried forward by the scientific method. Einstein directed a generation of physicists and astronomers where to fit the wrong answers that previous mathematics had produced. Instruments of observation and measurement became more precise to the extent that their frames of reference revealed broader discrepancies. They needed Einstein’s explanations as a matter of production and convenience in the continuity of this theoretical framework (a conclusion Poincare already reached in 1898). This required, as Hawking notes, to “abandon the idea of absolute time.” Later, when the second and the meter are derived “more accurately” from the oscillations of the cesium atom and the length over which a beam of light travels in a particular frame, these are the most convenient forms of a more frequent external repetitious force that the macropowerful appearances and evacuations of power channel into the micropowerful, from a science that must rationalize itself in an entropic state of academic labor division, for frames of reference concretized to such an extent there can be no err without cascade effect of untold consequence. Elevating physics away from philosophy consolidated time.
Einstein understood and made central the quiet alternative text: measured time is simply velocity. In his definition of simultaneity Einstein wrote: “If we want to describe the motion of a material point, we give the values of its coordinates as a function of time. However, we should keep in mind that for such a mathematical description to have physical meaning, we first have to clarify what is to be understood by ‘time’.” Defining time in Relativity implies its particular quality. The time of any one system of reference is just as true as any other system of reference. The argument Galison puts forward, to the effect that Einstein reviewed dozens of patents regarding timekeeping devices, is that Einstein “[refracted] the underlying metaphysics of his Relativity theory through some of the most symbolized mechanisms of modernity,” that is, the breakthroughs of timekeeping in Bern. When Einstein begins his paper with the supposition of a “mother clock” at the fixed center of the coordinate system (0,0,0,) this is required in the scenario of simultaneity in order to broadcast a network of coordinating time signals, a synchronization of expanding geopolitical space that relies on the sovereign of a centralized, universal science of time. Einstein witnessed this very system materialize, from the world center of clockmaking, a network of branching electronically controlled clocks that crossed his patent desk. Galison writes, this “was precisely that of the European system of the mother clock along with its secondary and tertiary dependents.” The supposition of social constructivism allies Einstein’s frame of reference with a system of continuity that remains out of control, the temporal regime of historical determinism.
In sum, the philosophical could not be sublimated to the physics of Relativity and Poincare and Bergson remained outside the canon of popular science. Einstein, who broke from the geodetic and philosophical discourse, reduced Relativity to the language of physics, and submitted to the division of labor in the academy. From then on, clock time became the only time. Objective time becomes a relationship between the contingent phenomena of the encountered and perceptible world. The theoretical apparatus endows “time” as a human right in the 19th century. But it is not a time of sovereign necessity that man claims right to. Time becomes a mission of the liberal stewards of the universal Enlightenment project, carrying forward, but also inward, toward a new precision of internal synthesis, and the rhythm by which a police might be administered—and, later, the rationale for this police. When the functionaries of science declare that all men have a right to time, they do not mean a personal temporality of rumination or leisure. Indeed, they see the right to time as a duty to keep synchronized to the world clock, a synthetic right built off the social metronome. The empire of time in which we live is one of pure time—bureaucracy for continuity, the archive as the memory of the state. There is no negative freedom involved with time. To this point, there is no sovereign right of time—there is no exception.
We cast Einstein in the vernacular of a misconstrued relativity. While General Relativity produced demonstrations of time dilation and electromagnetics, the elongated consequence of his postulates counterintuitively inverts what is “relative”: global synchronization, an absolute experience of time. Jacques Maritain, who coauthored the UN Declaration of Human Rights, argued that dismissing Bergson invalidated human rights, because Einstein’s theory invalidated everyday experience. Relativity rested on a set of assumed preconditions, and conflated reality with measurement. But there could be no alternative to an expansionary theoretical physics proven by experiment with a transmission time of full account. Einstein provided the bedrock for the most monstrous theoretical mechanism produced by metaphysics yet—the world clock. Again, this clock measures a velocity of a pagan heritage. From the second to the millennia measure velocities, organizing mechanisms of distance, privileged by concentration of broadcast. Real time cannot be measured; by measuring time we destroy its monadic aspect. How can I argue this? There is no proof—that is my proof. I understand Popper’s problem of the unfalsifiable. Yet you cannot show me time, though you can perceive it. Is that the limit of our materialism? To begin back with the Confessions of Augustine, at least: “What, then, is time? If no one asks of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.” Even Heidegger carried this thread: “We, as it were, make a cut in the time scale, thereby destroying authentic time in its flow and allowing it to harden. The flow freezes, becomes a flat surface, and only as a flat surface can it be measured.” And now with the gulf between General Relativity and quantum physics, we simply describe the unfolding of processes. Eternity so far cannot efficiently be measured because it is immutable from all, endlessly. So hard science must answer for astrology: do the positions of the planets matter, or don’t they? I know in my heart I am not bound to the stars, but to one star, by force of conduct. The will to know extends into the dark. Is that absence always toward a light? There will be only one way to know, and therefore no way to ever be sure. Bruno’s philosophy of the infinite is rooted in the apprehension of this essential absence.
Global Cybernetics: Computations of Repetitive Corollaries
Consider Ali Mazrui, a Kenyan writer, who complained in 1974 that the Gregorian calendar organized time in a way external to the civilization of Africa, forcing a time derived by “alien civilizations” upon the continent. Elsewhere, Dipesh Chakrabarty dissects the habit of writing about the Indian “failure” to, in his ironic phrase, “keep an appointment with its destiny.” He aims to dislodge histories from the sovereign temporality of a Western master narrative. History itself is a Western formation of temporal standardization. Chakrabarty writes:
… insofar as the academic discourse of history—that is, “history” as a discourse produced at the institutional site of the university—is concerned, “Europe” remains sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories, including the ones we call “Indian,” “Chinese,” “Kenyan,” and so on. There is a peculiar way in which all these other histories tend to become variations on a master narrative that could be called “the history of Europe.”
Voltaire, formulating new varieties of history, wrote: “A new order of things began with the dismemberment of the Roman Empire in the West, which is called the history of the Middle Ages; barbarian history of barbarian peoples, who on becoming Christians did not become better for it.” Voltaire began his history with the history of China and India because they were civilized first. He took Bossuet to task for ignoring Eastern history. He remarked that the Greeks and Romans are “posterior” to the Asians. From there on, history writing becomes secularized. The idea of evolution of human societies appears around this moment. While previous histories focused on reconciling the sacred and the profane, the 18th century historians focused entirely on the secular.
The earliest time keeping arose from seasons, solstices, and lunar cycles. African groups such as the Borana used star clusters, namely Orion, to chart time. A stone formation in present-day Australia dates back 11,000 years, as does a large lunar calendar in Wales and calendary artifacts in Scandinavia and the Balkans. While some carved bone pieces are thought to be representations of days gone by, the distinction of seasonal measurement is that of regularity, of predicting future conditions. In these ancient cultures and others like them in South America, the time was organized around consumption (here, in order to plan for hunting). These measurements had little to do with daily life but rather with tomorrow. The week has no corollary to “nature.” Though the initial foundations of a week are tied to religious ceremony, the impulse to mark weeks was widespread, though specifics were not consistent across cultures. Weeks did not necessarily have seven days. The Mayans and Aztecs both had ritual calendars with weeks of 13 days. Their practical year consisted of 18 periods of 20 days each, with four five-day weeks, two overlapping calendars for one social organization. The origin of the seven-day week is tied to the emergence of the Jewish religion. This was highly influential and spread through the Middle East in the 4th century BC. The seven-day week arose from Jewish ritual needs.
What does the evacuation of temporal power look like? As Innis points out in several places, the distinction between the early and late kingdoms of dynastic Egypt seems to be related to time, between the inaccuracy of the solar and sidereal measurements, suggesting the discovery of the solar day weakened the old dynasty of the Egyptian monarchy, by reducing the credibility of its priests. A paradigm between the solar and the sidereal then emerges, where one is used for more accuracy in the short term (the solar day) and the other in the long term (the sidereal year). The emergence of accuracy as a social phenomenon of chronology is a function of necessary synchronization of larger populations, infrastructures, and systems of production. It is a hallmark of efficiency. It was after the conquests of Alexander that the Egyptian measures of the day became common in the Greco-Latin world. In the year 263 BC, the first public sundial was installed in ancient Rome. There were many of these columns across the city, which displeased its citizens to a great extent. The playwright Titus Maccius Plautus wrote: “The gods confound the man who first found out how to distinguish hours. Confound him too who in this place set up a sundial to cut and hack my days so wretchedly into small pieces.” The oldest forms of the division of time separate the night from the day, and the Greeks remarked rather late on this distinction. The Egyptians developed this, and a similar evidentiary document was uncovered of Babylonian origin, but the split may go back to Sumerian times. In ancient Egypt, during the summer months, the daylight hours were about 69 minutes and the nighttime hours were 51 minutes. These were reversed during the winter months, stretching and contracting throughout the year. As such, they are called temporal hours. Temporal hours were in use for many centuries. In Mallorca, for instance, a sun clock had been installed at some point in the 1700s. According to Alder: “The clock divided each day into twelve hours, but hours which lengthened proportionately as the summer days lingered and shrank proportionately as wintry darkness shortened the daylight.” Writes Prerau: “During the Roman Empire, the summer solstice at the Coliseum consisted of twelve 76-minute daytime hours and twelve 44-minute nighttime hours … As late as the thirteenth century, the length of an hour in medieval London still varied widely throughout the year, from thirty-eight minutes to eighty-two minutes, and thus a daytime hour in summer was more than twice as long as a daytime hour in winter.” We have built the world clock to handle a similar elasticity in rhizomatic broadcast but insist on its absolute precision.
Islamic clock makers had been making water clocks for hundreds of years behind European clock makers. In the Mughal empire, public clocks were unknown until the 19th century, when they were imposed by the British. Mechanical clocks in Asia began appearing as artistic or novelty items among the upper classes. European missionaries brought clocks as gifts to Japan by 1551; in one case, a feudal lord refused the gift, saying, “I would have no use for this.” The Japanese were committed to temporal hours, using one time system for religious rituals, one for astrology, and one for civil life. Eventually, Western clocks worked into daily use. These required adjustment every two weeks to comply with the shifting length of day and night hours throughout seasonal change. China has a long history of chronometry, with particular interest in elaborate water clocks. Mechanical clocks were introduced in the late 16th century by the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. These missionaries saw synchronization as essential to the salvation of the Chinese people. In imperial China, time was broadcast from temples with drums and bells. Su Sung, in 1094, built the astraria, a forty-foot tall clockwork. While telling time was an aspect of Chinese court life, as Martineau points out, it was a “matter more of political prestige than of temporally organizing daily socio-economic relations and activities.” Yet one could be beaten for not observing curfews and other temporal ordination. At one time, humans slept in broken blocks, waking up to have sex, eat, or socialize between intermittent sleep. While these Chinese timekeeping devices could be inaccurate, the control over the knowledge of the inaccuracy became more important than the time itself. The clock meant more to exercise the power of scientific knowledge, rather than to organize a method of simultaneity. But it did serve also to synchronize sleep, a new development in life.
In Aristotle’s Physics (Book IV, part 10) he asked of time: “First, does it belong to the class of things that exist or to that of things that do not exist? Then secondly, what is nature?” Aristotle’s view of the universe came from synthesizing repetitive observance of corollaries. Around 340 BC, the Greeks deduced the shape of the Earth from its shadow on the moon during eclipse (the interruption of direct power between sun and moon); this implies Aristotle collating the broadcast information of at least several moments of eclipse, observed firsthand or in reliable secondhand. Ptolemy’s model, a century later, brought about a more reliable system in which to forecast repetitive corollaries, but centered the Earth. He surmised the flaws; yet this was the universal image cast acceptably between the Roman church and the Greek polytheists. Mechanical clocks started appearing in Europe around 1259. Christian Huygens invented the pendulum clock ca. 1657. The Renaissance made distinct the linear concept of time. Astronomy extended time to infinity and the natural sciences implied an extension of time in both directions. Copernicus’s 1514 model is well known, especially within critique. Kepler and Galileo took the risk to support the Copernican model, and in 1609 they synthesized the latter’s observation of Jupiter’s moons with the elliptical orbit offered by the former. The 1687 publication of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica brought gravity, literally, to the model, and suddenly the observational datum had Reason. Universal, homogenous, deep time is a novel idea that only emerges between the end of the 17th century and the middle of the 19th century. Isaac Newton defined “absolute time” in 1687 as flowing “equably without regard to anything external.” Newton referred to “the relative, apparent, and common time” of calendars and used the Petavian system in his chronology of 1728, writing: “The times are set down in years before Christ.” Later, the infinite strata of an attractive gravity can’t maintain stasis, and a repulsive force came into theorization. In 1823, a noted paper by Heinrich Olbers suggested that, if the universe was an infinite stasis, every line of sight would end in a star, and consequently the night sky would be comparably bright as the day. To avoid this problem, Olbers introduced the postulate that the stars were not infinite but had in fact “turned on” at some point. Kant’s 1781 Critique of Pure Reason took the originary stance to be as compelling as the infinite proposition. Kant’s perceived absurdity of the infinite reduces the synthesis of both positions to the same argument. It was Edwin Hubble’s 1929 observation that galaxies flee in all directions that brought the expanding universe into greater consensus. Hawking contends “this discovery finally brought the question of the beginning of the universe into the realm of science” (science meaning, here, the realm of the observed). This leads us to the postulate of the Big Bang. Paul Steinhardt agues for three cosmic paradigms, each with a different version of time, emerging through history: 1) the Steady State Model, discarded because of the discovery of the expansion of the universe; 2) the Created Universe of the Big Bang Theory, in which time begins at the big bang; 3) the Cyclic Universe, in which time and space exist forever, expanding and contracting in waves. Yet Hawking says himself these scientific theories “exist only in our minds.” Time is always only interior, even on the most grandiose scale of the scientific elite.
A link exists here between the scientific assertion of ideation as the basis for universal origins and the interior project of an expanding system of metered regulation. Sloterdijk offers insight into the metaphysical project of globalization. He opens his Spheres with the claim: “Globalization began as the geometrization of the immeasurable.” This coincides with Greek astronomers and philosophers observing the heavens and reconciling the orb, an ontologically, politically, mathematically significant event. The sphere first appears on coins, often beside the goddess Nike, the orb underneath her foot. Following the deification of the emperor, this became a common image of the Caesar—the world underfoot. It is with the following claim that we may link the operation of time and space in conjunction with image control as a lineage of cybernetics that precedes by centuries the digital turn: “The image of the orb descends into the purely formulaic when presented laconically together with a helm—enough to convey to the educated the connection between state cybernetics and cosmic piety.” Here we might remind ourselves the Greek root of “cyber” relates to control, rather than the computerized prefix it has been fronted, obfuscating the purpose of the feedback loop—the tactical balance of empire based on negative return. It is the suggestion that the sphaira became shorthand for the empire of heaven and earth, eventually becoming pictorially the globus cruciger, that the suggestion of the sphere on coin inhabits the psychic realm of globalization. Roman coins were in use throughout the “entire inhabited world” at this time. “Money and the globe belong together, as the typical movement of money—return of investment—is the central principle of the circumnavigation of the world,” Sloterdijk writes. Therefore, the modern age begins with Magellan and not Copernicus. The controller of circulation controls the whole. It is the appearance of Atlas, as the anthropomorphized scaffold of the Earth, that represents the emerging alliance between “imperial world imagining” and science (“turtles all the way down,” as Hawking quipped).
General Relativity works at the scale of our solar system but cannot be unified with quantum physics beyond that. This is the geocentric position disguised as the heliocentric, or beyond. The application of Einstein’s work to current physics—for instance, the recent production of a matter/antimatter pair using two particles of light—are irrelevant to the impact of his work on the consolidation of the GPS, the popular consciousness of what time is, and its aspect of the concrete above its aspect of the abstract in psychic colonization, linear historical presentation and retraction of the worlds beyond our world, the spheres beyond our sphere. Sloterdijk shows this by tracing the emphasis on the one-earth globe as a relatively new one, appearing in the last one-hundred fifty years or so. Between the 1500s and the 1830s, globes and maps were always presented in pairs, one celestial and one terrestrial. The postulate goes something like, the earth is worthy of the totality of the sky. Sloterdijk corresponds the production of the one-earth globe with the perfection of the Hegelian system of philosophy, of the reduction of metaphysics and cosmology to the recognition of “facts,” what he calls “genre practice.” “Thus,” he writes, “the riches of humans should no longer be wasted on imagined heights. With general alphabetization, the constellations faded into obscurity; the image script in the sky no longer found any readers, and it was only in astrology-addicted subcultures that Cancer, Virgo, Sagittarius and the like lived on in humiliation.” The constant reduction of time scale from the stars to the cesium atom has been a psychic colonization and evacuation that works on the level of the ideological image, an aesthetic topographical representation here, but one that becomes tied to smaller units of transmission—perhaps a monarch, then a religious text, a folio, a map, a telegraph signal, a radio wave, a telephone call, a pulse of the binary cellular.
To return briefly to Alder’s discussion of the meter: The great shame of Méchain was a lost notebook that showed he could never reconcile his own data with “correct” answers. Consider this the context of cosmology Sloterdijk’s terrestrial project. The irreconcilable data the surveyor produced shows the difference between the terrestrial and cosmological maps, one absolute, the other transient:
The plumb line definition of vertical, however, was doubly ambiguous. First, the plumb line pointed to the gravitational center of the earth, and on a nonspherical earth that is not quite the opposite of the perpendicular to the immediate surface of the planet. In other words, astronomical straight up is not the exact opposite of the direction in which gravity tugs down. Indeed, the gap between the two at any point offers a measure of the local difference between the astronomic latitude and the geodetic latitude, reflecting the earths eccentricity to that point. Second, the plumb line might be deflected by local gravitational effects (due to mountains and the like) beyond those caused by irregularities in the figure of the earth.
This difference makes the relevance of the celestial map clear: the absolute, the universal transmutes, at least in metaphysical and psychic principal, to the entirely Earthly. The erasure of the star map indicates a certainty of the terrestrial, as well as a hubris to the completeness of the stellar project and its lack of relevance to the ordinary person. Indeed, Alder claims in the years leading up to Sloterdijk’s 1830 timestamp of a diminishing presence of celestial maps, astronomy became a bureaucratic study, undergoing a division of labor unlike any in science to that point. In 1861, the Central European Geodetic Association formed in Berlin. The goal of this association was to align the maps of neighboring countries, to meet the standards of one another, “to live on the same planet,” as Alder puts it. Here we see the continued interiorization that Sloterdijk hints at, when naming the moons of neurology, the same project as mapping the stars above. The demanded precision of the terrestrial level negotiates conflict away from matters of violence and toward matters of argument. World peace here is a peace of flows of goods and capital, where science acts as police. Making maps more precise, standardizing time and weight and speed and distance, simplifies the currency of the milieu.
The Gregorian Protocol
Much like history cannot be critiqued faithfully from the European position, the calendar cannot be said to carry sufficient analytic weight from a position of Christian heritage on the world stage. Einstein ultimately resigned from the League of Nations scientific committee, and dated a letter explaining his reasoning “Pentecost 1923” rather than the Gregorian calendar date, apparently in disagreement with the power relations at play in Gregorian dating.
Many cultures, particularly in Muslim nations, maintain alternate calendars from the dominant Western Gregorian, whether they are of purely a religious, lunar, or other character—almost all of these presently exist outside a civil use. A current through the history of time is the Western domination of not only Greenwich Mean Time and the coordination of atomic time globally, but also the inculcation of Christian timekeeping (and Protestant “time management”) methods on larger scales, such as the organization of months, in order to participate in global liberal trade structures. One of few alternative American calendars is the fiscal year. Capital holds the privileged position of dictating time, just as in the 19th century; the imminence of both railroads and the telegraph demanded a disconnect from the true life-rhythms of solar time for the ultimate coordination of new technical operations. This leads to inevitable distinctions and combinations of deep time, calendar time, machine time, solar time, and biological time. A simple example of this is the more and more prevalent argument that the benefits of economic resourcing now, to prevent climate catastrophe later, outweighs the economic costs of future crises. (This of course is irrelevant to disaster capitalism.)
Time agreements are used for political reasons, such as the dating of charters, the oldest historical document being from king Swaefred of Essex, dated 704 AD (which remains only as a copy). The oldest original is a “diploma by Aethelbald, king of Mercia,” dated 736 AD. This practice spread to the European continent from England and was required on episcopal documents by the synod of Chelsea in 816 AD. The indicator “BC” began in usage much later than “AD,” which first appeared in 1627. Bossuet used “before Jesus Christ '' at least twice in the Discours de l’historie universelle of 1681. When he dated the completion of Solomon’s temple, he wrote “the year 3000 since creation, 488 since the exit from Egypt, and, to calibrate Biblical with profane time, 180 years after the taking of Troy, 250 since the foundation of Rome, and 1000 before Jesus Christ.” The Julian Period, not to be confused with the Julian calendar, was invented by Joseph Scaliger in 1582, an attempt to backdate history without the use of BC/AD, beginning on the equivalent 4713 BC. This was to assign a unique date to each day in history. Similar to the multivalent Japanese method, this combined the 28-year solar cycle, the 19-year lunar cycle, and the 15-year indiction cycle—a tax cycle in 4th century Rome. Hunt describes a “mania for chronology that swept Europe in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.” One challenge was to reconcile biblical and historical time scales, which Scaliger achieved.
At this point, modernity must invent itself. Joseph Priestly helped create the modern timeline in the 1760s with charts of history, where the lives of 2,000 famous men divided on a scale of 3,000 years of “universal time” were charted. A second chart traced 78 kingdoms over the same period. On these charts, every 100 years occupied the same amount of space, no matter the density of the events; this creates a problem between differences in kind and differences in degree, establishing the false problem of first-order calendary. Priestly began in 1200 BC with the reign of King David. “The chronologists pursued a universalism defined by the ambition to combine natural and supernatural histories, reconciling biblical and secular chronologies,” Hunt writes. The adoption of the Gregorian calendar began in 1582. Pope Gregory XIII ordered calendar reform, replacing the Julian put in place by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. The Gregorian was adopted first in Catholic countries and only in the eighteenth century in Protestant ones; in 1582, Elizabeth I moved to adopt it, but her bishops suddenly denounced it as Roman hegemony. Great Britain eventually adopted it in 1752 and Sweden in 1753, for instance. It was embraced by Japan in 1873 (though they still privileged imperial dating) Egypt in 1875, China in 1912, Russia after the revolution in 1918, Greece in 1923, and Turkey in 1926. The plurality of the globe followed in the 20th century. The imposition of time and its rejection has been a recent point of contention, with the temporal regime called into account on the world stage. In 1949, Mao unified China under a single time zone, a space that had been decreed to be five hours difference east and west. Hugo Chavez in 2007 changed the time zone of Venezuela by 30 minutes. North Korea made a similar change in 2015.
All times are processes of power relations and algorithmic correspondences produced by disruptions of physicality. Algorithms are computations of repetitive corollaries. The oldest example of an analogue computer, the Antikythera Mechanism, a small box of gears from Hellenistic origin, computed repetitive corollaries of the position of the planets and the organization of the Olympiad. The generation and imposition of frames of reference are matters of convenience to gatherings of the political, economic, and cyber-scientific type, that then become the most convenient frames for the milieu of police intervention. The emergence of the United States as the preeminent force after World War II, and the development into a world police thereafter as the steward of global capitalism, culminated in the refusal of this universal calendar, forcing a synchronization with the continuity of the scientific-secular, to the effect of appearing modern on the world stage. It is interesting to note that John Foster Dulles—Eisenhower’s secretary of state, Cold War anti-communist paladin, and brother to Allen Dulles, the main architect of the US intelligence apparatus—studied with none other than Henri Bergson at the Sorbonne in the early 1900s. Apparently, Dulles took from Bergson the idea of a world in a constant state of flux; because of this, a more rigid containment method had to be conceived. He advocated the US as a permanent constraint on a world system of stasis, within this flux, almost entirely in economic terms. Dulles created a cybernetic distinction between static and moving forces as international politics. After the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty (which Dulles produced) ending the state of war with Japan, one requirement was the obviation of the Japanese imperial tradition; this left a new generation of scholars, notably Japanese Marxists, with the task of synchronizing practices of objective history away from the ultranationalist attitude and toward a universal paradigm more acceptable to the synchronization of world capital. “The date of birth of Jesus Christ and the succession of antiquity, medieval, and modern times now served to structure the chronologies of Japanese history, rather than the dynastical succession of the Japanese monarchy,” writes Sebastian Conrad. These are not generalizations but matters of serious concern to spatial-temporal navigation.
The Gregorian standard becomes inseparable from the expansion of cybernetic neoliberal logic. It has become the foundation of communications. In order to regulate the police within the milieu, the frame of reference must be unified. In 1988, an international date format called ISO 8601 standardized the Gregorian calendar into a broadcast protocol that also bound it with the 24-hour clock, codifying a scientific-secular continuity into the binary: what we now call the timestamp. Now, while most disputes in calendary relate to a simple difference of inscription, digital transmissions flattened this into a density that consolidates hundreds of years of semantic and historical conflict into a few bits of Unicode. Web interface makes timestamps on the millisecond, microsecond, and nanosecond, a constant production and concretization of just one history. To be sure, these are directed upward to the order of inscribing the commons with extensities of trace, actuating new forensics that enables policing of digital disorder. The countries who do not use the Gregorian as their civil calendar presently are Ethiopia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Nepal. What do these states have in common? If not the opposition to a common hegemon, then at least an opposition to synchronization with some external force.
The Arbitration of Asynchrony
It was Benjamin Franklin who coined “time is money,” and he carried this notion into his theorization of daylight. In 1784, Franklin was in Paris, at the age of 78, and discovered that the sun was rising much “earlier” than he cared for. This led to the conclusion that he was wasting 7 hours of candlelight each night. Doing the math on the city’s candle consumption, he calculated that moving the clocks to coincide with the sun would save about $200 million a year (at today’s standard) in candle consumption alone. The debate arose again, later, after the consolidation of the universal standard. The first arguments in favor of daylight savings are in good faith, having to do with the health of the individual, eyesight strain, and so on. A man called William Willet, known as “the first champion of Daylight-Saving Time,” wrote a 1907 pamphlet titled The Waste of Daylight, which he published and distributed at his own expense; the self-professed “lover of economy” made this a mission late in life and died before its adoption. His proposal was one of humane intent, in that he wanted citizens to take advantage of more daylight hours. Willet—whose preoccupation centered on light itself and the experience of light—also made economic calculations in order to rationalize his plan. His plan, instead of shifting clocks twice a year, was shifting clocks four times a year. His conservative estimates were similar to Franklin’s—around $200 million, by now folding in candles with gas, oil, coal, and electric lamps. He wrote: “every year of life will be leavened with additional gaiety.”
Winston Churchill in 1911 was one of the most ardent advocates for DST. Although the proposition was put before parliament each year between 1908 and 1915, it was never adopted. The idea of absolute hyper-Newtonian, Einsteinian time pervaded that moment. Scientific American wrote: “It is not often that a measure of such a startling character as the Daylight-Saving Bill is introduced to the English House of Commons.” Specifically, those who had just fought for the 24-hour time zone system were not happy with proposing a change to time after their resolutions had passed. Farmers actually opposed the measure, because they couldn’t start or end work at different times, regardless of what the clock said, because of dew and evaporation points. It would not be adopted until after Germany took on the rollback, in order to save resources following World War I. World War I brought about immense changes in social organization and the resultant allocation of resources. But Kaiser Wilhelm in 1916 instituted DST in order to conserve as much as possible, the chief adversary of Britain adopting first the British idea of DST. As Germany did this, its allies did as well, first Austria-Hungary, then Holland, and then Denmark and Sweden. After this, Britain quickly passed a motion inducting DST, voting 170-2 on the matter. Part of this related to the production of coal, which declined as more miners signed up for military service; it was argued DST would cut back on energy costs. It became law in May 1916, eight years after it had first been introduced to Parliament. In the United States, this came to be known as “war time” during World War II.
The Times of London reported that children begged their parents on the eve of the first clock change to stay up late enough to watch. Dock workers argued with their superiors they should be paid for the hour of work lost. Others woke up “late” after the change and found they had lost wages as a result. And already at this time, an increase in gasoline consumption was noted, as many took the extra hour of daylight as an opportunity to take a motorcar ride (the oil lobby would become one of the holdouts to maintaining DST throughout the 20th century). Elsewhere, many towns reported reduction in gas consumption, and promenade concerts could begin a month early, as the daylight hours allowed. A year later, when substantial data could be collected, it was determined a 20 percent reduction in lighting happened over this period—about one percent of total coal consumption—but was hard to gauge, due to other wartime conservation measures in place. In Berlin, gas usage decreased by half-a-million cubic liters. France became the holdout until June 14, 1916, 132 years after Ben Franklin first conceived the idea in Paris. What does Franklin represent here? A cosmopolitan of privilege, demanding a change to the organizational structures to fit the individual’s needs, a promethean proposition.
An interesting characteristic of the DST debate is the immense amount of worth put on the hour when under discussion of “changing” its position. This is really a spatial question in the calibration of chronometry and the relation to the sun. It does not change the value of the time qualitatively, only ordinally. The furor around shifting clocks reveals the devotion to continuity that obscures the meaninglessness of clock time. Because the other thousands of hours we experience pass by unremarked upon. Or, the absence becomes remarked upon, say when “time flies” or in a setting of wilderness in which no chronometers are available. In that case, common observations around the malleable nature of time are not really about the absence, but about the utility of the everyday application and its ubiquity, its common-sense science next to an ingrained method of social rhythm. Again, revolutionary France, along with its project of spatial measurement in the meter, attempted to make time metric. Yet it was not adopted because the simultaneity of a time change could not overcome the slow speed of transmission in the shifting nature of the clock, to the required simultaneity of all clocks changing in a relatively concise frame of reference for the measure to be meaningfully adopted. Prior to Relativity Theory, the mother clock could not transmit efficiently. In a word, it took too long a duration to communicate the change to the timescale, and the power of the order stayed confined to the members of the synchronized core.
France became the center of distribution of time. Antennae at the top of the Eiffel Tower, placed in 1908, increased the range of wireless transmission 15-fold. By 1922, the invention of the triode made transmission to the North and South Poles possible. But as transmitting time signals across great distances became more common, the rate of transmission became a more common concern. Suddenly the speed of light, once of interest mostly to astronomers, becomes the central concern to telegraphy and wireless networks. After the 1915 broadcast of radio time from the Eiffel Tower, telegraphic time became obsolete, and clocks began disappearing from view. While war and conflict instantiated Daylight-Saving Time, this is indicative of larger trends in the adaptation of military technologies of timing. The ENIAC calculated ballistics tables. The Turing Machine won the war on cryptographic fronts. The fusion of cybernetics and timing became ever greater in this warfare—the feedback devices needed in anti-aircraft weapons became the same servo mechanisms that provide haptic feedback in smart phones.
Cold War brought about a new era of communication warfare, both psychologically and technically. The launch of the Sputnik satellite reopened the celestial cognitive map, but through an artificiality of imminent threat. The space race included a new set of satellites used as longitudinal broadcast receivers, Project Vanguard rockets making use of Doppler measurements, turning into the Naval Navigation System; this opened to commercial use in 1967 (a pattern repeated with GPS and other military-civilian infrastructure). Radio broadcasts of synchronized orbital atomic clocks, on board the satellites, first guided bomb delivery and then, eventually, guided pizza delivery, with their high-frequency binary broadcasts. GPS, satellite or mobile cellular phones, the internet, and wireless root in the 1960s, but became tools for ordinary people in the ‘90s. Hunt writes: “The new wireless forms of communication have made the experience of simultaneity an even more widely shared one. We live at the beck and call of ring tones and vibrating alerts even more than time clocks; we live more and more in simultaneity, where work is not an eight-hour day to be filled and then stamped by a clock, but a virtual permanence of being in touch.”
The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978. The final satellite in the completed system—the 24th, the required number of nodes to provide uninterrupted global service—was launched in 1994. On September 1, 1983, the USSR shot down a Korean Airlines flight with 269 civilians on board, as it had mistakenly entered Soviet airspace. The Reagan administration then began considering opening the GPS for civilian use. The pilots had not known they were off course, revealed a decade later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the black boxes were turned over. The signal would be degraded by cryptographic means until the year 2000, at which point GPS became publicly available across the globe. GPS is the world’s largest public utility, helping generate hundreds of billions of dollars in additional revenue in the United States alone, by increasing the potential of coordination and the second-order analysis of that coordination. In 2004, George W. Bush created a National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing; in 2010, Barack Obama added GPS to the National Space Policy directive. During the financial crash of 2009, the OnStar GPS navigation service only survived due to the cash injections from the federal government. The consolidation of the milieu to greater precision in the particular depends on the some-300 atomic clocks towering above the globe, radiating time in all directions in a precision that coordinates Relativity to a broadcast of the absolute. Never have clocks been used so much with so little thought.
It is a related proposition to that of Lewis Mumford’s 1934 Technics and Civilization, where he argued clocks and not steam engines were the main propellent of modernization:
The clouds that could paralyze the sundial, the freezing that could stop the water clock on a winter night, were no longer obstacles to time-keeping: summer or winter, day or night. One was aware of the measured clank of the clock. The instrument presently spread outside the monastery; and the regular striking of the bells brought a new regularity into the life of the workman and the merchant. The bells of the clock tower almost defined urban existence. Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing. As this took place, eternity ceased gradually to serve as the measure and focus of human action.
There, we see Brun’s cybernetics (removing the triteness of the eternal) being actualized in the consolidation of asynchrony. To illustrate this, consider the lightbulb. The lightbulb must be examined from two perspectives, which come to hold the same position in asynchrony. The first is the illumination of the world in all parts at all times, initiating the 24-hour day. The illumination of the 24-hour day completes itself, in the view of Jonathan Crary, when the market is accessible at all 24 hours of the day. Even the investment markets are in the fold of constant trading, where digital assets and cryptocurrency fluctuate and trade constantly, ceaselessly, through bots and procedural computation that becomes automatic and asynchronized. The lightbulb heralded a new age of cybernetic expansion, representing the Fordist commodity at its most realized, by illuminating the possibility of an endless market. It expanded the reach of time by dislocating the sun as an object of impermanence.
And yet the lightbulb itself has undergone a significant transformation through history. As the commodity initially went to mass markets, the first iterations lasted for years. There is presently a lightbulb in a California fire station that has been burning nearly continuously since 1901. What then happened was a recalibration of how a lightbulb was sold, as manufacturers hit a wall of demand, as the falling rate of profit had nothing to compete against. The producers realized their mistake, in the initial run of lightbulbs, that slowed to a trickle, as consumers did not need replacements for years. Lightbulb companies then redesigned the bulbs to break down in a way that would drive profit for manufacturers. The major manufacturers banded together in a promise of destruction of the commodity. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers calls this the first cartel in the world to “enjoy truly international reach.” The consummate propagandist Edward Bernays held a party in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the lightbulb. Why? Because it represented the development of planned obsolescence and commodity cycles of manufactured desires that reflected on his general theory of market-based social control. Here we see cybernetics, politics, and economics in its purest form of the technological time scale. In an audacious reversal, lightbulbs are now sold along the lines of the green/eco commodity. Rather than shifting the responsibility of ecological impact to manufacturers, the role falls upon consumers. Lightbulbs are now sold on the condition of their long-lasting status. Yet, this change has only arisen in correspondence with the dislocation of the market from a physical space, and the ubiquity of the mobile market device. I mention this to draw attention to the recent fight in courts for “right to repair,” in which this planned obsolescence becomes foundational to the temporal regime. The market is no longer just an idea nor a place, but both, a protocol of endless access that requires a commodity of access itself. There, we consolidate to asynchrony in the biunivocal technical transmission of digital timestamps.
Asynchrony appears as what Mark B.N. Hansen calls “the gift of the digital.” This emphasizes shifting consciousness in time scales as a consequence of technical expansion. With the opposition of clock time’s absolutists to the irrelevance of the sun, to the precision of the GPS, we reach the production of the temporally fractured, yet heavily policed, milieu of asynchrony. In the essay “Living (With) Technical Time,” Hansen makes an enquiry into the change of time since the digital revolution, positing a “digital time” or “time of the digital.” To illustrate this, the author first examines a video artwork of Wolfgang Staehle, titled Empire 24/7. The work features webcam feeds of different locales around New York, an update of Warhol’s Empire. Through this lens, the author asks, “whether the ‘cinematic temporal object’ (even one as protracted and problematic as Warhol’s Empire) can still lay claim to mediating temporal experience in a world permeated by digital computation.” Hansen chooses this example because the simultaneous feeds undercut the limits of human perceptual experience with a temporal object that bypasses the link between technics and human beings, an autonomous time object. Because this exists outside the limits of our understanding, or the properly surrogative object of the temporal type that makes a conscious understanding of “flux,” Empire 24/7 “inscribes time’s flux independently of any synthesis of consciousness and thus prior to the differentiation of lived and artificial time.” It exceeds the limits of capture.
Instead of attempting to make an artifact experience as a recorded memory, here the work of “primary presencing” produces a type of minimal temporal continuity that Dominique Janicaud noted is precursory to all forms of temporal experience, an understanding of before-after. Technics is fully integral to time happening on the immediate; it does not inscribe time after time itself. This does not capture time in its basic structure, as, again, there simply is no time-in-itself only extensity and duration. We make and inscribe time, and the grain of the digital is the finest of the irreducible delay, or thickness, in the world today or the entirety of history to this point. Hansen argues that digital time differs “only in degree” from all other mediations of delay yet holds a “certain privilege” in its production of temporality. “But what Empire 24/7 does—and does exemplarily—is to aestheticize the digital inscription of minimal time: it furnishes a technical artifactualization of the minimal before-after structure of time that is built upon and alludes to the fine-grained computational temporalizations underwriting technical regimes of time.” It overlays loose densities of temporal objects into a form apprehensible by human perception, therefore representing the constant density of multiplicity usual to this temporal regime. In this way, we might understand how normal time consciousness and human apprehension, as in previously artifactualized temporal regimes, have parted ways—consolidating to asynchrony. “Post-mediatic” technics are then crucial to temporalization, and the current temporal regime usually exists below the threshold of perception, in its density. The condition of asynchrony, the current experience of time consciousness, actually makes consciousness. Hansen writes: “In today’s world, human beings temporalize in conjunction with and on the basis of largely-autonomous technical inscriptions of time by computational machines; and while these inscriptions certainly function to support human actions, they cannot themselves be fully experienced or adequately understood by human cognizers, which is to say, as the content of (human) time-consciousness.” So, time can be seen as always fully wrapped up in technics and its inscription, with today’s inscriptions so dense they are as good as invisible—the full production of asynchrony.
Hansen then turns his attention from cinematic temporal objects to “new” media and the inscription of time in more fine-scaled digital inscriptions that “refuse to be bound in objectal form.” He then turns briefly to Aristotle, as the first distinguisher of time as “the number of movement,” and then back to Janicaud, whose study of time, Chronos, implicates measurement as time itself, the inscriptions of clock time as the only time, as measurement and clock time has its own history, has no absolute unity, facing its own restrictions of control—there is no pure time. Bernard Stiegler resurrects the Husserlian idea of the “temporal object” in order to understand our experience of time today—the melody as temporal object, objects in time but made of the flux of time, clarifying the structure of time consciousness itself. Stiegler expands this to “cinema,” the entire televisual experience of global world media, in order to demonstrate what undergirds our full understanding and experience of time today, and, as a consequence, time consciousness currently has a “cinematographic structure.” What Stiegler calls secondary selection and primary/tertiary retention inform our consciousness of time, illustrating the bidirectional selectional basis of time consciousness. To take this further, cinematic experience and the cinematic memory allows consciousness “as the free time of imagination.” To the two flux in consciousness between the photo-phonographic coincidence of past and reality and the second between film flux and flux consciousness of the spectator, Stiegler adds the third “crucial” coincidence: “the so-called realtime flux of contemporary global television or the coincidence of the time of registration with the time of broadcast.” This is what Stiegler calls the “hypersynchronization” of the time of mass consciousness. Time consciousness, for the support of a global contemporary secondary memory becomes industrialized. Geographer Nigel Thrift points out these inscriptions form an infrastructure of “technological unconscious” for daily activities. Contrary to a grim neo-Frankfurt School conclusion of Stiegler, Hansen instead suggests that this infrastructure allows for a divergent development in time inscription that remains open to new, unbound concrete temporalizations. “Digital inscription yields a time that is not constituted but given, a time that gives itself for myriad and potentially incompossible temporalizations.” To emphasize again: this is asynchrony produced.
Because digital inscription does not bind itself to human time consciousness, new avenues opened because of hypersynchronized minimal concretization. The “digital gift” of time is given in this way as an access, not an imposition. The content of digital devices is not totalitarian, in the sense it is individually specific (asynchronous). The use of these devices emphasizes the alterity by preserving an open access and to time as alterity itself. These devices allow an openness that allows humans in this infrastructure to move beyond hypersynchronization, by mediating inscriptions of time, moving to a position of produced asynchrony. This thereby emphasizes the importance of the technical mediation of time. They are not calibrated to human bodies. Clocks, “no matter how fine-scaled their operation […] capture the “instant” as some minimal thickness of a passage from before to after.” Clock time comprises that capture of density of a moment in history. Therefore, says Hansen, the full digital inscription of time (an attempt to make duration out of infinite extensities) gives a liberation to its full heterogeneity.
Thrift has posited contemporary global time “as a technical distribution of cognition” shares the labor of cognition with technologies that captures the computation infrastructure of contemporary world capitalism, it does so “without imposing the requirement of synchronicity.” This radical break in hypersynchronization, as opposed to previous impositions, is a shift in representation as storage “of the past (of present experience that has become part of the past) to representation as trigger, score, or format for a viewer-centered polarizing subject.” This is the asynchrony of the algorithm. It is an aesthetics of the digital that represents time’s general unboundedness in relation to human experience. Thus, the very obsolescence of time, the density of inscription, can be seen in its inability to stay apace of its artificiality and micro-scalar operations on the material level of its own computational processes, in computer cycling and failure to coincide with “time itself.” Our digital contemporary experience of time can be seen to exist outside of the operation of the devices that make world computational dynamics possible.
In the world cinematographic experience of time and its transition to the hypersynchronized, the previous iteration of the synchronic news media persists in many readings of time, history, and narrative that causes rifts in the daily experience of politics. I am referring to things as disparate as QAnon, and the Republican Party’s current infinite flexibility to noncommittal ideology outside of capital accumulation, but also to the Democratic Party’s weaponization of optics in order to mollify the radical Left. Asynchrony has been harnessed to devastating effect to obscure its own potentialities by making work out of ahistorical information warfare. Time, to Hansen et al, coordinates bodies and machines in previous densities of the temporal object; it now coordinates minds in a similar fashion, yet in a primary instance that obfuscates truth and recognition in order to make coincidence out of nonsense. Where the underlying inscriptions of minimal temporality do offer the rhizomatic escape that Hansen posits, it already has been harnessed, as a desperate flailing of the asynchronous apparatus, to retain control. The temporal regime is breaking apart by the computational excess that Hansen wrote about in 2009.
Perhaps what’s at stake becomes clearer if I tell you fertility rates in males globally have dropped 60 percent since the 1970s. One supposed culprit is the mobile market devices in our pockets, emitting harmful radiation and zapping sperm to death. While mobile market devices could be actively destroying future generations, a commodity is the obvious answer: a startup selling anti-radiation, silver-lined pants offers a fashion-forward way to shield the genitals of the asynchronous laborer from the obvious necessity of the mobile market device.
In his book 24/7, Jonathan Crary describes the ever-present intercession and constant attention of the digital economy. This acceleration becomes almost a lightspeed stasis of nonmovement, freezing our perspective of history in relativity. This indicates a technology synonymous with strategies of power stealing human time in the name of capital expansion, the time of 24/7 access—but also of 24/7 demand. It is a time of no time, where each moment cannot be distinguished from the last, where a shallow past renders the present homogenous with the future. The divides between private life and public life—where different temporalities commingle, as similar as they may be—vanish, where the entirety of an exterior world projects inward, where history does not exist, although we are constantly bombarded with images of the past. We are stuck in this timeless acceleration, where every interceded instance erases the possibility of some extension of measurement that would allow us to generate a collective identity for future time.
What Crary and others skip is the actual synchronization of measured time on the world level. Between the neo-Marxist reading of technologies of attention and control and the sociology of science, a gap appears in the actual imposition of time, atomic time, and the globalization of universal time, its processes, and its proponents—the ability to coordinate rhythms of cultural amnesia and 24/7 fracture, to remit pulses of collective and prosthetic memory, to erase the contemplation of historical conditions in the interest of the miserable stasis. The first great synchronizations correlate to the same period that the seeds of neoliberalism as a policy proscription first arose: the late 19th century to the interwar period, and the coordination of universal sciences with concomitant policy. Crary’s argument jumps ahead to the neoliberal 1980s and rests on forms of habit emerging that engage human activity on the 24/7 scale. Fin de siècle culture submitted to a radical new science of time that persists despite subsequent advancements and the “gift of the digital.” And crucially, it is connected to the project of neoliberal globalization tied to the technocracy emerging in the post-Austro-Hungarian empire Europe of the 1910s and 1920s. The connection between the rise of neoliberal politics and the battle to coordinate a universal time in the early 20th century shows on a basic level the stealth revolution of the seemingly innocuous coordination of the everyday and accelerating interior atomization described by Sloterdijk. Synchronizing the globe on the totality of world time was a central project of the post-WWI international cooperative, out of which the original neoliberal thought collective also arose. It is the dual role of science as a separate arm of culture from philosophy, and the incessant splintering of expertise to technocratic solutions, that dominates the 20th century, in conjunction with these proliferating communication technologies, such as the consolidation of the Gregorian calendar into the timestamp. Benedict Anderson argued, following Walter Benjamin, that, “what has come to take the place of the medieval conception of simultaneity-along-time is […] an idea of ‘homogenous, empty time,’ in which simultaneity is, as it were, transverse, cross time, marked not by prefiguring and fulfillment, but by temporal coincidence, and measured by clock and calendar.” And in a footnote: “So deep-lying is this new idea that one could argue that every essential modern conception is based on a conception of ‘meanwhile.’” This is asynchrony produced.
The strong emphasis, here, on the French metric project is meant to illustrate the possibility of an outside time system, while also highlighting what it means to consolidate systems of measurement nationally, regionally, and globally; it is a matter of existential relation, as we saw with Sloterdijk and the development of global cybernetics. The continuance of the metric project with Poincare, and his strange relationship to Einstein, shows how intersecting power relations lead to scientific consensus. Einstein’s positioning as a scientist, over the philosophy of Bergson, while as novel as his countenance may be to the scientific establishment, led to the concretization of time as clock time in popular consciousness. Time systems consolidate the milieu in the order of police intervention and the consolidation of neoliberal governance. The use of the Gregorian standard, even as a computer protocol, expands the universal pretensions of the temporal regime, by systems of supply chain coordination and other business relations. While this could not reasonably be inherently negative, it does show the imperative of the triple alliance between politics, economics, and cybernetics. Further advancements in lighting, broadcast, and consolidation turned time into nothing more than the framework in which the algorithm functions. The Daylight-Saving Time argument shows the arbitration of reality in relation to time, as does the development of the light bulb. What Hansen describes as the “gift of the digital” is an optimistic view toward the consolidation and computational excess of the temporal regime. Time has been consolidated among a centuries-long feedback loop to the position of asynchrony, and that mode of spatial-temporal relationship is the result of privileging commerce, efficiency, empire, and the endless expansion of the market. Asynchrony is a contingent phenomenon that appears only in the systems of coordination that render it non-visible by its ever-presence.
IV. FEAR OF MY OWN SHADOW: THE ASYNCHRONOUS APPARATUS
AND THE POLICE FIRST STATE
If we follow Debord’s arguments about the omnipresence and the omnipotence of the image in consumer capitalism today, then if anything the priorities of the real become reversed, and everything is mediated by culture, to the point where even the political and ideological “levels” have initially to be disentangled from their primary mode of representation which is cultural. Howard Jarvis, Carter, even Castro, the Red Brigade, Vorster, the Communist “penetration” of Africa, the war in Vietnam, strikes, inflation itself—all are images, all come before us with the immediacy of cultural representations of which one can be fairly certain that they are by a long shot not historical reality itself. – Fredric Jameson, 1979
There is a strong relationship between police and the most recent mode of social intercourse, the mobile market device. I refer to this paradigm as “the asynchronous apparatus,” within the asynchronous spatial-temporal mode enabled under mobile markets. As such, the intersection of ideology and technology must be the point of departure. The position of police in the contemporary landscape of mobile precarity employment, social media, and asynchronous information distribution then arises naturally, from a generation of fear and anxiety akin to previous modes of policing. In the social media vernacular of FOMO, “fear of missing out,” there exists a certain acknowledgement of the underlying anxiety at work in this machinery. This posits anxiety as an exploitative function of image economies and the mobile market device. As such, I argue FOMO needs to be revised to FOMOS: “fear of my own shadow.” This is meant to reflect the paralysis of the “doom scroll” and the affective helplessness generated in the functional practice of the asynchronous apparatus. The analysis makes clear: we see a transformation from simply a police state, to a police first state.
It has become apparent in the turmoil of the last five years the extent to which information is distributed through platforms, online intermediary zones of user-generated distribution. Facebook claims nearly 3 billion users, Instagram 1 billion, TikTok 1 billion, and Twitter nearly 400 million. The demographic composition of these platforms is various but ultimately encompasses most of the social spectrum with the means to access, a certain class of information consumer on the upper end of the digital divide. In particular, the harnessing of targeted advertising by the data-scraping firm Cambridge Analytica evidently played an outsize role in the election of Donald Trump. On these platforms, in the transmission from source to platform to consumer, the statistical manipulation of what is colloquially called “the algorithm” enables a distortion of news feeds away from the chronological, to privileging sheer transmission, amplifying information and commodity through capture of affect, the truth value or social function of that transmission irrelevant to the central goal of circulation. This is a temporally asynchronous construction of public discourse, one that reflects a certain mode of ideological containment, a privatization of the milieu in which commerce and intellectual exchange flattens to the same anxiety of FOMO: fear of missing out. This anxiety has been harnessed, in much the same way police have utilized anxiety historically, as a method of civil containment, a new mode of subjectivity, a certain digital kettling.
Because technological determinism and the study of ideology arise almost simultaneously from the Marxist framework, this begins by exploring the relationship between the mobile market device, labor, and property. I consider Jodi Dean’s argument of “neofeudalism” in the context of image circulation, particularly Nicholas Morozoff’s reframing of Jacques Rancière to an economy of image. This leads to the explanation of what I have termed “the asynchronous apparatus,” the reinforcement of the police state through the mobile market device. This discussion hinges on the fact that, in the United States, the image commodity functions especially along a binary and so a racialized trajectory (not out of sync with the legacy of policing in the United States). This expands on the idea of asynchrony, and further examines how the mobile market device itself adds to the anxiety at play, with particular consideration to Neta Alexander’s theory of “buffering.” This anxiety can then be seen in the colloquialisms “doom scroll” and FOMO, or “fear of missing out.” I am suggesting the conjunction of endlessly circulating images of police power with this anxiety (most often related to commodity fetishism at the edge of precarity) should lead to a revision of the acronym, from “fear of missing out” to “fear of my own shadow.” This implies a civil paralysis of a sort that harnesses asynchrony in a biunivocal opposition fusing desire to the function of police power. This moves beyond merely a police state, to a police first state. This is a mode of intercourse that privileges contributing to the systems of domination at play, by infrastructural and political protection in the economy of image. Circulation of police and information become commensurate, in the upward consolidation of wealth and reinforcement of private property rights.
It must be stated: technological developments are not necessarily dominating in essence. Fredric Jameson reminds us that the humanist tradition sees developments of infrastructure as transcendent, not as some resolution to destruction (so a return to any mode of intercourse of the past). It is in this regard Jameson can say: “[…] we [“Marxian theoretical tourists”] have much in common with the neoliberals, in fact virtually everything—save the essentials!” In “The German Ideology,” Marx and Engels lay out an abridged type of technological determinism:
[…] it is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world and by employing real means, that slavery cannot be abolished without the steam engine and the mule and the spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and that, in general, people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is a historical and mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the development of industry, commerce, agriculture, the conditions of intercourse.
The question becomes: does the technological development in question alleviate the drudgery of the human condition in the mode of intercourse, or does it replicate conditions of domination? The judgments above are conducted with a “type of thinking that would be capable of grasping the demonstrably baleful features of capitalism along with its extraordinary and liberating dynamism simultaneously within a single thought, and without attenuating any of the force of either judgment,” Jameson writes. In a similar register, Mark Fisher posited, much later, that the washing machine is a more liberatory device than the cell phone. Beyond the paralyzing glow of the “doom scroll,” and the anxiety of asynchrony in mobile information processing (known as buffering, as argued by Alexander) we are now saddled with 15 years of life under the mobile market device, from which we might draw analysis. What shade of liberation, as an historical and mental act, as Marx and Engels wrote, do we grant the turn to this mode of intercourse? I explore this below.
The Asynchronous Apparatus
Every one-in-three US workers now operates in the “gig” realm. The movement of available wage positions from publicly posted job boards, to newspaper classifieds, to web posting, and now to the mobile market device demands greater levels of synchronicity, from the daily newspaper, to the hourly web posting, to the constantly shifting IRT coordination of ride-sharing protocols or mega-corps shift rationing. Consider David Ricardo’s influential theory of feudal rent, where another laborer always queues up in the network of opportunity—the platform forces the digital serf to rent the cyberspace of the milieu, in overlapping and collapsing durations, accessed through the very commodity of the mobile market device. This grants a set of negative freedoms—the freedom from a boss, freedom from hard scheduling; on the other hand, the whims of popular demand endow freedom from a dependable wage, in the lulls of poor weather or supply chain disruption. The act of god shocks the exterior sensitivities of the market and exemplifies this moment of precarity—but not for corporations. Reduction of fixed capital in the HR department slashes the future out of new contracts. In this further expansion from homo politicus to homo oeconomicus (perhaps to id propagationem hominis) by mediating the "interests" of both sides, the competitive aspect increases through the platform. Yet this can now be manipulated by the strategic use of algorithms (just-in-time production and the articulation of biunivocal supply-demand data) qualitatively based temporal conditions that arbitrate a greater concentration of quantitative value, perhaps with increase in the dividend on return for the worker themselves (and thereby increasing incentive for participation). This multiplies the product end of Marx's labor theory of value, by eliminating the factor of profit that depends on the variable capital "socially necessary labor time," the time for which the laborer earns their reproduction. In the worker’s case, it’s the same old freedom from the means of production. In the recent conceptualizations of the present, significantly among them the writing of Jodi Dean, the precarious mobile device workforce represents a turn to “neofeudalism,” called elsewhere “cloud feudalism,” what the geographer Joel Kotkin sees as a mass serfdom; here, the underclass owns nothing, a condition of transcended property ownership that includes even the space and time of coordination for payment, hiring, and production—the privatization of the milieu, the codification of every wavelength in which to be hailed (in the language of Althusser) through biunivocal exchange. This is a continuation and micritization of Foucault’s analysis of police moving, through history, from a general distribution of resources, to deterrents of “certain disorders.” Here, it is the algorithmic biunivocal commodity exchange that is prevented from disorder.
John Stuart Mill, in his foundational writings on Socialism, wrote that private property was a kind of nuisance. Oscar Wilde tended to agree—though he was a drifter and drifters always claim the attitude of the unproclaimed. Let’s say for argument they both had this level of absence in mind, a technocratic Socialism of negative freedom—the freedom from property. “Welcome to 2030: I Own Nothing, Have no Privacy, and Have Never Been Happier,” read the headline of a 2016 Forbes blog, posted with “World Economic Forum” on the byline. Fourteen years ahead of schedule, the WEF effectively decreed the continued upward consolidation of property rights in unison with a fully consolidated surveillance state. The subtext has been eliminated. Here, hardline Marxists clash against the theory of these new organizations: "But it's still just capitalism!" It's important, then, to note the other strong aspect of Dean's argument: the amplified role of paramilitary municipal police in creating tethers of sovereign responsibility and armed forces for hire, especially in abusive cycles of the criminal justice system that leverages debt against the freedom from punitive juridical harassment. All looks futile next to the glut of advanced war equipment gifted from the federal level to these municipal cops, over the last 50 years, creating pockets of military loyalty to the corporate state.
Elsewhere in “The German Ideology,” Marx and Engels make clear a devotion to the prevailing temporal-spatial relationships under analyses. We’ve seen this through-line in historical material theory, such as Ernst Bloch’s “nonsynchronous synchronization,” which equated to a certain proposition of asynchrony, dealing with the equalization of the rate of profit. David Harvey expanded on this in 1989, affirming his theory of “flexible accumulation” under the experiential compression of space and time in postmodernity. As we continue abutting the limits of space in contrast to the compression of time (following Moore’s Law, which posits the exponential increase of computing power) we engage a new mode of intercourse, reproducing ideology within the very milieu of labor—asynchronous platform capitalism. The production of asynchrony requires a new evaluation of this process. If consciousness is a social product, what are the circumstances of production that lead to a consciousness of a specific historical moment? Althusser’s ideological state apparatus arose from a certain situation, in which the interaction between police and individuals took place in the street. Rancière argues that perceptions individuals have of reality are subject to dictates of authority. This moves beyond Althusser’s interpolation of subjects, becoming an explicit fiction of power relationships: “Move along! There’s nothing to see here!” says the police officer at the scene of a crime. The mere dictation indicates there is indeed something to see. The conditions of this psychic colonization move to the mobile market device, in the privatization of the asynchronous milieu, and there is always something to see, some aberration to witness, some image of police power circulating endlessly and exploited by the biunivocal exchange of the image commodity.
Mirzoeff dealt with the consolidation of such power within contemporary visual culture, leaving individuals as subjects within a system of representation “in the phone,” so to speak. The analysis is helpful within representative frameworks, in the advancing surveillance state of the mobile market device. In Foucault’s reading of the panopticon, as a method within the distribution of modern media, and Rancière’s idea of police exploiting the anxiety of circulation, we see the historical lineage of images legitimating police power. The video of Eric Garner’s choking death by police spreading widely, for example, is good for police authority, while simultaneously activating an opposition; the irrefutability of the image becomes known from a surface viewing. The baseline conclusions are something like: 1) opposition is necessary but futile, or 2) opposition is not necessary, as the police are conducting their business as they are meant to. In the context of racialized police violence, the very proliferation of the image of police brutality becomes a function of police power, while considered by platforms as a success for circulation. The economy of image prevails as a condition of psychic domination, particularly when protests met with further police violence generate new images to circulate the power of the state. In the view of Dean, even if an opposition movement gains purchase, it never reconciles with a counter-hegemonic strategy: “What enhances democracy in one context becomes a new form of hegemony in another,” she writes. We now face a more coordinated and openly apparent version of Debord’s “integrated spectacle,” both diffuse and concentrated, emanating from power centers but lacking permanence in social cohesion, isolating and thereby unifying hierarchically by the very isolation of the atomized mass. The subject is kettled. Thus, I refer to the asynchronous apparatus—the reinforcement of private property rights through the two-way feedback of the mobile market device, in conjunction with the affective anxiety at play between police and public.
FOMOS (Fear Of My Own Shadow)
What we call asynchronous, then, is the subject’s ability and situation to observe, interpret, subsume, and produce while disconnected temporally from any other subject, leading to the total absence (so an implied extra-presence) of unity in narrative, a digital literacy of non-comparative certainty—the certainty of power outside the subject’s grasp. The crucial fact of asynchronous communications technologies is more easily explained in the form of email, and starkly revealed as false by buffering: the supposed always-available presence of the first-order background networks. In the instantly and infinitely available media of “the stream,” the subject finds rationalizations for the way things ought to remain, endless explanations of varying degrees of truth value—the truth value being irrelevant. Asynchrony accepts as granted the complete synchronization to the point of absolute certainty of both the most legitimate and illegitimate narratives. The insistence on global consciousness, impossible as it is, inflames the individuation of national allegory, in the narratively ginned-up tension of the asynchronous world system (the scapegoats of Mexico, China, Venezuela, Russia, etc.) in order to obscure the real conditions of crisis at home through the bourgeois war of information binary.
I’d suggest the age of asynchrony consolidated in 1994, when the first GPS network locked its 24th satellite into orbit, and precision global timing foreclosed the possibility of escaping the temporal regime. Children using the GPS-enabled mobile market device with text messaging forge the asynchronous cognition. The generation reared fully in the age of asynchrony is known to detest phone calls. Cellular service providers call Generation Z “generation mute,” as their mobile market devices constantly sit in the silent position, voice calls going unanswered, voicemails deleted unlistened to. This illustrates the distinction of asynchrony: we are told we are more connected than ever; and, while this may be true in the sense of the obligation to network chains or infrastructures for subsistence (the mobile market device as portal for paid labor opportunity) the unspoken anxiety of that forced connection reveals the cold comfort of the asynchronous, wherein one may disengage and reengage at all moments. Several conversations can proceed in one room and no one needs to speak. The social alchemy of the chat room, for example, replaces that of the factory floor, where the vernacular of the manual laborer shifts to the analysis of image-based groupthink, the inside jokes of a corporation working in the recovery of a lost insular spatial quality—a quality of belonging that is, in fact, atomizing. The freedom from concrete scheduling ensures repetitive corollaries are surveilled through platform interaction, rather than the clandestine space of the break room. Meanwhile, asynchronous messaging means groups can communicate faster than speech, as thoughts unravel in text in an overlapping manner, where the chatter of a room (a chat room) can be parsed when subjected to some limit. As one messenger hits “send,” a second is both typing, reading, and computing; a third is processing and responding to the first while preempting the response of the second. A fourth is cross-checking a source with the ongoing discussion. As this all happens on divisions of a second or less, the speed of groupthink increases by a consensus of asynchrony, where derivations of the bottom line arise from interleaved and dovetailing conversations that appear in a linear presentation but are constructed from shifting centers of the instantaneous. “Real time” appears as a column but is experienced in a multiplicity of forms by participants. This is also the general workings of social media networks, particularly Twitter, which operate as boundless chat rooms, organized by message rather than channel.
Though text messaging, especially in the variety that forces the haptic feedback of “typing” indicators, masquerades as synchronous, the discontinuous hides itself in milliseconds. Neta Alexander notes these typing indicators, in the chat room or in the app, are themselves the source of a tremendous anxiety, endemic to the digital dam process and in the same realm as buffering. Alexander examines the “suspended and therefore wasted time” that accompanies the transience of data from one server to another on the way to the screen. Arguing that streaming culture has been associated with convenience, efficiency and flow, Alexander suggests that the experience of buffering (endemic to asynchrony) is but one of many “digital dams” that inhibit the flow of information, what Nicole Starosielski calls the “aesthetics of lag.” Building on Harvey’s definition of neoliberalism and Marx’s identification of capital with fetish, Alexander diagnosis five aspects of digital fragmentation: technological, economic, optical, epistemological, and temporal. In the technological, delay is built into network infrastructure: “medieval pipe organs, transatlantic cable and telegraphs, electric guitars, and long-distance telephony all had latencies.” The internet inhabits a specific formation by attempting to erase contingencies and materiality. In the economic, the infrastructure of connectivity cannot be separated from political structures. There, Marx’s haves and have-nots become the connected and unconnected. The digital divide is a constructed barrier meant to isolate user from nonuser. She cites Sean Cubitt: “The purpose of control over information is to delay transmission. We think we pay more for premium service delivery of news and entertainments; in fact, the money pays for timely arrival, and its absence ensures a deliberately delayed and often downgraded delivery.” Always-available access to information is dependent on economically biased forms, what she calls the “geography of the router.” In the optical, the loop and the cyclical became the prevalent form of content. The endless loop of buffering reflects an anxiety of a lost attention. In the epistemological, the myth of the immaterial appears in the mystical kernel of the software and the visible shell of the hardware.
Most germane, in the temporal, Alexander cites Robert Hasan, calling “network time” a kind of “connected asynchronicity,” “smashing the uniform and universal linearity of the clock into a billion different time contexts within the network.” This is a kind of “cybertime.” The endurance of waiting and the cult of speed both break time into the endlessly disconnected. Alexander describes buffering as yet another moment in the history of media noise, yet here repackaged from the perverted nostalgia of a VHS cassette to an immense anxiety. She argues this can be traced back to Heidegger, who described the moment a tool fails as drawing attention to itself, becoming “objectively present,” the vorhanden of “the transparency [transforming] into opacity.” Buffering exposes the network meant to never be seen, the removed production process of the commodity, and “destroys the illusion of web continuity.” Buffering is experienced on three levels: “as a temporary emotional distress, as a disruption that triggers various bodily reactions, and as an enduring and unrecognized affective response to anxiety.” By the very mode of intercourse required of this era, the age of asynchrony is that of anxiety, as opposed to the age of boredom that accompanied the Fordist mode of intercourse. When hobbies emerged there to combat this boredom, neoliberalism turned around and commodified the hobbies themselves—the biunivocal privatization of the milieu described above.
The privatization of the milieu to the mobile market device increases the fear and anxiety of what becomes the “doom scroll.” It is a totalizing and encompassing infrastructure of affective capture. Battling addiction to the mobile market device has become a significant area of research. A research team in Germany recently identified a new mass sociogenic illness borne out of social media use. One participant in the January 6 US Capitol Riot admitted he violated pretrial terms because of an addiction to the internet. It is only through a fully synchronized and consolidated core that the temporal mode can vibrate to the capture of asynchrony. The police state has been building towards this method of accumulation for years—at least since the Naval Navigation System opened to civilian use in 1967, just as construction began on the GPS. These projects stretch back another 150 years, to the codification of space, using time, in the telegraphing of longitude, under the service of imperialism. As written elsewhere, along the path of Harold Innis, the expansion and maintenance of empire requires the constant scaffolding of communications at its bleeding edge, maintaining a system of transfer one factor forward of the general public’s capability. With the mobile market device, the temporal regime has met its asymptote. In the mode of consolidated asynchrony, space and time dislodge from the teleology of the ruling class, cybernetics shifting emphasis from man-man-man, to man-machine-man, to machine-man-machine—the intercession of the platform. Of course, it is not simply the biunivocal consumer feedback of the mobile market device, but the consolidation of servers to the privatization of the internet itself under Amazon, Google, and others—the re-centralization of what was built on the idea of decentralization. The great wager of the World Wide Web was to make asynchronous its rationale of domination—by decentralizing the DARPANET, might the imperial project maintain its hold over messaging, when civilian hosts had a share in the same method of communication by which systems of domination would broadcast their rationales. By what better means could a washed colorless propaganda be inserted to organic public discourse than by rendering it in the same terms as its subjects’ milieu? Thus, the reinforcement of the Jameson epigraph.
In this asynchronous version of consumer sovereignty, all sentiments, intuitions, and other aspects of interior life—such as desires generated out of a digitally activated commodity fetishism—are broken down, measured, dissected, turned into bits, quantized, and broadcast in all directions. The appeal of sentimentality in the commodified turns toward satisfying the manifold of desire, surrounding the subject by artifacts of memory, rather than holding the immanence of the affective register. Social media delimits this possibility further, notably in the phenomenon of FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” a vernacular confirmation of the fear generated in basic social media use and this very appeal to sentimentality. By representation in the smallest (the post) the viewer desires the property of the poster, while allying fear to the image commodity. New forms of subjectivity arise in the capture of this affect. We understand our own limits based on the obvious and accessible contingencies around us, yet limit that experience to a yearning, the aspiration of lifestyle and influence we see in the virtual exaltation of an Other. This emerges as a threat in the sense they possess something we do not, an exacerbation of Schmitt’s friend or enemy division on the level of the commodified image; privileging property rights reproduces through the constant comparative mechanism of the feed or the timeline. As Žižek has argued, following Lacan, desire does not come out of reality, but in the distortion of our own realities. The asynchronous apparatus makes that distortion increasingly divisible, to the “dividual” level of FOMO, yet the transfixing anxiety at work reduces the horizon of possibility. This contradiction leads to redefinition of the acronym to FOMOS: fear of my own shadow, the total ionization of the milieu, using the logic of private property rights, as a cyclical reification of desire, through the affect of fear, a new interior capture of subjectivation that may occur in what is typically thought of as the “private” space of asynchrony.
From Police State to Police First State
Donald Trump embodies the FOMOS paradox, doing his best to mimic the behavior of tyrants and autocrats, projecting mass wealth, with the open secret of his bankruptcies and real estate ruinations. He attempts to replicate the authoritarian projection, yet his reality contradicts the possibility of this replication. He is paralyzed by material conditions, while attempting to capture affective desire through social media. Massumi similarly remarks on Trump: “an immanent alter-personhood describing the limit of neoliberal capitalist subjectivity.” His “populism” (a misnomer that nonetheless describes the breadth of his effect) shows a light of desperation, playing on what Jameson calls the anxiety of Utopia. So psychically terrifying are the biological and material propositions of a change to the mode of intercourse that he resolves his personal dilemma of fragmented, “dividuated” selfhood (he may only identify with the disconnected signifiers of his imperium, Twitter) and relate to the tension of a proletariat decimated by deterritorialization on the home front—the archival death drive set to party politics, fear of my own shadow, the affective capture of lived experience.
Trump engages the double interplay of neoliberalism, that which seeks to delegitimize new discourse, not by providing substantive rebuttals, but by reducing all propositions to bipartisan mentality, devouring new political movements on the logic of the dyad, in what Jameson calls “the most crucial terrain of ideological struggle today,” the migration from concept to representation. Social media platforms catalog and monetize every instance of this degradation, replacing institutions of discourse by replicating the bias-seeking role of media, in targeted algorithm. Trump’s appeal to the fear of a white minority gains momentum in the media commodity, making rhetorical representations of immigrants and China and the Left, while coming from an individual who is the exact concept he rails against. While Southern Floridians voted for Trump in 2020, they also voted for expanded Medicare and labor protection, having no grasp on concept by way of representation, eroding the GOP from the inside out, while still maintaining the party’s representative power on the biunivocal mode of intercourse. Stoking nationalism paradoxically fuels arguments against nationalization, by relying on the necessity of asynchronous labor in this world of overwhelming population that, simply by critical mass at the frequency of the outdated spatial-temporal relationship, no longer retains the capability of full employment, constantly foregrounding the individual as human capital and entrepreneur, exemplified by the paradigm of asynchronous precarity employment and the mobile market device.
The anomaly of Trump overloaded the temporal regime by out-of-control outliers; the algorithm had not accounted for the power-mass relation and Cambridge Analytica beat the established biunivocal tension to the potential of asynchrony. The only rational solution for the asynchronous apparatus had already been the surveillance state and the upward consolidation of the data centers. Now it would fold in censorship. This is just one more reminder of the benefit of media monopoly in regard to the state—the cascade model that is a sedimentation, but functions as-good-as instantaneous, aligning the interests of the political and media classes by providing medium for profit and a ritual media product in the repetition of the planned biunivocal opposition of what economies of image have become, through the political spectrum. It is an ever-burning bonfire of the present, the consolidation of asynchrony.
Here the market and media fuse to their most unmasked formulation, the need to commodify even the proposition of policy discussion. CNN chief Jeff Zucker exemplified this, remarking that Trump was the greatest thing to ever happen to the network, revealing the empty reality of the liberal media project. Trump and Zucker are one-in-the-same, not for their aberration, but for the gauche audacity of revealing the truth at core of the asynchronous apparatus, by eliminating subtext. In June of 2020, during the foment of the growing protest movement, a plaza outside the White House was cleared by police force. Trump went to the graffiti-smattered square, held a copy of the New Testament aloft, had his photo taken, and left. Trump then is the most shocking image-commodity representing the irrational virtues of the market, collapsing the space of critique by this very lack of subtext. What meaningful analysis can be added to this display that does not appear in the surface reading? An intergovernmental watchdog group later refuted that the plaza was cleared specifically for the photo op; rather, a private contractor was tasked to erect a new fence around the plaza and protesters needed to be removed to make way for the work. If anything, this reinforces the argument: the consolidation of private property rights was harnessed by the asynchronous apparatus as an opportunity to reinforce the image commodity of the police state. The introduction of body cameras, and the proliferation of images of police violence, with often little-to-no retribution for the officer involved, functions on similar eliminations of subtext. We are meant to know the police state may be challenged, but that challenge is facile, relentlessly and exponentially circulated as the images of police power are (or perhaps a Kardashian just hands a cop a Pepsi). This is Rancière’s anxiety of circulation in the mobile market device; the “leak” of the bodycam captures the fascination by asserting there is nothing to see.
In a virtual US congressional meeting with the CEOs of online platforms, in March 2021, the phrase “super spreader” applied to dis/information sources, as well as sites of actual disease transmission. This video conference (held on Zoom) with members of Congress, detailed the nearly 4 billion anti-vaccination Covid-denial impressions served across social networks and propelled by algorithm. Congressional members stated with certainty not only the addictive nature of these networks, but also quite literally the question, “what is truth?” thereby entering the postmodern position to congressional record. Facebook had “committed” to eradicating conspiracy hubs, and also recently censored posts from Socialist publications and numerous police accountability groups (all of which can be seen as “conspiracy hubs” from the perspective of maintaining the synchronized libidinal core). Yet, the single most popular post on Facebook between January and March 2021 was one that cast doubt on vaccines. In the first week of October 2021, a whistleblower revealed the extent to which the social network knowingly allowed false information to proliferate for circulation of profit. The day after the whistleblower appeared in a CNN interview, Facebook’s main assets went down for an entire operating day, the most prolonged period in a decade. Then came news of a new regime of censorship, a pledge to limit “politics” from news feeds. This makes Facebook (the main source of information for many of a certain demographic) functionally unfixable and yet fixed by data set that consolidates the biunivocal tension of elite opposition. The whistleblower leaks detailed that most Facebook employees seem to think they are working for a net evil. A Facebook employee demanded that Breitbart be removed from the site’s “news” tab; the leak detailed Breitbart as one of several sites that had a backchannel to the social network’s upper management, avoiding platform services denials by an allowance of extra or erased “strikes” for spreading misinformation. The special exceptions for keeping right-wing hate speech and disinformation were mitigated by the news sources themselves. To be certain, Breitbart is the site infamous for its “black-on-black crime” section. It is the basic mechanics of these platforms that allow institutional apartheid to proliferate. As Jonathan Beller argued, the bias exists precisely in the code—we now have the diegetic proof of this knowledge in the upper management of the platform. When research groups at NYU began closing in on conclusions to their object of study, concerning the rapid spread of politically charged posts on Facebook, the website banned their accounts, citing TOS violations. Platforms exalt circulation of the “nothing to see.”
Years ago, now, Mark Zuckerberg testified guilelessly in front of a US Senate committee that, yes, the website directly enabled the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, by way of the rapid proliferation of cell phones in the region equipped on original sale only with Facebook capabilities, the ultimate empirical proof that for-profit digital infrastructures activate material-ideological struggles to their most violent ends. The Manichean prospect of a confused alter-reality, as a strategy of containment, becomes much simpler—especially considering a Newsweek report detailing a “hidden” cyber-army of thousands of anonymous intelligence workers activated by the Pentagon, who work in the field of “signature reduction,” the obfuscation of its undercover and black ops. This involves creating fake profiles on social media sites to correspond with the construction of consensus. Around 60,000 people are at work on this project. Similarly, Facebook “demanded” the LAPD stop creating fake profiles used to spy on suspects. Governed by a cybernetic warden, in the words of Châtalet, subjects become little more than thermostats of input-output signals making fluid the “market democracy” of tertiary industrialization (the move from producing value from the factory to the screen). The biggest problem was the extremists (i.e. Cambridge Analytica) actuated this potential first, eliminating the subtext of its machinery, by means of the vulgar Trumpism and its more grotesque libertarian splinter cells erupting out of the FOMOS anxiety he was able to harness.
However, the extreme centrism of the Biden administration represents a crystalized past-future perfect union, the return of the Goldilocks Economy adapted for the mewling ‘20s of this new millennium, a reformation of the postmodern revisionist project: a consensus of American neoliberal stasis masking the last 50 years of political nonevents in largely symbolic progress and the misappropriation of representation politics as identity/concept politics, in the pursuit of police stewardship to universality. The synchronizing efforts of establishment media in asynchrony shifts time function from pulse to beam. Notice that, even as the second set of presidential debates were called off this last election cycle, the media commodity somehow doubled, turning into a two-network townhall—the quantum dialectic of the biunivocal thermostat. It is no coincidence the image commodity functions so well in the hardline American two-party system, propelled by the outdated logic of the dyad (I know what I am because I know I’m not that). This shows the true threat of non-binary and trans individuals to the system: the reveal of the genderless third that functions not even as a negation, but an outside alternative to the endless consumptive-production circulation in the dyad. In this regard, the market-based discourses of neoliberalism and rational choice theory, even in arguing for the same bourgeois values of liberty and equality the left extolls, become parcel to delegitimizing discourse, reducing all discussion to the commodity of news, and therefore to the market itself—but elevating the dialogue itself as the representative facet of this same liberty and equality. “The need to avoid evaluations of the system as a whole is now an integral part of its own internal organization as well as its various ideologies,” Jameson writes, describing Laplace’s demon without the cybernetic corollary. That is the role of a Rachel Maddow, taking glee in the personal humiliation of Trump, rather than substantive policy breakdowns—the Russia/Steele Dossier narrative turns out to be the biggest media blunder since WMDs. As Jameson puts it: “[...] conspiracy theory (and its garish narrative manifestations) must be seen as a degraded attempt—through the figuration of advanced technology—to think the impossible totality of the contemporary world system.” The more cynical (and therefore applicable) view of conspiracy is that of Mark Fisher: “Many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity.” The audacity of the Q-Anon movement renders any sniff of conspiracy as absurd, unfounded, and without merit—except when spearheaded by the correct cable news channel. “Conspiracy,” even in this age of a missing subtext, thus becomes a tightly controlled aspect of the asynchronous apparatus, by contributing to the policing of the acceptable or unacceptable, limiting the horizon of possibility in thought itself. The FOMOS of the “correct” immobilizes a certain discourse.
In May 2020, the largest protests in US history erupted. Yet another video of police killing a passive black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, went viral. The obvious brutality of the act inflamed the roiling anger at the structural racism of police departments across the United States. Demonstrations sparked by Floyd’s death went on for months (bolstered by the joblessness of pandemia) across the country and the world, met with outsized response from police departments, thereby proving the legitimacy of the protesters’ complaints and producing further images of police violence (redirecting FOMO to FOMOS). Alex Vitale’s book The End of Policing sold out from its publisher. The once unthinkable position of substantial police reform appeared to gain steam. The phrases “defund the police” and “ACAB” became common parlance and graffiti. The immensity of the protest actions gave the impression the demands of the movement could not be ignored, indicating imminent structural change. Instead, congressional leaders donned Kente cloth sashes and simply kneeled in the rotunda of the Capitol building. Floyd’s last words of “I can’t breathe” became an echo of Garner’s, who had been choked to death on video by a plainclothes NYPD officer in 2014, spurring similar protest movements that changed little. An openly white supremacist teenager (flashing racist hand signals in a photo with a fan) Kyle Rittenhouse, went on trial for the murder of two activists in Kenosha, Wisconsin; if you opened the app TikTok in November 2021, you could stream this trial live, including a point at which the judge’s cellphone rang—the ringtone was Trump’s official campaign song, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Rittenhouse was cleared by a jury of all charges. He had gone to the protest, armed with an AR-15, to defend a used car dealership. Broadcasting this acquittal in all its obvious aberrations reinforces an ideology that puts private property first, a microcosm of the international liberal project, what Giorgio Agamben identified as “stasis,” the endless civil war of the state against its citizens, the flow of public to private and the reduction of the commons. In the USSR, they held show trials for guilt; the US now has show trials for innocence, populated into the most high-frequency application, that most popular with the asynchronous generation—quite literally a show trial. The line between security officer and citizen disappears, under a racialized exaltation of property rights. Joy James and João Costa Vargas write: “What happens when instead of becoming enraged and shocked every time a Black person is killed in the United States, we recognize Black death as a predictable and constitutive aspect of this democracy? What will happen then if instead of demanding justice we recognize (or at least consider) that the very notion of justice […] produces and requires Black exclusion and death as normative?” That is the very intention of this apparatus.
Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer who lives in New Jersey, his campaign supported by police unions who had endorsed Trump, was elected mayor of New York City, shortly after one of the country’s top cops, Kamala Harris, became vice president. In the California vote, on the heels of Harris’s Senate career there, “Proposition 22” passed with nearly 60 percent approval from voters, after the most expensive ballot measure in California history: $205 million turbocharged a misinformation campaign in support. Prop. 22 allowed “gig economy” workers (the asynchronous laborer) to remain classified as independent contractors by their virtual, mobile market device employers. The largest of these companies, Uber and Lyft, targeted ads at the company’s patrons and workers through their own apps, marketing in favor of the measure with obsequious language claims about access to benefits, while prioritizing the independence of gig workers—the reassurance of negative freedoms. (These are the same anti-organizing tactics that Amazon and Starbucks successfully used in 2021 to quash unionizing.) However, Prop. 22 produced the negative freedom of the corporation by technicality, making “workers” from “employees” (the latter necessitating healthcare, etc.).
Here, the asynchronous apparatus exploits political messaging in the order of capital accumulation only—the next in a long history of voters going against their own interests, California being the new worst-case example, further exacerbating the endless present of neoliberal deregulation, but clearly inflected with a cybernetic reduction to the algorithm of the thermostat. Despite the most radical potential for change in the vast networks available to us, day-to-day struggles of increasingly impoverished citizens simply help to reproduce the upward consolidation of property rights. Harris’s brother-in-law at the time served as Chief Legal Officer for Uber, where his daughter also worked on the company’s diversity team. Consider also Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey appeasing the coming Biden-Harris administration and censoring Trump’s posts, currying favor by fulfilling one central policy aim of Harris’s early presidential bid: to get Trump banned from Twitter. Or perhaps Twitter Director of Public Policy, Carlos Monje, whom the Biden transition team poached in September 2020, helped initiate the fact-checking of Trump on the platform. The obvious attempt to ally with policy here accounts for most major Silicon Valley political reactions in recent years. Platforms privatize institutions from the inside out, negotiating individual ideologies to swarms of noncongruent thought—the asynchronous apparatus, a consensus of temporal fracture, rationed across the binary to the individual.
A police reform bill, named for Floyd, pushed through the statehouse; but this counterintuitively injected a massive $750 million of federal grant money into police departments across the country, further drawing out investigations into police misconduct through market force. The new presidency also enabled the immediate brokering of massive arms deals between Raytheon and Saudi Arabia, and continued anti-migration policies set in place by Trump, such as Title 42. Harris, the child of immigrants herself, was put in charge of stemming migrant flow from the Mexico border. She looked into a camera and told any potential asylum seekers south of the border: “Do not come.” The administration reclassified the highly protested “kids in cages” of the Trump presidency into “overflow facilities,” “reception centers,” “detention pods,” and “jail-like facilities.” A recent study in the journal Cognition found little difference in the phenomenon of “fake news” and hedging euphemistic/dysphemistic terms in order to manipulate public opinion. This cynical, vacillating rhetoric reforms value in the language of soft tyranny. The theorist Wendy Brown expanded Marcuse and Nietzsche to convincingly argue that the stealth neoliberal revolution of corporatism actuates, in the individual, a knowing complicity of increasing violence, in a system that displays less and less inherent value in its organization—yet no real alternatives are presented. She described, in a chapter titled “No Future for White Men,” the devaluing of value itself, to the point of self-destruction in patriarchal, right-wing extremism. The thesis proved correct on January 6, 2021, when an amorphous ideological blob (many wearing “blue lives matter” flags and yet still assaulting police officers) stormed the US Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win, based on a swirl of mobilized conspiracy theory. When rioters and police died, storming the US seat of government changed little, except the fortification of a military presence around the Capitol and the expansion of surveillance and police states over radicals of all stripes; domestic terrorism laws, first consolidated in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, were strengthened again. Corrections of course reinforced the police state. What Dean called the foreclosure of politics manifests in the constant circulation of dissent—even from the extreme right wing—that rarely has any bearing on the content of policy, sublimated as it is in the language of cable news, streaming apps, and op-ed pages—the machinery of anxiety, affirmation, and masochism served in the relentless rationalization of the feed, now competing for attention on division of the millisecond, fractured and refracted to the stasis of asynchrony. This uprising, and its response, signal a deep resonance with the functioning of American society as not just a police state, but a police first state.
The anxiety associated with previous modes of policing—especially Rancière’s conceptual model of circulation, in the view of Mirzoeff—is increased at least twofold, by the very circumstances of use. The labor function of the mobile market device becomes parcel to validating a police state by means of privatizing the mode of intercourse for surveillance functions. This is consistent with the historical development of police from a general distribution of resources to a deterrent of certain disorders, as Foucault described in his late lectures. When paired with the economies of image that function on the same devices or platforms as employment or intercourse, the circulation of power renders a new form of subjectivity, at a level of 24/7 intercession. Thus, we can refer to the asynchronous apparatus (in the well-worn domain of Louis Althusser’s ideological state apparatus) as an expansion of the police state to a full-time project of psychic, digital kettling. Private property rights hold the position of privilege, by exalting the object of contempt, leading to redefinition of a common acronym to FOMOS, reflecting a paralysis of the “doom scroll,” and the affective capture of fear and anxiety. This is possible due to the temporal mode of asynchrony, one enabled and exploited by GPS and the consolidation of data centers. The density of transmission, the synchronous core fully activated, breaks time apart in a way that makes polyvalent the containment of ideology outside of the stasis established over the previous two centuries. Contemporary historical events and their portrayal in media are shown to reinforce this machinery, through the obvious correlations of police power, property rights, positions of bureaucratic privilege to developers, and the validation of this apparatus by those in the highest positions of power.
“The end of history is followed by history no matter what,” Latour once wrote. The sad irony of the contemporary situation is the history of domination in the process of being constructed, through cybernetworks and personal information pipelines, with an added temporal dislocation that multiplies its rate. While recent examples of police brutality (especially of the type that reinforce white supremacy) are sadly too numerous to examine in this analysis, the cluster of events described above are meant to show the clear intersection of police anxiety, exacerbated by the asynchronous mode, and reified by the state. Lukacs wrote how consciousness changes being. The paradox is the chilling effect of too much consciousness on praxis, something similar to what Bruce Robbins called “the paradox of empowered dissent,” a condition in which the leveler of the critique is the very beneficiary of the critique’s target. How does some cloistered theoretician not benefit from a security state? The access to this truth endows a consciousness—if not a class consciousness, at least a consciousness of situation—and the multilateral means to communicate this impersonally, piling on the anxiety of precarity in an economy of virtual and speculative character, as never have the lessons of David Graeber or Thomas Piketty (or Bernie Sanders, for that matter) been more salient and available through the very apparatus through which we are presented the terms of our domination—the elimination of subtext. It is a class consciousness, but a class consciousness inversely enabled by individual-level tech-utopianism, diminishing the subject by exalting and confusing the object of contempt. Walter Benjamin called history, running substrate to the history of domination, the “consistence of truth.” This appears to be an outdated formulation, as across the spectrum, the acceptance of conspiracy theory obviates this consistency, in the deep state variety, the Q variety, the Davos variety, the Russia variety, the time-rupture variety, and even the alien overlord variety—there is no history. In dialogue, extremism appears in order to blur the inaction of the center; as such, the basis for argument must be met on the terms of the asynchronous apparatus, under the limiting psychic condition of FOMOS. This has led to the atomized reality—where the phrase “facts don’t care about your feelings,” specifically from the right, and “I’m speaking my truth,” from the left—allows for a bad faith discontinuation of intuition, first, and facticity, second, reducing all rhetoric to the radical center position of aging Enlightenment rationalism. That is the end-run function of “the algorithm.”
The “winner” of the dialogue “loses” the activation of the subject; or as Rancière once wrote, the oldest task of politics is depoliticization. The paramilitary reaction to protest movements is a core function of this apparatus, the cruel image of opposition holding purchase in deactivating the subject, reflecting the transition from police state to police first state. Meanwhile, the constituency cannot help but register the increasing inequality gap, especially racial inequality, and a pattern recognition that makes clear this is not an aberration but a central component. Unrest then manifests as anxiety, the dislodged armchair and hashtag activism that makes an impossible retribution, for which it is, already, “too late!” To scroll endlessly on a social media feed for the masochistic in “the post” is known colloquially as the “doom scroll.” And yet we scroll on: the subject craves devastation of the self. Sloterdijk once remarked we are not prepared psychically to comprehend a world inhabited by eight billion others. It is true in the sense that we are suddenly thrown into a global communications network that makes one aware the immensity of the world system, the implacable situation of the Other within it, the global flows and discommensurate inaccessibility of the living present to populate the experience of the individual. The inability to address the “older ethical notions,” as Jameson says, of the Other lends immense psychic weight of interiority from the willing subjectivation to this apparatus, where the complicity of the subject displaces the role of the subject to the point of paralysis, upon reflection of, “what could I have done differently?” The answer reduces to the central function of this algorithm: you might do nothing. The asynchronous apparatus renders the subject inert, a fear of my own shadow.
V. ASYNCHRONY AND CINEMA (OR, HOW I FORGOT THE FUTURE)
And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes—how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. – Albert Camus, 1942
Time appears as aesthetic in every culture in correspondence with its public education. Pagan solstice ritual and the Catholic appropriation of it, for instance, serve a time function, in the differing aesthetic of the performance. Its mediation is no less marked by the temporal character of its portability and origin point of moral transmission. Time as object of critique becomes the focus, by observing the consolidation of films in which a “time machine” can be found. The comprehensive examination allows us to extract three periods of the trope: the first establishes the fourth dimension in cultural consciousness; the second moves the suggestion of time’s malleability into the category of madness; the third reclaims time as an available material for human modification, yet so dense and complex it eludes the grasp of all but the most technically gifted. These tropes are buried in representations of various cultural crises. Even in the most fantastical future visions, the temporal regime continues reducing the horizon of belief to a zero possibility. I see this as more and more dense iterations of what Derrida and Fisher referred to as “hauntology,” in which we witness the slow cancellation of the future. This draws heavily on the ideas of Fredric Jameson to develop close reading. Time’s concretization and distance from abstract can be traced through this cultural history, and that the temporal mode of asynchrony—in which inscriptions of time become so dense a second-order temporal mode emerges—appears in film.
The 2018 and 2019 Avengers films, more than five hours of technological astonishment, illustrate the pinnacle of this. The second film alone, Endgame, hinging on a poetics of fate in a time travel narrative, shattered box-office records by the billions, a tentpole for the Disney distribution network and the last major cinema event before pandemia (at least temporarily) eliminated movie theaters as a category of public space. Endgame accomplished this not by the efficacy of its narrative but the consolidation of studio power, tying the threads of more than 20 previous films together into a mega-film of pure representation. So many disparate characters appear, each with their own backstories, traveling into the alterable pasts of previous installments, the sensory overload makes little to no sense, if the viewer doesn’t carry some basic understanding of one previous franchise of the many involved onscreen. The science of time travel abandons relativity and mystifies quantum realities by arbitrating actual concepts (such as the Planck length) against each other meaninglessly. The point here is that there are no pure concepts, that the narrative itself attempts templexity arbitrarily, relying on the asynchronous audience, each viewer bringing the representation of their own identifier to an understanding of the unrepresentable. Empty multiculturalism propels this by actuating a vulgar liberalism of virtue signaling, yet always situating a form of American hegemony as the dominant universal paradigm. Theocracy, science, technocratic genius, and nationalism congeal into an immense accumulation of representation. There, asynchronous horizons of belief appear, each individually rationalized by cloaking pastiche in the superhero’s cape, eliminating all space for subtext, and reproducing the hollow liberal ideolog—the quintessential lie of American omnipotence. Trump, for example, uses this condition of asynchronous pathology to his advantage, constantly revising the concept of his speech by ensuring its empty representation—that has been the simple defense of inciting the riot on January 6: “That’s not what I meant.”
A more sophisticated version of this asynchronous revisionism appears in the 2020 Christopher Nolan film Tenet. The film opens with the revelation of a para-governmental secret force, doing its best to retain a global order of indiscriminate ideology, through shadowy alliances and cross-continental secret partnerships that arise from and exist to protect the invisible bureaucracy of temporal stasis. The film demands the viewer accept this lack of explanation, and simply moves into a generic action film of baffling time travel technicality. It is only the cultural conditions of the actually existing global order, out of the reach of full understanding, but undeniably present, that such a blasé treatment of time-traveling agents apprehends belief—the sense of impending doom ever-present in our lives, the precarity of global stasis, held together only by a few fairly incomprehensible narrative strands of cooperation. The time-travel in the film doesn’t involve leaps into the future or into the past, but requires a time of its own, a reverse entropy. We cannot imagine time as anything other than a straight line; here, that line simply folds in order to correct back toward the center. That is the ideological mechanism of the temporal regime.
Locating Hauntology (Cinema Without the Cinema)
How does one forget the future? Perhaps, especially in discussing the past, we discuss a future. Not the future, as such, as this implies a determinacy to which we may not be committed. It may appear contradictory to say we hold the future in our memories; if the memory as Aristotle had it acts as the storehouse of the past, future-memory marks a counterintuitive proposition. And yet, there it is: I have an oneiric vision of tomorrow and the next and the year following and the decades in procession. This future, Sartre tells us, is only partly true, a status quo of the social process of history making, the core of the individual action, the presence of, “that which is lacking and that which, by its very absence, reveals reality.” To precisely that absence we are committed, that impossibility beyond the event horizon, the threshold we are forbidden to cross, a future which we are made to remember, it will never arise. How does experience forgo that possibility we may never encounter? How do we know what we may not know? In the terms of Bergson, what mechanism conflates matter with memory, reverses the intuition of perception against the mind? This depends on endless speculation; yet the spectacle must occlude these unpredictable outliers, a possibility beyond the “possible.” Only nominally is it “the impossible”—the speculation of Utopia. We remark, of course, on the Derrida referents between the definite and indefinite, to the disjuncture in futur and l’avenir, the state of some future to come, an incomprehensible split, a not necessarily Utopian vision—though that is what one must enjoin to make a productive effort of even the most dismal tropes. I must admit: the character of the Utopian future… I can’t recall it. The absence is the absurd.
What Debord called “pseudo-cyclical time,” the disguised commodity-time of modern economic survival, cannot be denied of giving belief to an individual—in the modern ritual of the lunch hour, say, the prosthesis between instinct and its repression. The artistic and cultural is another matter, to the effect of the demonstrably psychological, a stand-in for the real. The dilemma undertaken by Duchamp, and best portrayed in “Nude Descending A Staircase,” made four dimensions out of three. Duchamp’s work, like most 20th century artists, rotated around the overlap and divergence of science and philosophy in the problem of time. This mediation manifests throughout literature, contingent on a homogeneous temporal representation. The invocation of the “boring” in a Jameson essay on Ulysses questions whether a text (or indeed a life) without narrative is desirable or possible. Jameson, through dereification shows even the most isolated instances, the gaps of stillness in the everyday—where seemingly nothing is happening—tracing back to the socio-historical, the pipes of a bathroom wrapped up in innumerable temporal and social processes. In the great Icelandic novel of Halldór Laxness, Independent People, time’s relation to narrative is all but nullified, a life described in a land so far north, and so obsessed by coffee, that the sun and moon take exception to the accumulation of equivalent intervals of what is known elsewhere as “the working day,” a relativist hallmark of modernism, as well as a fine distinction between Bergson’s “lived time” and “clock time.” In García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the narratives of the living and the dead cascade over and through one another, a fabric of templexity that begins and ends with making sense of history, a subject-loss polyvocity identified with the strong form of postmodernism. In David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a sense of geolithic fractals and a certain hypertext appears in a radiant spread of interconnectivity, a textual application of anti-narrative simulacra that might only be linked to a futuristic inversion of Proust, a daft cyber-spacetime curricula of late capitalism. Yet all these representations of temporal experience succeed through written word, doing “work” in a plastic mechanism that concedes neither to flow nor time itself. The experience of “high” novelistic time, even in its most radical form, is not confined to time, necessarily. Novels work in a fashion different from the spectacle. Further, these books don’t help answer the question initially posed: How do we forget the future? Even a text like Gravity’s Rainbow, which Jameson calls somewhere “literally interminable,” resembles a different “time” than with which we are concerned. What’s more relevant are the Choose Your Own Adventure novellas of the young adult idiom, for structurally recursive reasons alone: when one reaches the end, the book is re-read under different conditions of the viewer, producing a kind of hermeneutic of possibility. We do not experience time; we view it. Rather, we experience eternity.
Take Bergson’s extensity, reducible and divisible, determined and automatic, remaining fundamentally the same, static and permanently set by extended magnitudes. To quote Sartre: “Everything changes if one considers that society is presented to each man as a perspective of the future and that this future penetrates to the heart of each one as a real motivation for his behavior.” Crystal, quartz, obelisks, the drip of water, sundials, gears, and springs—these produce a framework of Reason, a machinery of structural formation limited to and limiting the horizon of belief. Belief requires surrender, even sacrifice, as the future promise of assent to being, within what cannot be recognized, only referred to: a clandestine future of increasing magnitudes of extensity. By these measures, in the blind nexus of eternity, time, the experience or style of time, is not simply parcel to ideology, but ideology itself. These organizing structures—all organizing structures—contain a Utopian impulse, an incentive for the receiver of the transmission. Yet there must be a moment, an instant, a transgressive call to action, the transversion of the moebius strip, the object of possibility coming into view. A veil hangs between the instant and the realization of possibility through the creative endeavor. At what point do we ask ourselves: Is this worth living for? What is worth dying for? And to what do we owe the answer? It may only come with a stirring of the heart. “And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste…”
The peripeteia and the precipice collapse. We then achieve Bergson’s concept of duration: the qualitatively dynamic and heterogeneous experience, where contextual margins are broken endlessly and cannot be measured with magnitudes—the incomparable and indefinable, the everchanging, recharged with new essence each immeasurable instant, driven by pure energy, the polyrhythmic truth of human experience. The alien explication of time to the human Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five edges close to this; the 1972 film adaptation shifts from pulse to beam, for example removing the “so it goes” refrain, occurring more than 100 times in the book—it would be an intuitive and redundant statement, at that point, on film. (Both mediums alienate the very labor of time.) What Raymond Williams identified as “flow,” or what Deleuze expanded from Bergson to the “flux,” this parallax of time’s experience and representation, functions most authentically in the duration of the moving image. Not what Tarkovsky called “sculpting in time,” a method of internal rhythm directed toward the poetics of filmmaking. Though Solaris or Stalker may be visions of elegance, they both—in terms of Special Relativity and/or magical realism—work in eternity, rather than on time. The repression felt in Tarkovsky relates to the lost time of Soviet intellectual hegemony. The well-known fact the Estonian-filmed Stalker resulted in Tarkovsky himself and a handful of crew members contracting a cancer specific to the pollution of the region demonstrates the structural failures of that actually existing Marxism, so to speak.
I must articulate, then, that we are more interested in what Mark Fisher referred to as “the poetics of fate,” as it is not even necessarily periodization of the future that troubles us; constructions of science fiction, as Susan Sontag argued some time ago, are more reflections of contemporary anxieties, and the paranoia of determinism run amok. Mass cultural objects, if they do “work” on the viewer, offer incentive in the assent, the transmission an exchange relationship—comfort, stasis, the delirium of hegemony and its productive enterprise—its psychic nature amplifying the rainbow’s arc. The Soviet-praising Hollywood films produced during World War II, and the immediate McCarthyistic reversal of the ‘50s, illustrates this clearly. It’s often conservative narrative, first within then outside, that propagates the illusion of American omnipotence and the repression of a future as we are wont not to experience or envision. It is the rigidity of temporal representation that reproduces conditions of the future, and from which alternating viewpoints must be defended. The syncategorematic revision of tense, in the overarching narrative of postmodernity, shields the pseudo-cyclical in the cinematic flux.
Impossible access arises in the mechanics of the moving image shifting in time. Think of increasing frame rates of digital moviemaking, to the point of unintelligibility. The camera captures and presents with such speed, the human eye cannot comprehend, mechanically speaking; a zoetrope is more honest, in that its form admits the illusion, rather than to overwhelm the viewer with mind-numbing speed for the sake of the technology. (“Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye,” Walter Benjamin wrote about 100 years ago, in his typical prescience.) Criticism follows a similar path, in the viral spread of the “hot take” and the blog, a culture industry of churning ceaselessness that enacts the asynchronous by abutting the limits of cyber-spacetime. A grip cannot really be gotten on substantive critique; rather, consensus without rigor populates the cultural consciousness. Even stranger is the often-used form of the listicle. “The most spectacular image of all time,” the New York World declared The Birth of a Nation, upon its release in 1915. Now, lists of cultural artifacts are headed with “Best Time Travel Movies of All Time,” for example, relying on the cultural capital of the host institution for gravity, to be revised against their own logic, annually, monthly, or in day-to-day personal inventories. VOD makes a comprehensive practice of this conceivable, but literally impossible. Frame to frame, every subject observes an incomplete totality by design, forcing the subject to asynchrony.
A terminal break: the multiplex redefines its existence, with and without pandemia. The atomization of the spectacle thrives on a new singularity of transmission. The move to streaming disrupts the experience of the cinema, totalizing the public and private. Yet a lingua franca moved from the cineplex to the home theater, for example compartmentalizing even so-called “indie” arthouse films, that succeed on a certain homespun look, and negation of big-H Hollywood style, such as the achingly earnest and DIY time-travel film Safety Not Guaranteed. Commodifying the quirky of “indie” exemplifies the assemblage of genres as categorization of audience, rather than of the work. Video on demand (VOD) makes this unspoken knowledge, to the viewer, the koan in the expanse of digital catalogs—reifying the contingency of the ego, answering a question never asked, but in a caricature of historical thinking that touts consumer choice as stand-in for agency. Then a reversal goes to work, in kinetic algorithmic replication. Even at the most discerning, viewers lock into a cybernetwork of the banal. Dominated by strong styles at the time of its 2007 inception, the on-demand Netflix service, for example, found its most-recommended film (that is to say its most average property) quickly became The Conversation. The 1974 Gene Hackman paranoia and conspiracy vehicle, where Hackman plays an independent surveillance technician and lover of jazz, makes an easy allegory for propagated Cold War anxiety and KGB/CIA infiltration. It sits among a raft of similarly themed films of the era. What inflames our sense of the eerie is Hackman’s becoming from paranoiac aesthete in that film, to his role as panoptic overseer in 1998’s Enemy of the State. Besides the obvious theme of collapsing privacy and the limits of reality, reading the character in both films as the same person is not so outlandish; photos of the 1974 Hackman were used in the 1998 film. A schizophrenic, metatextual reading—and writing—truly enabled by the side-by-side access of VOD, Hackman’s journey from the first to the second film (not completely unlike Winston’s in 1984) resembles that of Stalin’s so-called killerati, those who assent to the will and power of the state from an original position of subversion. Films in this heavy arc amplify and exacerbate paranoia, reinforcing the myth of American omnipotence. The surveillance state transverses intertextual or even prosthetic memory, in a dialectic that makes its totality inevitable, never the profound reality of its absence. We then see algorithms as willing and complicit surveillance, in one sense policing ideology—complicity is vulnerability, visibility is a trap.
So too, we’re granted easy access to a time-travel device, a “time machine,” as made popular by H.G. Wells in 1895, manifesting moments of the asynchronous intertextually. In cultural studies, that which displaces the subject’s consistence of truth and magnitude of extensity can take on this role. In Jameson’s study of architecture, for example, a door leading into an unexpectedly decorated room, in a house designed by Frank Gehry, is a time machine; elsewhere, he remarks the same of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. It is indeed a trope, or even a method, a theoretical entry to what Derrida identified in 1993’s Specters of Marx as hauntology. Jameson refers to hauntology as, “the barely perceptible agitations in the air of a past abolished socially and collectively, yet still attempting to be reborn.” Derrida’s usage of hauntology refers to the agency of the virtual, according to Fisher, quoting the deconstructionist: “To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept.” Simply, time is hauntology by this conception, machine time is a specter, capital is a specter, terrorism is a specter—specters of various threat levels to the perpetual present. Fisher devoted his 2014 book Ghosts of My Life to hauntology: notions of a lost future, agitated by specters of the past (the lost time of Tarkovsky, for example) in that the agitations become more and more perceptible, as the past insists on being reborn, against the backdrop of complete exhaustion. Fisher refers to the writer Franco “Bifo” Berardi and his notion of “the slow cancellation of the future,” the temporal lens through which an ever-progressing development, the arrival of neoliberal austerity politics, locked into place the totality of its ever-presence. This is the condition of postmodernism, as identified by Jameson, and what Fisher refers to elsewhere as “capitalist realism,” a psychic impasse that limits even conceptualizing a future outside the evacuation of temporality. Within that, time folds backwards on itself, where “there’s an increasing sense that culture has lost the ability to grasp and articulate the present.” Bergson’s general contention that the past precedes the present psychologically realizes itself in the “strange simultaneity” of this atemporal formalism, otherwise dubbed “retromania” by Simon Reynolds. Reynolds also coins the term “dyschronia,” to refer to cultural artifacts only taking cues from the past—this is the slow cancellation of the future, through artwork that cannot innovate. Later, Fisher writes, “Derrida’s neologism uncovers the space between Being and Nothingness.” I wager a mechanism of eradication exists in the cultural artifact, collapsing that space between, and making certain nothingness overrides any sense of being we have of possible futures, of a future.
Hauntology does not arrive from a vacuum, but from the dialectic process. The contingencies of time intertextually may seem the perfect location for expansion in the hauntological mode; however, it is the trope of time travel, as the narrative analog of hauntology, that reveals more to the current rupture of the postmodern revisionist process. The mechanism of tense revision, in the narrative sense, appears over and over. Fisher noticed this, too; remarking on a song by the group Japan, called “Ghosts,” he notes: “the present tense—or rather the hesitation between past and present tense—creates ambiguity, suggesting a fatalistic eternity, a compulsion to repeat—a compulsion that might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The ghosts return because he fears they will.” In time travel narratives, never has the issue of the infinite, repetitious present tense been so cloaked yet so central. After all, “[...] tropes are themselves the signs and symptoms of a hidden or buried narrative,” Jameson writes. The accelerating symptom of the time-travel trope forms a cognitive rationale to the endless present, the future, implicit in postmodernism, but attempts and yearns, at the moment of its exhaustion, to move beyond. How are we meant to forget a future? By disrupting the possibilities of changes to time, the cultural artifact renders inevitable the endless present.
Film can be in the passive or active as well as possess a tense of the postmodern revisionist project. What this vocabulary says is that a formal code develops in cinema, with regard to time, that represents a similar strategy of power relations as in other modes of public discourse. Time travel films involve some device, some time machine, to imply a mechanism that does, in fact, offer an alternative future, yet often fails in that promise. Nevertheless, one cannot help but notice the rapid exhaustion or increasing density of this time travel trope, specifically in the motion picture. It appears mid-century as a template of universal understanding, sometimes as a vehicle for propaganda, but most often as a manifold for pastiche. The development of four-dimensional malleability within narrative, with the subsumption of General Relativity into cultural logic, forms a distinct period, the first of three (with overlap and outliers) stretching from 1960 to 1988. The second extends from 1988 (the publication of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time) to 2001, where a new multiplicity and understanding of Relativity enters the cultural mass, and suddenly time travel narratives center the schizophrenic hero, dislocation in time valorizing the decentered subject. The last development in the time travel trope, displaced and informed by 9/11, develops both inter-dimensional terrorism and the impossibility of the revolutionary act, presenting a frozen logic of the eternal, and so a deadlock of dialectics by predestination. The intensification of production in the last period relates to first the appearance of string theory and then the appearance of the Higgs-Boson and advanced particle physics in general, the rupture of spacetime as a possibility (Hawking’s book was re-released in 1998 with an updated section on wormholes). If tropes are narrative and narrative is ideology (in the structural sense that, to borrow a phrase from Joan Didion, we tell ourselves stories in order to live) the presentation of time travel is itself a mimesis of a supposed reality to which we barely have individual access—or at least we are made to believe that access is impossible, blocked by hauntological insistence.
“Not to lie about the future is impossible and one can lie about it at will,” Gabo and Pevsner offer in The Realistic Manifesto of 1920, illustrating with a punchline how the end is always contained in the beginning of a text. In the 2006 Denzel Washington film Deja Vu, the punchline, so to speak, appears at the beginning of the movie. What would normally be the climax of a film produced earlier is the first event. The narrative takes the form of discovery, that discovery itself a reversal of time: we view a retracing of events, we explore the past even as the flow displays the present. In the case of Deja Vu, we witness a terrorist bombing of a ship full of sailors, in the New Orleans estuary, during fleet week. We then follow the police officer, played by Washington, who must stop the bombing, revising the narrative tense, as it happens, from the simple past to a past-future perfect fusion. An extra-governmental agency reveals a time machine (the device, always hidden, implying a distrust, then developing a trust of the invisible order, deftly reversing suspicion of authority) allows him the grace movement of four days and six hours earlier movement. “For all of my career, I’ve been trying to catch people after they do something horrible,” the cop remarks at a point. “For once in my life, I’d like to catch somebody before they do something horrible.” Of course, realizing all the odd clues he’d discovered in the simple past had been left by himself in the revised past-future perfect, he catches the criminal simultaneously before and after (while also sustaining the main argument for police reform: that police do not prevent crime). He comes face-to-face with the radical bomber, a US Iraq war veteran with a libertine mission, in fact referencing the Tree of Liberty. The radical asks: “What happens if we change the past?” The answer: This timeline would cease to exist. In other words, to realize the potential of the right is to sacrifice to the power of eradication, to the volunteer of eternity. “God has done all and God calls forth the past. What will be has been before,” the radical declares before being shot to death. Evil arises from and subsumes to interiority, thereby compartmentalizing history to the predestined, removing hope in a grotesque contortion of the poetics of fate.
As Žižek noted in Welcome to the Desert of the Real, officials called Hollywood producers into the Pentagon in October 2001, to help speculate further terrorist attacks. In November of the same year, the now-friendly brass (the suspicion of authority reversed) staged a roundtable on how Hollywood films could get the right message out to the world, “the ultimate empirical proof that Hollywood does in fact function as an ideological state apparatus,” Žižek writes. Even knowing this, Deja Vu bluntly constructs complicity from the phantasma of war, against the sacrifice of first responders, and the distrust of military veterans exhibiting PTSD. If the allegory of police supremacy were not overt enough, the very technology of the film draws from the ongoing American campaign in West Asia: “Part of the same thermal imaging stuff they’re using in Iraq,” a technician explains of the visually dazzling time-travel device. We are meant to believe in the legitimacy of the surveillance apparatus or face the cost of our rational men and women in uniform being slaughtered by radical terrorists, even as they enjoy leisure time. Is it coincidence the Bush administration named the sweeping measures of surveillance The Patriot Act? That is the business of tense revision as narrative to the past-future perfect fusion. This contradiction proceeds from the terminally postmodern, with technological, scientific, and cultural developments displaying what I have referred to as asynchrony, still gridded to what Jameson called the totality of world time—in other words, the lie of American omnipotence. Global capitalism, Jameson writes, “[...] even blots out death itself insofar as it can no longer encompass that future either.” Indeed, Washington’s policeman is shown to be killed in a concluding scene, only to appear smiling, just as the film ends. The future is dominated by the ever-smiling ever-presence of the police—maintaining the temporal regime.
Node 1: The Emergence of Time
The adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 1895 novel The Time Machine into a 1960 film (the year Jameson seems to generalize as the postmodern entry point) bookends this critique, as the first real appearance of time travel on strong culture industry logic. From the first period of the trope, the film operates on the conceptual assumption of the possibility of time travel. We might consider this a hallmark of the cultural turn, if we are to side with Bergson over Einstein, admitting the Relativity Theory as the prosthetic of metaphysics to science. And, much like the thermal imaging of Deja Vu, the film rationalizes its own existence by the supremacy of its technology; in the case of The Time Machine it is the novel and pleasing use of time-lapse photography that won the film an Oscar. In 1960, the explanation of time travel, as scientific basis and functional means for plot, the distinction between the three dimensions and the conceptual application of the fourth, takes a healthy 20 minutes of didactic introduction. “It is only a theory,” says one of the Time Traveler’s small group of witnesses, in regard to movement in the fourth dimension. It is important that the Time Traveler’s initial audience identify themselves as “businessmen,” who defend the Kantian “laws of providence,” but also interrogate the speculative profit of the time machine. “Have you thought of the commercial possibilities?” one asks, when the device is finally unveiled, and to which the inventor replies that, no, he really hasn’t. Wells was a well-known Socialist, and this somewhat faithful adaptation upholds his expansion of Victorian British class dynamics into the future-anxiety of the Eloi (bourgeoisie) and Morlock (proletarian) class critique; the master/slave dialectic 800,000 years away delivered Socialism as a parallactic disruption of the eternal recurrence.
The Time Traveler, upon arriving in the vapid totality of the Eloi, cannot grapple with the erasure of individuality from the Western perspective, calling this “the hopeless future,” and endlessly fretting about the consequence of the works of man to which he is tied, against an otherwise functioning society. “There’s no past, there’s no future,” explains one of the Eloi, which horrifies the Time Traveler. This is the attitude of the absolute present recognized in the study of hauntology and the out of joint time of postmodernism. Here we sense the gratitude of disengaging from the totality of world time, by considering the idea of individual sovereignty Bataille set out in The Accursed Share, the continuous present, certain evenings when the heart relaxes, to which individuals are either granted or denied access based on the position of labor. Hegel somewhere referred to the “immense privilege of the present,” the general condition of this film’s future. The Time Traveler cannot comprehend the simple present tense, his cognition etched as it is in the consistence of truth that unites the past perfect against the future-perfect continuous. He sets out on collapsing the established order, reigniting the eternal recurrence with the Promethean fire.
There are two more adaptations of the Wells text to film. By the 1978 version, the Cold War tension needs no cover of allegory. The plot springs out of a CCCP “unmanned Russian satellite” that changes course, much to the worry of NORAD observers, as it plunges toward Los Angeles. The failure of the satellite, which carries uranium, is not an explicitly malicious Soviet endeavor, but rather represents the failure of the Soviet infrastructure. The savior, by way of missile dynamics, is a scientist named Neil Perry, who works for a defense contractor, Mega Corporation, and is able to destroy the satellite before it reaches LA. We soon learn Perry has been developing a costly time machine. He explains the science in a brief and dazzling sentence: it “utilizes an electromagnetic forcefield to molecularly reconstruct the space-time continuum,” Perry explains. He is dismissed by his corporate handlers as a “dreamer,” and reassigned to work on an antimatter bomb. When he goes rogue and ventures through time, he finds that his name and work on weapons systems are responsible for the destruction of Western civilization, much to his horror. He returns to find his employers excited not about the future-saving prospects of the evidence supplied by the time machine, but about the competitive edge it provides in weapons development. The idealist refuses, against the vulgar pronouncements of the corporation: “Mega owns everything you come up with. Not to mention you spent 20 million dollars of our hard-earned capital.” The scientist escapes back to the future, embracing the woman he fell in love with there, and apparently coming to terms with the 800,000 years of destructive consequences that his inventions led to.
By the 2002 adaptation of the Wells text, the time machine needs no introduction at all, subsumed as it is in the American imagination. But there are several crucial distinctions that reveal the situation of the trope. In the 1960 and 1978 versions, the film ends with the Time Traveler returning to the future to consecrate the love he encountered there, regardless of his structural complaints. The 2002 version begins with the time traveler, here granted the name Alex, cloistering away to his workshop, after a mugger kills his lover, Emma, over her engagement ring. He reverts to the teleological, wondering if he should blame the maid for picking up the ring, or the jeweler for making it, or the miner for getting the stone, or his friend for introducing him to Emma in the first place. The time machine is then created in order to reshape the poetics of fate and save Emma’s life. However, the singular character of her death remains, there is nothing he can do, she always dies by some twist of the poetics of fate. The delirium of grief racks Alex, grief for the future of which there is no particular control. Suddenly dialectics are deadlocked: He built the time machine to save her, so how could he save her with the time machine? Here, it’s worth quoting Jameson on Sartre, from Marxism and Form:
When Sartre says in Being and Nothingness that the project to love is an ontological failure, this means neither that there is ‘really’ no such thing as love, as a lived experience, nor that love cannot last, but merely that love as such never succeeds in fulfilling the ontological function it sets for itself, namely to bring about some ultimate plentitude, or in other words, to achieve the very end of time itself.
The point is that the time machine of the original text arises out of scientific inquiry; here it arises out of a delusional constructivism—not of love, but of grief. As a consequence, the allegorical examination of a socialist future disappears under the weight of revision. Indeed, when Alex finally does move forward in time toward the Eloi utopia, he stops in a future not so distant from our own. There, we see the pure capitalist realism, in the Jameson/Fisher sense, that the future contains no alternative: the first thing confronting Alex in the near future are advertisements for investment opportunities on the moon; a few more years forward and demolitions for the lunar colonies displaced the moon’s orbit and the moon crashes into the earth. The capitalist realism of the now is much more tangible—the 2002 The Time Machine was scheduled for a December 2001 release, but was held for months on fears that a brief clip of asteroids crashing into Manhattan would inflame the cultural trauma of 9/11. Moving then, finally, 800,000 years forward, Alex eventually discovers that an unseen force controls both castes of the far future (a suspiciously Aryan overlord). It’s in that encounter a veritable tagline of the film is forced upon us: “The two most terrible words are, what if?” and then shortly after, “We all have our time machines, don’t we? Those that take us back—our memories—and those that carry us forward—our dreams.” Thus, the film directs the existential question toward the past and never toward the speculation of a future, lest one be dismissively labeled a dreamer.
It is the early diversions of the 1978 The Time Machine (where the scientist first lands in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, and then in Gold Rush California) we see the development of pastiche in conjunction with the time travel trope. Indeed, H.G. Wells himself becomes a time traveler, in the 1979 film Time After Time. Here, history and confabulation intermingle around a time-bending retelling of the Jack the Ripper saga. So, to return, in the first instance, the time travel trope, after the cultural understanding of the fourth dimension is established, adds intrigue to previously exhausted narrative, stacked on the temporal guise. As a result, movies like Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) or Time Bandits (1981) function entirely to capitalize on pastiche. In both films, the protagonists jump from period to period, as an exposition of film’s novel capability of dislocating the subject in time. For example, Time Bandits stacks a caper/heist trope onto the time travel device. In this way, Hollywood multiplies its productive capability by at least double. Yet Bill and Ted stands out by being quite literally mindless, where the titular characters collect significant figures from the past to compile a high school history report. They are incapable of engaging history without actually placing themselves there, implying a condition of truth that exalts individual Reason. It is the ultimate pastiche film. In the lack of individual style, pastiche—the application of what Jameson calls the styles of modernism as postmodern codes—cultural production becomes the “art language of the simulacrum.” Through Debord’s notion of the spectacle, the image-commodity as the final commodity form, we may only access history through these codes. Historicity as a collection of objective access to the past becomes the simulacra of history, a Rolodex of styles that act as semiotics all their own. Back to the Future (1985) and its third installment (1990) exemplify this: the first film connects the events of the nostalgic 1950s to the present of the ‘80s; yet by the third film the aspect of causality has been functionally abandoned, taking place almost entirely in 1885 and having little connection to the “present.” These films are vehicles exclusively for trope. This is the general condition of the first period, where the idea of personal speculation or rigorous historical interrogation cannot be fully actualized without the means of some portal into an alternate past, formulating the consistence of truth as personally unavailable, outside the conditions of individual experience, neglecting the poetics of fate to the postmodern revisionist arc.
Node 2: The Madness of Time
To that point, as we have shown, by means of the didactic dissolution of time to activate the trope, this certain cultural consciousness of possibility overtakes itself, in the scientific theorization of alternate physics—yet clinging to a hyper-Newtonian perspective. Beginning in the late ‘80s (again, Stephen Hawking’s massively successful A Brief History of Time made common language of time theory in 1988) time travel no longer carries the charm of pastiche, and instead burdens the subject with the Cassandra complex, the agony of foreknowledge and the inability to do anything with it. The most famous of these is, of course, the first two installments in The Terminator franchise. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), enabled by the commercial success of its predecessor, develops a rich universe of probable dystopias, where super-sentient cyborgs travel back in time, to liquidate origins of dissent before reaching critical mass. In T2, Sarah Connor, the mother of the resistance leader John Connor, has since been sectioned in a maximum-security psychiatric ward, due to her unshakeable commitment to her Reason. Yet it is under these conditions of anxiety, tendency, and paranoia that narratives of alternative futures, of ruptures in time, perform best. As the psychiatrist develops the fear of the schizophrenic’s most lucid delusions (the impassable unknown gathered through the impossibility of representation) movies in this mode work on the viewer through not suspension of disbelief, but within the apprehension of belief, a logic of the irrational, the psychic trick of the parallax. An inversion of the Henry James conditional, both psychological/narrative presentations do work on the field of reality, the first in the realism of the lie, the other in the comprehension of the science, bridging Barthes and Žižek, l’effet du réel to l’effet du l'irréel, rationalizing the scientific-metaphysical fictional product. The apprehension felt in the psychiatrist, hearing a paranoid fantasy, is grounded in the same fear that dystopian and time travel narratives work on: the violence is possible, the broken society of tomorrow may occur, and both fears are grounded in not only previous logical memory of other futures, but also the deep-seated feeling of the irrational condition of both schizophrenia and late-capitalist society—and, more so, the nothingness beyond the rupture, the possibility of the unknown violence that may. So, it becomes necessary to dislocate the schizophrenic subject, the fractured consciousness of suspicion and the imagination of possible futures, outside the invisible monopoly of time, to force the contradiction of American omnipotence against the truth of the schizo, by eternal absurdity and simple dismissal of the poetics of fate.
This can be seen as responding to the Gen X suspicion of corporate consumer culture and the breakdown of mental health that goes with it, against the hauntological insistence of capitalist realism millennial children found their lives suspended within. By accident or not, the inflammation of mental illness, depicted against dominant cultural logic, situates the mentally unwell in a position of rational structure, rather than examine the structural causes leading to increasing numbers of subjects “suffering” from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and so on. We are first proposed, “what is madness?” most evidently in the rational/irrational arbitration of totality, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). 20 years later, in the strong form of this period, 12 Monkeys (1995) shows explicitly what madness accomplishes within the time travel trope—or rather, how time travel renders the totality rational against a mental illness that avows alternate fate. Several years before Brian Greene’s book The Elegant Universe made popular science of string theory, 12 Monkeys situates philosophy, literature, and science as one-and-the-same cybernetic ontology, within an on-screen lecture delivered by an aging academic:
Yet among the myriad microwaves, the infrared messages, the gigabytes of ones and zeros, we find words, byte sized now, tying you even in silence, lurking in some vague electricity. But, if we but listen, we hear the solitary voice of that poet telling us: “Yesterday this day's madness did prepare, tomorrow's silence, triumph of despair. Drink! For you know not from whence you came nor why. Drink! For you know not why you go nor where.
Here we see the uncertainty of quantum physics interpolated into the hedonistic; a secular faith in science—especially the science of uncertainty!—eliminates eternity as a category of contemplation, making accessible what should not even be comprehensible or representable. The horizon of belief shrinks to sense data as the trope represses the utility of divergent consciousness. Directed by Terry Gilliam, 12 Monkeys merges the time travel of Gilliam’s Time Bandits with his revered Brazil (1985). That latter film presented the potential failure of the fully bureaucratic state. 12 Monkeys takes it further, making failure a productive, predictable aspect of the state, situating a world-historical level virus and pandemia in a way that legitimates the recent protestation of Giorgio Agamben to national health orders and biopower lockdowns, expanding the lie of American omnipotence into an actual extra-presence of cellular tracking. In the film, the state affects a permanent emergency code, a completely administered Foucauldian world, where all aspects of life are ruled under the auspices of the anti-viral government. The main character, played by Bruce Willis, is allowed out of prison, in an advanced hazmat suit, only to collect biological samples for the potential vaccine. Proven as a willing subject, Willis is then offered, by a group of overseers, the chance for parole, but only if he goes back in time (through a scientific apparatus that is uncertain, “science isn’t an exact science with these clowns,” someone remarks) in an attempt to stop the virus spreading before it has the chance, he is told. We understand the constraint, in pandemia: the will to individual liberty (in the US, consumer sovereignty) overtaking the collective good.
Willis jumps at the chance for parole and is transported back in time. He ends up in a mental hospital, where he meets his foil, played by Brad Pitt. “You’re here because of the system,” Pitt tells Willis conspiratorially. The goal of prison and the mental hospital is the same: to escape. Here, we see the criminality of the schizo, when inflexible to the totality of which he avers the difference. Another inpatient recognizes the claims of Willis and labels it, “a divergent mentality.” This other patient, completely docile and wearing a tuxedo, explains to Willis effectively how to game the system. Mental health is given in terms of a computer, a logic board, sinking purely binary thinking into future discourse of the unwell. Because if the computer is wrong—well, it is never wrong, yet the imprecision of the time travel device and the backgrounded divergent universe refutes that. This further shows the technocratic complicity of the schizo, which Willis cannot totalize, his reality becoming more and more fractured in trying to make sense of his future-memories becoming manifest within the limit of the dyad. Praxis is shown as the rupture of the real, the eternal present as the moment of unity between life, death, love, and paranoia, what Sartre called, “the infinity of unifying surpassings,” displayed in the film with the death of the subject quite literally: security forces gun down Bruce Willis attempting to stop Brad Pitt from boarding an airplane, his younger self watching his older self perish. The rupture occurs at the moment we are forced to confront a future that could not possibly be imagined, the impossible unity of the loop, a time where the reality of the ideological super state corresponds to no existence in the immediate vicinity. The state administers the poetics of fate.
Vulgar Marxist symbolism, initiated from Wells’s more successful work, develops, here financial capitalism as an overt narrative thrust—Brad Pitt shouting, “Buy! Sell! The future could be yours!” as a distraction for Willis’s escape from the institution. Simply watching and recognizing these ham-fisted criticisms is praxis for many, in a controlled opposition, a crude ideology for a certain liberal bourgeoisie whose basic needs have been met outside the affirmation of the cultural product. The overt anti-capitalist rant is a distraction for the larger project of resource depletion. This is the trick of the neoliberal regime, as remarked on by Latour in Down to Earth, who incidentally came out recently on the side of the ecofascists. Indeed, it turns out Brad Pitt leads an eco-terrorist group called the 12 Monkeys, who want to eliminate the human race using the virus that Willis is supposed to be helping prevent. As Pitt boards the airplane, Willis bleeding out near airport security, Pitt sits down next to the head bureaucrat from Willis’s parole board. The film ends without more explanation, leaving the viewer to the task of the postmodern revision, Willis in the past-perfect continuous, the bureaucracy victorious in the combined past-future perfect. The virus itself may or may not be an instrument of totalization and administration. We are meant to know: you will never know how insignificant you actually are.
Except for the mention of Ignaz Semmelweis, a foundational physician in the practice of antiseptics. The film reminds us Semmelweis helped place germs into public consciousness. This makes us contemplate the unseen and the consequence of the unseen, as well the authority of science in the hands of power, when it comes to the development of paranoia, as the evidence for the super-rational (leading us to the laissez-faire necropolitics of US pandemia). Throughout the film, we are told science is uncertain. But it is on the basis of science that all authority of viral administration is granted in certainty, the endless present propagating through secular faith. A similar scene takes place in the 2001 film Donnie Darko, where Joseph Lister comes up in conversation apropos nothing. Lister, too, pioneered germ theory, and Donnie Darko, too, centers on a paranoid schizophrenic who travels in time. The two films differ in the failure or success in contemplation of the unseen, making known the force of speculation, and the certainty of the impassable present.
Donnie Darko focuses on the titular character’s fascination with a forgotten book he discovers, The Philosophy of Time Travel. Set in an ultra-postmodern suburbia called Middlesex, Donnie Darko, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, goes to a Catholic high school. All is uniform: houses, clothing, politics, reproduction of thought. The banality of the backdrop enables the philosophical and psychological aberrations to illuminate the contradictions of totality. Set in 1988, the first lines of the film are “I’m voting for Dukakis,” spoken by Donnie’s sister, and played by Gyllenhaal’s real-life sister Maggie. We see a clip of Bush and Dukakis at the second debate from that year, Bush saying, “there was no evidence at that time,” in regard to the Iran-Contra disgrace that inflamed international drug trafficking against the endless War on Drugs, showing the productive ability of planning to lie about the past, in the future, a bureaucratic impulse of planned resistance and coordinated international tension. A brief insistence by the father, around the dinner table, of Dukakis’s certain negative effect on finances, exacerbates the Oedipal family as the smallest political unit. Two minutes later, students in uniform are shown doing bumps of cocaine in the hallway of their Catholic school, a decal visible in a locker that says, “What would Satan do?”
The film hit theaters on October 26, 2001, making it hard to dismiss the sense of the eerie, in the direct line between the presidency of Bush the senior, and the radiant calamity of 9/11. What’s more, the main plot point of Donnie Darko is a jet engine falling out of the sky, crashing directly into Donnie’s bedroom. On that night, he happens to be in a fugue state, wandering onto a golf course (the ultimate architectonic enemy of the ecofascist) saving him from death. There, he hallucinates a one-eyed person in a rabbit costume, who informs him: “28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds… That is when the world will end.” Donnie asks not, “how?” but, “why?” indicating a desire for actual reason rather than narrative or personal satisfaction. When he returns from his sleepwalk in the morning, he finds his bedroom obliterated, which we come to find out later in the film (much like Jameson’s Gehry room) is an instance of the time machine. The family is told by the FAA, “they don’t know where it came from,” that the serial number on the turbine is burned off. The family is then made to sign confidentiality agreements, to which Donnie responds: “We’re not supposed to tell anyone what nobody knows?” a sentiment echoed by Donald Rumsfeld in the extra-present, with his “known unknowns” speculation, but more so coordinating the anti-l’avenir to which the administration must uphold in the refusal of uncertainty. The eerie expands: the promotional material for the film featured a crashing jet, and, as a result, it was scarcely advertised, the cultural trauma of 9/11 forcing even the Arabic-like text of posters to change, pushing the film itself into cult obscurity. So, Donnie Darko overwhelms in its prescience, film itself as time travel, the ideology of prevention as praxis, forcing us to always remember what is meant to be suppressed (rather than the organized opposition of the liberal elite). A pivotal scene takes place when Donnie and his new girlfriend Gretchen (for whom ultimately Donnie commits philosophical and then interstellar suicide) go to the movies. The marquee shows The Last Temptation of Christ playing, but they opt to see The Evil Dead, dismissing the secular deity for the time-travel zombie flick, the manifest infinite over the symbolic spiritual eternity. Gretchen falls asleep, and Donnie sneaks out, burning down the house of a local motivational speaker with whom Donnie has quarreled, then returning to the theater, with sleep as alibi. When the firefighters sift through the ashes, a cache of child pornography is found in the basement. A devotee of the huckster says, “It must be a conspiracy to frame an innocent man!” the lack of proof being the proof (the known unknown). We see this now in the Q-Anon and Pizza Gate aberrance, but the proposition could also be applied to the information control of both Iran-Contra and the WMD narrative.
I don’t believe the film is meant to analogize any kind of time travel other than productive speculation, the “daylight hallucination” of the paranoid schizo. Revising tense develops in consideration for playing out the “boring” to the consequence of disrupting the socially productive force of love yet accepting the Sartrean eschatological view—existence rather than insistence. “If you can see the future, that is a form of time travel,” Donnie says. We see in the final moments the entire enterprise as a future-perfect continuous contemplation, a true poetics of fate, on the intervention of the psychiatrist at the family’s behest. This is not a lament for the schizophrenic, nor a defense, but an almost exultant reading. It dislocates the artificial pain of Oedipus as eternal production of family, centering the schizo as counter-conduct of a future. Indeed, when Donnie’s psychiatrist falls back on the Oedipal method, Donnie, under hypnosis, reverts to consumer fantasy immediately. The session breaks down, when he says he can build a time machine (specular contemplation) also while reaching into his pants; economies emerge as libidinal, irrational, time contingent, and reconstructed from the family. For the non-schizophrenic, the interiority of productive speculation comes from literature. Slight allusions to Alice in Wonderland and Middlemarch appear; but a plot point revolves around a discussion to remove from the school’s curriculum Graham Greene’s short story “The Destructors,” in which a group of children burn a fortune in cash. “Do you even know who Graham Greene is?” asks one parent at a PTA meeting. “I think we have all seen Bonanza,” replies the same woman who defended the pedophile, who happens to be a teacher. The pastiche of the Western serial (and Catholicism) overwhelms her interrogative capability in her form of historicity. Then we might understand the social contradiction of extolling humanities against the totality that devalues anything against the potential of commodity, following a trend in the late ‘80s of impressing the individual talent of children from within the political unit of the family, a fundamentally fractured reality. Deleuze and Guattari put it plainly: “Oedipus is completely useless, except for tying off the unconscious on both sides.”
The variety of the productive schizophrenic offers a way out, philosophically speaking, from the limited horizon of belief presented by the cultural logic of late capitalism. Even a dismal film like The Butterfly Effect, released in 2004, presented a schizophrenic fracturing of possibility in a comprehensive and understandable way (in that case doing actual on-screen tense revision through the framework of a functionally magical notebook belonging to the main character). Forcing the audience to relitigate trauma—that is to say grasping an accurate consistence of truth—rearranges the conditions of possibility. 9/11 disrupted the subversive potential of the trope, by appropriating Hollywood into a messaging apparatus, doing heavy-handed work in the postmodern revisionist project. What is interesting, then, is not only the overt nationalist messaging, but also how the time travel trope depletes in the late period films.
Node 3: The Failure of Time (The Production of Asynchrony)
The exhaustion of propaganda appears in the baffling The Adjustment Bureau (2011) adapted from Philip K. Dick’s story, “Adjustment Team.” The film offers a weak multidimensional form of The Manchurian Candidate, where an ascendant young politician, played by Matt Damon, realizes that behind the totality of world time moves a network of bureaucrats, endless and eternal, who coordinate the paths of subjects. The time-traveling agents manipulate the lives of the subjects in a “substrate” of doorways that breach space and time. State power owns time itself, the time travelers completely bureaucratized. “We are the people who make things happen according to plan,” one explains, calling the correction an “adjustment,” who succeed by “nudging” people “back on plan.” They are the third, the observer, the outside who “have to monitor the entire world,” who have been called angels, but they call themselves “case officers”—the temporal regime. Damon attempts to break from the deeply and purely archival planning of the bureau, when love intercedes by way of the actress Emily Blunt, who plays a modern dancer and disrupts Damon’s (and the bureau’s) plans for replication; the two kiss, within moments of meeting (there is always the kiss, the consummation, the eruption of desire to desire). An agent must get Damon to spill his coffee, thereby missing a bus where he would otherwise sit next to Blunt. But the agent falls asleep in his exhausted vigilance. The sun, representing the arbitration of time, glints off a building and wakes him up. This agent, assigned to keep Damon on track for the plan, ends up helping unite the couple by allowing access to the bureau, which resembles a university library. As such, this love seeks to achieve the very end of time itself, by way of disrupting the ultimate plan of the god-like “chairman;” if this is an allusion to Mao then it is one made to recuperate the positive language of corporate capitalism and the temporal regime in hierarchical terms.
The archive, following the thoughts of Derrida upon the 1995 consecration of his own papers, is the ultimate figuration of the death drive, a place to replicate technique, to consign exteriority, memories of death, producing as much as produced. What’s at stake is the future, by recognizing finitude, but refuting it immemorially. But more so, we see that control of the present is control of history, and the ultimate level of planning to which an endless regression disrupts the production of a future. Bureaucracy, then, is quite literally insane (by Einstein’s misattributed definition of reproducing conditions and expecting new results) extended everywhere, a class invisible to the overall social consciousness, a contradiction of the dyad by making a virtual third from bipartisan politics; the individual bureaucrat simply cannot exist without the claim to power of the archive and the entirety of the bureau. It was Novalis who said, “writings are the thoughts of the state; archives are its memory,” which freezes possibility by only recalling the insanity of reproduction. The indifference of the bureaucrats, who, in the movie, fall asleep, talk constantly of vacation, mess things up, and ultimately allow the couple to be together, reflects the triviality of the substrate tasks, serving the repressive function by lack of affirmative passion. “Thus,” Debord writes, “the bureaucracy is bound to an ideology which is no longer believed by anyone.” Debord notices, too, the perpetual present of the bureaucracy, where everything happens only as a means of precedent to police (bureaucrats); we can return to Napoleon, here, most famously the David painting The Coronation of Josephine, in which we are forced, by the planning of Napoleon and the kidnap of the Pope, to contemplate a history of pure representation. Debord remarks the Emperor formulated this project as “the ruler directing the energy of memory” which “has found its total concretization in a permanent manipulation of the past, not only of meanings but of facts as well.” No poetics of fate exists. The horizon of belief ends with sense-perception (a similar proposition to the pure pastiche of Bill and Ted).
In the end, the chairman cedes to the insistence of the couple, allowing them to love, an aberration of the archive. Yet the archiving impulse of Hollywood remains strong, in the postmodern revisionist project. In the first cut of the film, the actress Shohreh Aghdashloo played this chairman character, who appeared only in the final scenes; the chairman is largely and easily interpreted as god. Director George Nolfi cut Aghdashloo’s scenes on the precipice of release, as the film’s distributors (sadly, in this bit of divine providence, Universal Studios) insisted a Muslim woman had no place in the role of god. In the end, the chairman simply doesn’t appear on screen. However, a handful of pundits do appear—James Carville, Mary Matalin, Jon Stewart—with no irony playing exactly the roles they play on cable television. By ceding to the inanity of their planned opposition, these media figures illustrate the third level of bureaucracy, as the neoliberal totality. It not only exists, but also makes useful their employment as individual entrepreneurs of the world system. Indeed, when the bureau reveals itself to Damon, the choice is presented that, either he can be with Blunt and she ends up teaching to 6-year-old dancers, or he can be president at the pleasure of the bureau and Blunt will be one of the most celebrated dancers of the contemporary era. The implication of fulfillment in education is not anywhere near that of pure fame, elevating the individual talent over the collective experience. The sense of the eerie moves further in the intertextual, in that Madeleine Albright appears, uncredited, on screen at a point, a revisionist in her own right, appropriating “American Exceptionalism” from the lampoon of Stalin to the ego of the States. In these subtle ways, the neoliberal regime reveals itself; for example, the backdrop of the movie uses commerce as the backdrop of time, in the recognition of the landscapes that are, in New York City, crumbling to advanced financial capitalism (an idiosyncratic restaurant that’s now a multinational bank, and so on). Vulgar allegory as a mode of storytelling, where allegory floods the space of storytelling until it can no longer hold metaphorical content, propels a culture industry increasingly complicit in the violence of synchronization, except on the level of representation politics. The inability to call to task a larger metaphor engages multiculturalism as otherness without the Other (the agent who helps Damon in The Adjustment Bureau, the only bureaucrat with a conscience, is also the only black character in the film) while profiteering on the litigated spectacles of race deemed appropriate, at that time. Here, at the behest of the cultural logic a decade after 9/11, it is the archival eradication of the Muslim woman from divine right.
Overt allegory becomes a mechanism of repression, the advance through history of “making the viewer feel smart” (the obvious vulgar Marxism mentioned above) encouraging a certain controlled subversion, inviting the viewer into a false ladder of ideology, by the refusal to come to terms with the category of totality itself—the eschatological disappears. We see a pattern, in late-period time travel films, where the purpose of the protagonist is not to investigate a different era of history, or investigate possible futures, but to subsume all possible futures to the status quo. Films like About Time (2013), The Lake House (2006), or When We First Met (2018) make it an explicitly personal mission, pitting love against the ability to ruminate on the miniscule, observing the changes made to the past, in order to “do better” with the object of desire, onto the devastation of the future. We are meant to believe that to want better things for ourselves is to meddle in the prosperity of others, revising the future-perfect before arrival. Even Primer, the 2004 “indie” that enthusiasts consider the most mechanically comprehensive time-travel film ever made, makes sad business out of keeping things the same. And even so divorced from the totality of Hollywood, the most imaginative thing for protagonists to do with their time travel is make lucrative stock trades (a detail repeated in the 2000 chrono-noir Frequency) submitting to reification only to ascend within the existing reality.
The viability of such films, the nuance with which “the butterfly effect” applies, would not be possible without a further development in the consciousness toward parallel universes; in other words, the interiorized asynchronous subject. Take for example the Large Hadron Collider, built between 1998 and 2008, which has revealed the Higgs-Boson, otherwise known as The God Particle—the theocracy of science to the pinnacle of the unseen. Ruptures in actual spacetime are the goal of a project called Gravity’s Rainbow, hoping to forge the proof of parallel universes. As a result, the cultural imagination developed recently a strange sociological tic known as The Mandela Effect. In the original instance, individuals swear on their own lives (submit to obliteration) that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. The proof of this is that there is no proof. The proposition is that there have been changes to the consistence of truth, by way of parallel universes, yet the memories of individuals in the original timelines have not been modified. Recently, believers organized conventions to come together and validate their false memories by fabulous pseudo-scientific rationalization. This reveals a reckoning of the asynchronous subject with the incommensurable totality, the insistence and desire to know something else is out there, even if it is a conceptual reality the subject cannot and will never encounter. It is a coherent and Utopian impulse, though static, a paradox understood through incomplete science, applied in the late-period trope to film. In this way, the status quo rationalizes conditions of change as simply one possible parallel of infinite parallels, freezing the poetics of fate to the horizon of belief.
Suddenly a new language of structuralism appears, by forcing the explicitly Oedipal into the time travel trope, unifying the familial-political with the status quo confabulation of the Mandela Effect. In the 2012 film Looper, the protagonist, an underworld hitman played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, at one point may or may not have sex with whom may or may not be his mother and encountering a child, whom also may or may not be his son, and therefore whom may or may not be himself. (The mere hinting of this paradox in Back to the Future, 30 years earlier, produced on-screen revulsion.) In the near future, the state outlaws time travel (the same proposition of bureaucratic ownership of time) and the assassin exists in the past, where the target of the assassination is forced back in time and murdered, thereby fully eliminated from the future-present. “Closing a loop” is jargon for a crime boss sending the elder assassin back in time to kill himself, in the past, a standard practice that leaves the past assassin with a remaining thirty years to live. “Letting your loop run” happens when the past self allows the future self to live in the past, so the elder version exists within the same extensity as the younger self. There would be no more a rational place for dialectical reflection in this contradiction, yet it is truly a worthless endeavor. On screen, “what’s it mean?” one version of the assassin asks the other version of the assassin. “It doesn’t matter,” is the dismissive and true reply.
Only criminals use time travel and only as a means of eradication. The means of payment for the hitman is silver or gold bullion, strapped to the target of the assassin, and which immediately gets changed for a roll of cash (a crude play to capitalist realism). In the case of our assassin, the elder (played by Bruce Willis) comes into the line of sight of the younger to close the loop. The elder version quickly spins around, and the gold bullion payoff, strapped to his back, protects the blunderbuss blast from ripping him apart, letting the loop run, coordinating vulgar Marxism in order to repress the functional productivity of culture against totality, and reproduce the endless present. The ultimate scene confirms this, when a close-up shot shows the assassin stepping over the bullion. Yet it is finally the arrival of the Other, when the subject realizes not only are he both versions, he is the child, of whom he is the father, and he must eradicate in all iterations to submit to totality. And here, finally, when the self becomes the third of the dyad arising from the self, when the Other arises from within, conceptually, materially, consequently, the other manifesting as Self, returning to the self as Other, in a realization that collapses the parallax and dissolves value judgments into a momentary comprehension of fate through violence—finally the trope exhausts, through the conceptual liquidation of the self, by the self. In Derrida’s l’avenir, in the unpredictable absence of a future to come, the unexpected arrival of the Other arrives, revising the infinite present to la futur. The revision of tense needs no further labor, as it is the narrative itself, all poetics stripped from fate.
Here, the technology of thought continually propels the absence of death as equivalent to the absence of life. Subtext disappears. The false absurdity of the proposition, the same made in Predestination (2014) and Synchronicity (2015) sets dialectics at a standstill. The exhaustion of the project never arrives because the submission of the subject to the totality reproduces in endless, infinite, interiorized conjecture of the universal parallel, applicable from the universal to the narrative of submission in the particular, repressing the productive potential of the asynchronous subject. To quote Jameson: “[...] all science is also necessarily ideology at one and the same time, insofar as we cannot but take the position of the individual subject on what vainly attempted to stand beyond the perspectives of individual subjectivity.” In technical, literary, philosophical, and scientific progress we see the advancements and destructions of the new in film forcing specular contemplation into unilocular foresight limited to the future (even within consciousness of Relativity and the divergent universe). To Jameson, “technological invention is at one with artistic construction,” even the technology of thought, here. To be clear, the submission of the individual in these works is not the same as submission to reification, the anti-identity defining that taboo to subvert totality; it is the domination of the forces of production informing the necessary absence of formal characteristics in the work of the new, without amounting to silence (never the silence of the individual obliteration, the loop of complicity) exemplify hauntology as technique. To Adorno, those absences might be considered formal flair (trope and its exhaustion) as the rubric to which we have been provided amounts to a negative proposition, that there are no fully achieved works within this trope—the nearest being Donnie Darko, which potentiated the eschatological through the reality of love: sacrifice as an assent to being that eliminates the self as narrative category. Then, we have a framework to identify the failure of this trope. These failures amount to the history of domination, the scar tissue refuting time itself against eternity, building on the wounds of the novum against the exhausted, corresponding to indices in the totality of world time and the hauntological slow cancellation of the very conception of an alternate future. It will only be the work that affirms its total absence that would be then considered a success. The “death of art” and “the end of history” are not synonymous, but they are not so different, either.
VI. ASYNCHRONY AND CLIMATE CRISES
Again: it is quite conceivable that life belongs to a limited stretch of time; that before the earliest geological ages it did not exist, and that the time may well come when the earth is again a lifeless, burnt-out, or frozen planet. To those of us who are aware of the extremely limited range of physical conditions under which the chemical reactions necessary to life as we know it can take place, it is a foregone conclusion that the lucky accident which permits the continuation of life in any form on this earth, even without restricting life to something like human life, is bound to come to a complete and disastrous end. Yet we may succeed in framing our values so that this temporary accident of living existence, and this much more temporary accident of human existence, may be taken as all-important positive values, notwithstanding their positive character. In a very real sense we are shipwrecked passengers on a doomed planet. Yet even in a shipwreck, human decencies and human values do not necessarily vanish, and we must make the most of them. We shall go down, but let it be in a manner to which we may look forward as worthy of our dignity. —Norbert Wiener, 1954
Former Proctor and Gamble logo. A direct competitor, Amway, circulated rumors of Satanic symbolism in 1989, garnering negative media attention for the chemical corporation.
As Latour argued in Down to Earth, the ultra-wealthy and corporate class have been acting with this crisis in mind for 50 years. Trumpism, Latour points out, is a radical movement built on a denial of climate change, an intensely individualist yet anti-human ideology, “the horizon of people who no longer belong to the realities of an earth that would react to their actions.” I disagree with this statement to the extent it needs to be advanced; the handmaidens of asynchrony know what they’re doing and don’t care. They’ve simply been preparing for a future where climate devastation is inevitable, for a future where the poor don’t exist, where the mega-yacht of history renders all in its wake jetsam. In the corporate class, that means wielding mass wealth to snap up aquifers and oil wells and other natural resources, under the guise of profit now, with the intent of corporate survivalist material control later. In the lobbyist class, that means reinstalling confirmed war criminal Elliott Abrams as envoy to the situation in Venezuela, to retain a stake in oil reserves. That means withdrawing from climate accords, so corporations can act with impunity in regard to production, monopoly, and hoarding resources, with no clear punitive reversal of those actions (or any enforcement mechanism whatsoever) when Biden reinstated the Paris Accord. Even as climate evaluations generate with increasing frequency a point of devastation, the most recent IPCC report signals a “code red” for the generation of greenhouse gasses. We are past a window of action in which we can’t intervene any longer. We’re running out of time before things start to spiral. Some effects of climate change will begin feedback loops that have cascade effects. The traditionally conservative scientific body raised an uncharacteristic call to arms. Unequivocally this is caused by humans. Joe Biden’s administration genuflected to this report but immediately (as in the day after the report’s release) called on OPEC to increase oil production, to meet demands of pre-pandemic output. Shortly after that, plans moved ahead to open massive swaths of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling, despite Biden criticizing Trump for the same. A few short months later, the president fell asleep during the COP26 international climate summit in Glasgow. A load of evidence emerged in late 2021 that the US Navy has been attempting to arbitrarily seize oil tankers in international waters. The level of impunity is galling, and to live under this sovereign is to live without subtext.
It's been argued often oil companies are given a “Social License to Operate '' through a human face. A January 2021 headline from The New York Times read, “’A Slap in the Face’: The Pandemic Disrupts Young Oil Careers.” What happens when this is challenged? In 2011, the== lawyer Steven Donziger won an historically large settlement from Chevron, over a 16-billion-gallon oil spill in the Ecuadoran Amazon rainforest. Such a settlement was unheard of, and it appears Chevron came to resent this win. A court in Ecuador ordered Chevron to pay $9.5 billion in restitution. Over the last decade, Chevron went on its own attack against Donziger. The company charged him with fraud in concocting evidence in the Ecuador case, which has been called the “Amazon Chernobyl.” Chevron won that fraud case based on dubious evidence; following this, Chevron filed another motion in order to have Donziger turn over all his electronic devices. When he refused, a New York federal judge stepped in and appointed a private law firm to prosecute Donziger on a contempt of court charge, relating to his refusal to turn over a private laptop in a post-discovery phase. He then spent 813 days on house arrest in his New York City apartment. The prosecuting firm was Seward and Kissel, which has represented a number of shipping, banks, investment firms, and oil companies over the years—including Chevron. Chevron has still not paid the $9.5 billion. Amnesty International legal experts and a United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights found this detention arbitrary and in direct retaliation for his work on this case. The US Justice Department has not intervened at all. On October 27, 2021, he reported to a six-month jail term, after a series of failed appeals. He had been convicted of a misdemeanor contempt charge and given the maximum sentence of six months. Formerly, the most a lawyer had ever been sentenced to on the same charge was 90 days of home confinement.
Asynchrony attempts to recover the ephemeral reticence of postmodernism by making permanent and automatic the base layer which synchronization coordinates. This was illustrated by the somewhat comical episode of the Ever-Given container ship wedging itself, by an unusually strong wind stream, in the Suez Canal. Never had such a “small” monkeywrench brought such a hulking machine of commerce to a halt, not to mention its situation within the already perilous production circumstances of pandemia. On the other hand, the vulnerability of the global supply chain and the precarity of the Suez Canal provide a rationale to accelerate opening the arctic shipping routes, breaking apart due to climate change. The phrase “pathbreaking” here earns a new sinister undertone, especially given the ecstatic tenor of intelligence agencies or shipping-and-trade magnates amid the commercial prospects of climate change. China’s trade in August 2021 increased by 25 percent, despite a continuing global shipping crisis. Another headline boasts that one of the world’s largest shipping companies earned ten times its annual yield due to shipping cost increases amid the disruptions to global supply chains. Shipping now faces the adaptation of the climate crisis. In one case, a reportedly zero-emissions freighter is coming into prominence. These will be powered by batteries put into the shipping containers, ubiquitous now even as houses—the space of living defined by global commerce.
It was recently reported that “Earth has a pulse,” a rhythm, a time, consisting of heartbeats of some-27.5-million years, in cycles of coordinated geological events. The Norbert Wiener quote above, in the language of an organizational physicist, severs humanity from history while depicting a gradient of eons that includes human life as just one valence of a cosmic struggle to maintain life in general. This forces a contemplation of endings. When speaking on the topic of time, we find ourselves handling the future. Time considers cyclical unilocular or finite ideations. That is the ideology of time, a linearity that disconnects us from the past either by elongation of continuity or sheering of this continuity. Physical time as apart from human time is a relatively new phenomenon, wherein scientific explorations depended on timing devices to measure repetitive corollaries. As it were, the future represents a set of conditions of possibility, certain horizons of belief, that we are meant to hope or envision. As Norbert Elias notes:
Galileo’s innovatory imagination led him to change the function of the ancient timing device by using it systematically as a gauge not for the flux of social but of natural events. In that way a new concept of ‘time,’ that of physical time, began to branch off from the older, relatively more unitary human-centered concept. It was the corollary of a corresponding change in people’s concept of nature. Increasingly, ‘nature’ assumed in people’s eyes the character of an autonomous, mechanical nexus of events which was purposeless, but well ordered: it obeyed ‘laws’.
In line with this sentiment, I believe the burden of proof to anthropogenic climate change no longer rests on this critique. The region of the Persian Gulf is rapidly becoming uninhabitable. In Qatar, I have heard tale of outdoor air conditioning, even after the sun sets. In Dubai, authorities use drones to create rain by seeding clouds, in order to deal with extreme temperatures. I have been told by anecdote, that authorities in Saudi Arabia always “set” the official temperature to 99 degrees, because to force working conditions above that level violates labor laws at the inhumane prospect of hundred-plus degree temperatures. I will not retrace in great detail the massive evidence behind human resource use and the change to earth’s climate. What has been called “the great acceleration” from the advent of the steam age, the use of combustion engines, and the rise of plastic production seems concretized in the popular imaginary, as fires and floods devastate the US, the core of petroleum advocacy. The contradiction arises, wherein human activity is regulated by the rhythm of natural events, while humanity finds itself exceptional to this synchronization—a privileged position of natural asynchrony, the separation of subject from object. Martineau writes: “The steady expansion of human societies within the non-human, the ‘earthly’ sector of the universe […] has led to a mode of discourse which gives the impression that society and nature exist in separate compartments. The divergent development of natural and of social sciences has reinforced this impression.” This observation pits the “natural world” against the “social world” in a way that distinguishes aspects of time as solitary to their field of study and incongruent in aggregate. The settling of humans into agricultural production released a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; some now correspond the Anthropocene to European deforestation, about 1610; the year 1850 corresponds to what Jason Moore calls the Capitalocene, the wave of mature industrialization; yet the possibility of an extended biome for the consideration of any time, past or present, rapidly diminishes, as The Great Acceleration of industrialization devours hope of possibilities outside our immediate purview. Recently, a protest movement called the Extinction Rebellion appeared on the global stage. The symbol of the Extinction Rebellion is an hourglass, a 14th-century clock. What is the difference between an hourglass and a clock with a circular face? The apprehension of an ending.
On February 11, 2019, the man who popularized the term “global warming,” 87-year-old Wallace Smith Broecker, sent, from his wheelchair (strapped with an oxygen tank) a message to the first Planetary Management Symposium on Climate Engineering. Broecker, beamed onto an auditorium-sized screen via video chat, told those assembled at this conference: “If we are going to prevent the planet from warming up another couple of degrees, we are going to have to go to geoengineering.” Broecker added a final warning, that further inaction could result in “many more surprises in the greenhouse” of planet Earth.
Just a week later, a group gathered under the banner of the Niskanen Center, a D.C. think tank that formed as a splinter to the Koch-machine-funded Cato Institute. As the elder blogger and self-described “radical centrist” Andrew Sullivan, a thought influencer of the Web 1.0 era, reported on his webpage, the main conceit of the convention was the long journey to the middle, lauding, as Sullivan wrote, “everything in moderation, including moderation.” You don’t have to dig much deeper into the programming of the day—which showcased panels full of centrist luminaries like Sullivan, David Brooks, and Tony Blair—to find a more apt description of the neoliberal project, where toothless metaphors for rocking boats stand in for any resolutions to the ever-greater disastrous political, economic, and environmental conditions we find ourselves amidst. Sullivan, in his blog post, went on:
What would that kind of revolutionary moderation look like today? That depends on your take on the world we are living in. My own view is that this period is unique in human history because it is the first time our species is on the verge of wiping out most life as it now exists on this planet. It’s the mother of all emergencies. In this context, moderation is radicalism.
In other words: we’re on the brink of collapse, but we’d better not do anything, further appropriating revolutionary language as if to make status quo centrism seem dangerous for its advocates. To place such sentiments as “every living thing faces extinction at our hand,” effectively acknowledging the proposition of the Anthropocene, adjacent “let’s not act too hastily” can be called nothing other than neutered. We’ve seen the results of dragging our feet on environmental reform–it’s the extinction level event that Sullivan seems unconcerned with, and the people best versed in the field insist that immediate, massive action will be the only solution.
Meanwhile, Broecker died that same day, February 18, of congestive heart failure. If one explained this death to a child, they might say he had a broken heart. The poetics of fate are, indeed, heartbreaking.
In 1837, the American Journal of Science began commenting on the temperature change of terrestrial grids. The author, Baron Fourier, wrote that the heat of the Earth came from three sources: solar rays, the common temperature of the planetary space, and “a primitive heat which it had at the time of its first formation of the planets.” The notable absence is the effect of man’s work on the temperature. The study of global warming arose in the 1890s with Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. Chakrabarty says that “self-conscious” discussion about global warming began in the 1980s and 1990s. Yet, an issue of Popular Mechanics from 1912 features a long article with the title, “Remarkable Weather of 1912.” The proposition of the piece is that the increased use of coal and combustion engines had led, already at that point in history, to a sensible temperature change. The author writes: "The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2 billion tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it adds about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries… The mean temperature of every month except November was above the average of that of the 40 years covered by the records of the United States Weather Bureau.”
In an August 3, 1982 letter to the New York Times, one Kent. A. Price warned of a “slow” appeal to the prospect of climate change. “[…] I suggest the response will be to allow carbon dioxide to build up and to adjust only as its effects are felt. This could lead to disaster,” the letter stated, on page A14 of the August 16, Monday edition. Price saw the human race’s adaptive ability as shortsighted, only changing course when an imminent, visible threat has been identified. Today, as the glaciers dissolve like sugar cubes into the ever-temperate global seas, we accept now just how prescient this footnote was, except that we still have done little beyond gaze toward centers of power. What has been the global response? In the United States, it means that Trump—the unabashed id of the 1 percent—withdrew from historic accords, while the Biden administration can claim heroism by simply reentering agreements, articulating, with no substantive change, back to the indefensible status quo.
“Under such conditions,” Price wrote in The Times almost 40 years ago, “a repetition of the legendary sinking of Atlantis is highly probable. Only the date of the event is uncertain.” To be sure, various UN reports and scientific projections now zero in on that date, with not only greater accuracy, but also alarming imminence—the tick of the atomic clock ever regulated by the immanence of science that society somehow manages to ignore, except when convenient for the seat of power. The new doomsday clock is no longer a countdown to Cold War nuclear winter; it’s a countdown to when the last eyeball boils out of the last living human skull—to that moment when the last automobile chokes out one last gaseous puff and the expanses of paved-over nations finally grip the earth in totality, into the nothingness and darkness of pure regret. And yet we frontier into the desert of the unknown—full-time adaptive all-wheel-drive… engaged! So we have no wherewithal to confront endings, on the critical, political, or cultural levels. As Buck wrote in 2019 as well, on the topic of carbon capture and storage, the federal government of Canada continued the management of coal plants, even in the possibility of retrofitting them for carbon capture, “kicking the can and the ‘standard asset’ label down the road until 2024 offers further job security to coal workers.” Meanwhile, that industry is propped up on a high carbon tax, which is itself passed to consumers. How do we draw down this ever-extended procrastination of ending a quite visible destruction? The majority of carbon capture pipelines were put in place in order to facilitate enhanced oil extraction.
Of course, frying to a crisp under a merciless sky, while choking to death on the smog of our species’ own self-demise, would be a fate far too generous for some. I refer to those who clearly intend to wield the reins of profit and power, well into the coming climate crises—the dawn of which we’ve barely seen. The cruelty of a ruling class that operates with such open and obvious guile as those centrist cowards who muse on inaction as the acme baffles the mind; or take the Trump administration, whose mouthpiece literally welcomed the idea of being fried by the sun (by way of the White House basement tanning bed). Because tyranny won at Standing Rock. Because the water crisis in Flint could not be resolved for almost a decade. Because the citizens there awaited the backward philanthropy of corporations like Coca-Cola and Nestlé—because two hours away from Flint, Nestlé pays peanuts to pump millions of gallons of water out of the ground into plastic bottles, in pursuit of profit. Because Nestlé, the world’s largest seller of bottled water, has been doing damage control on this since 2005, when a CEO said the quiet part loud: “[…] That means that as a human being you should have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution. The other view says that water is a foodstuff like any other, and like any other foodstuff it should have a market value,” amounting to a universal neoliberal declaration of human rights. Kamala Harris made a commensurate deceleration in April 2021: “For years and generations, wars have been fought over oil. In a short matter of time, they will be fought over water,” a preview of things to come. In 2020, fountains providing free-flowing drinking water started disappearing from public parks, to be replaced by outsourced, pay-per-fill stations activated by the mobile market device. It is the most basic lesson of economics: supply and demand. By driving the scarcity of an essential good, at least in the philanthropic human rights language of the benevolent West, the profit margin skyrockets, while simultaneously forcing graver incentive (driven by graft and payoff) to continue devaluing one' s labor. Recent popular criticism of the housing crises states that the cruelty of mass homelessness is precisely the point, meant to remind the industrial reserve army to be grateful for the meager wage labor. That strategy has apparently reduced to the access of clean drinking water.
What advantage do the ultra-wealthy now gain by denying climate change and its material solutions in public any longer, beyond the profit of what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism? It’s irrefutable, and therefore counter to self-interest to not immediately pursue agenda that assures the prosperity of one’s lineage, to, at the very least, ensure a future outside of the endless, repetitious present, the symptomatic despair of postmodern apathy and neoliberal privatization so common in the globalized world. But the inaction is precisely the plan. We assume because of the outward-facing denials of our man-made catastrophes, of our invented ecocides, famines, global pandemics, that the inner voices and private conversations of the “climate deniers” (and anti-maskers) must also refute the phenomenon with some modicum of “speaking my truth.”
The reality overwhelms the inner monologue. Therefore, they must simply be liars, performing the optics of moronic climate-change denial or proffering meaningless political mumbo-jumbo, with only their own immediate self-interests in mind. It is the myopia of a survival immutable to a capitalism of the endless present. The only solutions offered at the Niskanen conference were notably market related, as in cap-and-trade and carbon taxes. The best course of action, one panelist argued according to the economist Marshall Steinbaum, was “adaptation.” Unregulated, this leaves capitalism as the guiding principle behind even climate change. “It’s super expensive,” whined Sullivan of solutions offered involving renewable resources, displaying an ignorance of, among other possible futures, the implications of progressive monetary theory in the global scheme.
While evaluations of long-term effects with individual agencies are out of sync, so too are the points of view between the colonial extractors of resources and the populations who abide the source lands. Rob Nixon argues persuasively in his book Slow Violence that our usual conception of violence, and its impact in public affairs, rests on its immediate, time-bound nature. The visual aspect of this “classical” violence (so to speak) serves its opposition well, in that crafting an image, and then a narrative of explanation, both arise naturally, quickly and from centers of power. Possibilities of retribution—the exercise of the forced binary—then emerge from the same dialogue; yet these narratives are frozen in time, effective due to the ever-presence of the instant: a story told through a single act, explained in derivations from that act alone (the attack on the World Trade Center, for example). The exploited become “displaced in place,” and so temporally displaced, by disrupted notions of futurity and inheritance. He argues the “resource rebellions” in recent years, coinciding with the high point of neoliberalism, illustrate differences in temporal views: the short-term outlook of profiteering against the long-term outlook of sustainability and regeneration. He finds no coincidence, then, that the short-term priority emerges from power centers, where technological developments degrade attention spans, just as Crary describes. The “contemporary politics of speed” engenders slow violence by overlaying a machinery of distraction, where the experience of time contracts, while so too does the viable timespan of life on earth. “The great acceleration,” where 75 percent of human-borne carbon emissions appeared in the last 50 years (synchronized to the Price letter in The Times) runs parallel to the acceleration of culture, science, academia, and politics, with the 24/7 spectacular news media situated front and center. Slow violence cannot, by virtue of the mechanisms at work in information distribution, be presented in a way that makes sense to subjects under the speed and onrush of “turbo-capitalism.”
The residual effects of this postcolonial accumulation by dispossession are examples of this slow violence, a violence decoupled by time from its initial causes. Nixon proposes this term to help illustrate, and so understand, the global-level violence meted out on populations in resource-rich lands, out of view from centers of power, impossible to view by the contradiction of time scales. Slow violence applies most effectively to anthropologically accelerated climate change. What he calls the “second scramble for Africa,” the Bhopal chemical plant disaster in India, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, deforestation in Bolivia and Indonesia all exemplify the phrase. What radiates from disproportionate wars are certainly one example of slow violence, and Nixon argues that 9/11 put the visibility of slow violence back by some time, as the easy spectacle of the towers burning reinforced the immediacy of the threat—a confrontation of turbo liberalization with its resistance. I would add it ruptured the relentless synchronization of the East to the West, by revealing to the general population, and stifling the anti-globalization protest movements of the ‘90s, the resistance to the Fukuyama doctrine.
To slow violence, I would also contribute that pandemia sets its visibility back further by legitimating an argument for the sterility of plastics and the necessity of petroleum products to the anxiety of the new, accelerated reality of pandemia. Nixon argues a complex greenwashing effort takes place in reducing the temporal scale, that the relationship between neoliberalism in its interior/exterior relationship and the discrepancies of time’s presentation eliminate the possibilities for a true evaluation. The superrich add to their program the denial of climate change, mutating to a disinformation cloud in the ordinary people below, through perception management. He writes: “How, in other words, can we rethink the standard formulation of neoliberalism as internalizing profits and externalizing risks not just in spatial but in temporal terms as well, so that we recognize the full force with which the externalized risks are outsourced to the unborn?” Crucial to this are sowers of doubt embedded at every level of opinion-generating institutions, such as the elite climate discourse described above, the planned opposition of media, academia, and think tanks. The job of these professional obfuscators, whose livelihoods often stem from the contributions, or out-of-view mergers, of multinational corporations, is to maintain enough public uncertainty as to ensure inaction in policy or business operations at home and abroad—precisely radical centrism. We then confront the question, “is the post in postcolonial the same as in postmodern?” The conclusion we can reach makes the terms almost synonymous, under the conditions of global neoliberal austerity politics: a perpetual present becomes the implicit goal, where nothing changes. The forces who profit from this inaction and their minions of disinformation generators “literally buy time,” Nixon writes. The argument extends to the US education system as well, in that the myth of American exceptionalism renders irrelevant foreign history. This produces a “superpower parochialism,” where the franchising of neoliberal ideology refuses, at any cost, to evaluate the system as a whole. Why should we not consider time’s organization itself a method of the colonial omnibus?
6. To return to Latour, his intersession into the philosophy of science no doubt draws such a conclusion. He would argue, through his book We Have Never Been Modern, the genesis of this split occurs in the debate between Robert Boyle and Thomas Hobbes, each concerned with both political philosophy and science, but their attendant fame in the now-divergent fields would keep the two apart in the procession of modernity, none of which is an illusion, but a performance. Politics reproduces itself in this performance of modernity, from the vantage of constantly defining itself, working on pure exposition. Crucial to the performance of modernity as a privileged condition of existence, is obfuscation of time as the absolute condition in the acceleration and coordination of larger and larger masses of individuals. Latour writes:
The modern passage of time is nothing but a particular form of historicity. Where do we get the idea of time that passes? From the modern Constitution itself. Anthropology is here to remind us: the passage of time can be interpreted in several ways–as a cycle or as decadence, as a fall or as instability, as a return or as a continuous presence. Let us call the interpretation of this passage temporality, in order to distinguish it carefully from time. The moderns have a peculiar propensity for understanding time that passes as if it were really abolishing the past behind it.
Latour admits the “whirlpool of temporal flow” the postmoderns sensed early on pointed to the “post” as a symptom, not a solution, using the medical parlance to preempt the neoliberal condition. This also preempts the “abuse of science” critique by the simple reality of description. Perhaps we can leave aside Latour’s recent apparent alignment with the ecofascists, in response to pandemia, as an epistemic break of his own. But this is precisely the point—it is not the science itself we must be wary of (though certain arguments for profit seeking enterprises in the Green/eco sphere can be examined from that vantage); rather, it is the political ownership of science, in the performance of politics, that must be critiqued at every instance. Certain horizons of belief emerge in the tangle of modernizing the earth in the way of obfuscation for the sake of power, where courses of prospective actions and futures built around infosets of questionable truth value (the truth value being, in fact, irrelevant, as we have described) inform belief. The attackers of the postmoderns (most notably Alan Sokol and Jean Bricmont) fail to reconcile falsity as a strategy of power in their reading of Latour. It is the inverse proposition to the transhumanist movement, in that the refusal of death in that realm, specifically from the elite position against the certainty of data, propagates in the most profane and contemptible way, our culture of living death, where we do not value life, allowing death the privileged object of desire, that which deserves the utmost protection, frenzied for the cure of death, obsessed by antimony of a livable endlessness: the impossible apprehension of eternity. Both the living dead and the dead living, in the words of Latour, are condemned to the void of the past.
Sokol and Bricmont, in their book Fashionable Nonsense, set out to further separate science (and its absolutism) from theory, epistemic relativism, and other aspects of postmodern thought. Moreover, they explicitly disconnect their own work from politics of any stripe. One would be forced, based on this alone, then to side with Latour in his broader assertion of We Have Never Been Modern, that the radiance and separation of academia, such as between Boyle and Hobbes, imbues certain fields of study with more truth value, and therefore more authority, in the realm of policy. Latour’s entire thesis revolves around the idea that specialization, the atomization of the public intellect, allows power in the neoliberal regime to function in interest only of itself, employing the various strands of science, culture, religion, philosophy, and so on only as a convenient foil of corrective assertion back toward the political center. By rutting themselves so deeply in their commitment to their own project, Sokol and Bricmont do a disservice to their argument, and—more concerningly—to the prospect of a greater good. Their argument is for the status quo, one profoundly lacking imagination, self-reflection (particularly in their attacks on Lacan), or the willingness to confront the totality as a whole. It is telling they emphasize criminal investigations as exemplary of running counter to the “epistemic crisis,” recalling the now-constant discussion of police reform in the US, in part due to an explosion of true-crime media that demonstrates many criminal investigations as corrupt, even at the forensic level. The overveiling faith in systems of measurement is the target here. They have confused facts with truth. If this distinction means little to you, I would recommend some self-reflection of your own.
It is telling that Sokol and Bricmont excluded a chapter from the English translation that attempted to correct Henri Bergson’s perceived misunderstanding of Einstein’s Relativity Theory. Why would the Frenchmen assume the issue of time, of simultaneity and duration, of the application of scientific appellation to the realm of human experience, would be of no interest to English readers? The omission of Bergson from many British and US humanities programs (and the difficulty of finding his critique of Einstein in English) only partly answers the question. Moreover, I would say it is because England and the US have an abiding interest in not questioning time as absolute, and that the Relativity Theory, in the tradition of rationalism and Enlightenment values, propagates a system of authority that depends on its unilateral acceptance.
We are due for a new revolution of intuition. Some sciences are not as useful as others yet remain on a privileged foothold in culture and politics for the inheritance of tradition alone—this should signal danger! The refusal of affect from science can no longer be The danger of absolutism in any science—natural, social, or otherwise—lies in discounting the truth of possibility, inflection, or nuance. We can argue for relativism while also arguing for science, the truth of both contributing to radical possibility. Perhaps the middle position here accounts for the resurgence of Marxism in American public discourse and youth radicalism. A systemic study that allows for phenomenology while also focusing on material aspects (and their lack) from everyday experience would understandably attract a generation where many are excluded from social mobility and intellectual pursuit on the basis of a political system that insists realms of expertise remain separate—not to mention concurrent wealth disparity and cybernetworks that eliminate access to power while expanding resources of self-education. The dysfunction of a ruling class becomes quite apparent in, among other things, insistence on the obvious lie of the divergence of church and state in the US. This draws interest to the words of Larry Laudan, who, in a paper titled “Science and Relativism,” dismissively compares postmodern theory to American political campaigns, both pernicious strains of anti-intellectualism. To this I would say: precisely.
Yet Laudan only makes it halfway. What also startles in critiques of social constructivism or cognitive relativism is a refusal of confronting the architects of cybernetics’ combinatory in the truth of those matters with the pure science of dyadic computer logic. The physicist/cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster, specifically, in his description of science, admitted to theorizing solutions to unsolvable problems, constructing instruments to find evidence in support of the missing solution, and continuing down that path incessantly—the timelessness of modern science. The beauty of such a system of science, Foerster said, was that it is truly endless. When asked about reality in this context, he said, “Where do you have that?” At this point, natural science, human science, and social constructivism become the same thing, yet avowedly remain separated for whatever reason in the consciousness of the public sphere. I’m reminded of Judah Krishnamurti’s assertion that we see ourselves in our problems. That is to say: we force systems of understanding on the universe, not to understand the universe, but to rationalize ourselves. The limits of science and technology in bettering humanity, I would argue (in cases such as the God Particle which hopefully gives us final control of time, or the belief in dark matter, a purely religious scientific proposition) are much closer to the everyday, an anthropocentric melding of the natural and the human understanding of use value first and foremost.
It is no coincidence Latour’s proscription is a freedom to temporal organization, in favor of slowing down, turning the arrow of modernity, reconsidering history as fundamental to life, and so on. The glaring omission in these denunciations of temporality, again, are the anthropological, geopolitical, and cultural suggestions toward an alternative. I am suggesting here that disengaging from the absolutism of the totality of world time offers one way out of the mire of 24/7 turbo-capitalism that cloaks slow violence and exalts the splintering expertise of the power elite into disparate coercions toward radical centrism, distracting consciousness from alternate temporalities, which lead to new conceptions of history, futurity, and community. To paraphrase Graeber again, the truth of this world is that we have made it, and there is no reason we could not make it differently. This applies also to time.
VII. TERRORISM AND SYNCHRONIZATION (GENERAL INTEREST EXTREMISM)
Synchronization is more politically charged than mere contemporaneity—it is the forceful reconciliation of divergent temporalities and histories. In other words, synchronization often carries with it a bid for dominance—for the subsumption of alternate histories within a normative one. As those who were subject to the rationalization of factory labor and the standardization of the working day during the nineteenth century industrial revolution knew well, synchronization can be a highly oppressive form of power that may affect all aspects of everyday life. Globalization operates through accelerated modes of synchronization—by, for instance, aligning complex modes of production whereby component parts are produced in one region of the world, assembled in another, and sold elsewhere. – David Joselit, 2020
In his work “What is Enlightenment?” Foucault applicable questions: How do we maintain capability while disengaging from power? How does the construction of knowledge limit us in our subjectivity? In what ways do we submit to power relations, and how do we perceive the morality of our actions in that framework?
Synchronization makes an ideal of measurement, a periodization and tally of repetitive corollaries by which we might organize, coordinate, and plan network concretization. The immensity of the apparatus in place simply to continue this symbolic, contingent, “universal” averaging of rhythm is immense—networks of laboratories observing solar motion, Earth rotation, the decimation of cesium atoms, the swing of precision pendula, all transmitting signals to and from a designated responsible few, for the consolidation of these measurements, an internationally coordinated metronome to average the rhythm of human life. By stretching this network across the globe and consolidating within the breakthroughs of the theory of Relativity (the time of transmission in the coordination of simultaneity) the discrepancies of spacetime are overcome into the instantaneity of the endless present. The machinery of synchronization becomes so vast that a technological overreach emerges, a brittle imperialism of the cybernetic sort where the system of endless watching must also be watched at every node of its coordination, to ensure flows remain liquid and defend interruptions to the rhythm. Although we see a rapid integration of the asynchronous apparatus, a rationale for the universal must be constructed, to ensure the moral monopoly that produces the violence of synchronization. This can be seen in the very language of the state to discredit resistance efforts to the dominant temporality and its methods: asymmetrical warfare, otherwise often called terrorism.
Terrorism is defined publicly by the emotional register of the spectacle and by attempting to hide the violence of the apparatus. It is deemed an illegitimate form of resistance not by its refusal of morals, but a refusal to reconcile a rhythm that does not harmonize with the tempo of resistance, a refusal to synchronize. Asymmetry implies first the domination of the Goliath, the crushing blow of the apparatus. But the asymmetrical can also be the potential toppling of the endlessly expanding monolith, implying the precarity of a system of such mass. When met with a long tail of resistance and attacked from off guard, the asynchronous apparatus cannot be met, even at the smallest level, with resistance of a kind that does not vibrate at the rhythm of its cryptograph. Because of the monolithic rationale of the system managers, resistance efforts against the monopoly of violence, the language of policy expands to exclude it from the morals of the market; for example, women begin driving in Saudi Arabia, to initiate the country’s liberalization by incremental, symbolic degrees and touted as measures of progress by the synchronization of human rights, while maintaining the petrodollar within the global network of systemic debt as long as possible.
Terrorism and synchronization fuse in notions of progress, advancements in weaponry, and the relationship of conditional security with terrorist threats. Consider after the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, surveillance mechanisms, such as CCTV or those enabled by the PATRIOT Act, proliferated to the ubiquity we know today. As these technologies advance to a point of paranoia, we eventually see a violent reaction to such surveillance, taking the form of property destruction, fueled by ideological notions of symbiosis between tech overlords and government might. This is but one example, but one also illustrating a nascent conspiratorial episteme that leads to phenomenon akin to anti-5G cell tower attacks, such as apparently carried out on Christmas Day, 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee.
The deus ex machina, in the most literal translation, does not come; the techno-savior fails us. The technocratic approach reduces dividends on return. Srnicek and Williams write that the Occupy tactics showed “the limits of a propaganda of the deed.” If we consider this moment a failure, from where can we learn new tactics but from a target of common interest? Thus, it may be productive to give mind both to the character of the deed and the content of the ideology behind the deed, separating the moral framework the deed opposes, from the intensity of the deed. Underlying rationales for many attacks arise from an avowed protection of Earth and humanity; so, most often, what are described are attacks on property, rather than people. Yet attacks on individuals associated with research or leadership of advanced technologies are on the rise. Attributing ideology illustrates an apolitical locus—what authorities have called “special interest extremism”—yet an increasingly Right-wing tenor to its practice, current with larger terrorism trends since the 1990s. Often, these threats and attacks, under the banner of halting industrial and technological progress, attempt to reclaim natural humanity and individual sovereignty, or bring attention to this idea through propaganda by deed. Concurrent to that, “accelerationist” ideologies seek to hasten social collapse. Accelerationism arose as a current of anarchism and primitivism; from the Right, neo-Nazi ideologists have taken up hastening social collapse to more quickly bring about their desired race war. Given the clandestine nature of recent attacks on critical infrastructures, especially, often going unsolved or without explanation, deriving an ideology may be difficult or impossible.
This argues the paradigm of terrorism can be seen as a distinctly modern aspect of expanding synchronizations, arising from technological resistance and incompatibility over expanding geopolitical spaces. What becomes more evident from the research is that most terrorist attacks, or ideology fueling terrorist activity, possess an element of synchronic suspicion, if not outright destructive tendency. Therefore, due to the massive overlap between ideologies, when considering synchronization as a target (both in strategic and theoretical goals) extremist actions here can be seen in the paradigm of what I call general interest extremism.
The French anarchist Martial Bourdin attempted to bomb the Greenwich observatory on 15 February 1894. This came amidst the continued attempts of empires to coordinate clocks, in the order of mapmaking, thereby synchronizing time internationally, and selecting the Greenwich Meridian as the origin point. Though Joseph Conrad wrote about this incident in his novel The Secret Agent, he painted it as anti-science instead of anti-imperialist or anti-governance in general. Kaczynski, the Unabomber, arguably the most well-known resistance fighter of synchronization, is said to have read the Conrad novel more than a dozen times. Similarly, in May of 1992, two activists in Santa Cruz, California, disguised themselves as workers for the Rockwell International company and gained entry to a room where the company was preparing several NAVSTAR GPS satellites for the air force. They took an ax to one satellite sixty times, causing $3 million in damage, hoping to disrupt the synchronization efforts of such extraterrestrial nodes of broadcast and warfare. The security of the facility then forced them to surrender at gunpoint. They pleaded guilty in court and called themselves the Harriet Tubman-Sarah Connor Brigade. In May 1913, a bomb exploded in Scotland’s Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. Two notes were left at the scene: “From the beginning of the world, every stage of human progress has been from scaffold to scaffold and from stake to stake; How beggarly appears argument before defiant deed. Votes for women.” The bombing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983 led the Reagan administration to consider public access to the still-nascent GPS systems under construction.
To this point, against the popular conception that religion drives the kind of behavior we might consider terrorist, another remarkable incident of violent public unrest—again, targeting imperial technology of synchronization specifically—united two historically opposed religious groups in colonial India. As early as 1802, the British Raj imposed Greenwich Mean Time across the entire subcontinent. In the 1850s, the imperial power began constructing clock towers in public markets across India, often tearing down older buildings to do so, as a component of synchronizing public habit with British rail systems—the method of transport characterizing the experience of time in the 19th century (the airplane and jet plane define the 20th). By the beginning of the 20th century, these imperial clocks were profligate—at least 200 across the world, by the count of an imperial survey, in 1908, and 100 in India alone—most sounding the Westminster chimes. Before the fall of the Raj, historians report at least one incident, on March 11, 1898, in which Muslim and Hindu actors came together in opposition of colonial rule, shooting up the British-built Crawford Market clocktower in Mumbai (Bombay), targeting this synchronization “as an instrument of wider human alienation,” destroying one of its dials. This was part of a larger wave of native strikes of imperial resistance. It is no less an alliance between two systems of belief—the Muslim and the Hindu, the Christian and the Jewish—wherein calendars can be reconciled by a low algebraic magnitude. The second-power numerology between time systems in which administration of behaviors is reconciled, as described in the Joselit quote above, often fails. In the colonial register around the same period, attempting to impose industrial time on agrarian societies throughout Africa, the whistle of the factory didn’t compel populations to the punctuality that Britain had then attained—without the direct threat of violence, the Africans simply didn’t regard with authority the attempted forced synchronization of labor, wandered in at their own leisure, and left when they felt compelled. If we’re to continue this line of thought with the tenor of Joselit’s book—that is, debt as the defining characteristic of the world after the end of history—perhaps a similar method of protest is appropriate. At what point does the value of the dollar evaporate (the evacuation of the military) to the extent that the simple refusal of a debt has a similar effect? Turning one’s back can be a noble gesture.
Even when anti-tech ideology cannot be parsed explicitly, commentators in more modernized victim states, from the neoconservative position, easily derive such conclusions. After the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, Western media portrayed members of al-Qaeda as underdeveloped and unsophisticated. “Osama Bin Laden in a cave” became a signal trope of political cartoonists, comedians, and nationalists. This meant to indicate the backward thinking of the al-Qaeda leader, thereby dismissing any substantive critique or demands at hand. In fact, a pro-technology political consultant suggested this outright: “Nor should we pay attention to the pretense of their having some legitimate historic grievance over the loss of territory.” This came in a piece describing American techno-industrial progress as one target of the attack: “The Bin Luddites could no more build a 767—much less a World Trade Center, or even a flashlight—than they can feed (never mind, free) the oppressed masses whose interests they claim to advance. But armed with hijacked technologies and apocalyptic grudges, they pose a devastating menace to all civilization.” Here, technology is both the target and stolen weapon of the terrorists. The logic leads to the statement, “information tools alone can save us from the depredations of desperate technophobes,” where technology is also the best defense, by summoning the distributed computing power of “insurance firms, financial institutions, security consultancies, and commercial data firms” to address terrorist threats. Even so, in the organizational approach, terrorism as a technology of communication can be seen as information warfare, by creating an ideational model against a dominant narrative. Then, terrorism can be seen “as a reaction to technology—in this sense [9/11] to the overwhelming military strength of US technology.” In a synchronized gesture of US stability, KMART paid for a US flag to be printed in the New York Times with the instructions: “Remove from newspaper. Place in window. Embrace freedom.”
Anarchism and Kaczynski’s Acolytes
We trade in broad claims, to be sure—and somewhat nominal. Yet when taken in consideration of the wider context of terrorism studies, a pattern does arise. In her pathbreaking study “The Causes of Terrorism,” Martha Crenshaw describes modernity as a precondition for terrorism. Technically advanced travel networks (such as railways, the defining transportation of the 19th century) grant extremists the accelerated movement necessary to transport actors and weapons to more efficient ends. In a similar way, developments in communication technologies allow for clandestine messaging, and mass media offers extremists the platform required for the publicity arm of their campaigns. Urban development projects allowed terrorism to emerge in the 19th century, by providing a landscape of tactical resistance and recruitment. Modern cities provide “a multitude of targets, mobility, communications, anonymity, and audiences,” Crenshaw argues. None of this speaks to advancements in weaponry, particularly in the potency of explosives such as dynamite and plastics. In a survey of technology through terrorism in the US, Ann Larabee describes the invention of dynamite as a democratizing agent of revolutionary groups: “Dynamite represented a power that could be stolen, shifting the balance to the side of the oppressed.” Dynamite became an early signal to late 19th century anarchists that weapons technology made their ultimate political ends possible. A strange dialectic emerges wherein, often, the technologies of modernity become a tool for terrorists to exploit, even in opposition to technology writ large.
Consider the words of an advanced researcher, Gerardo Herrera Corral: “After Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, he became a rich man, because it found use in mining, quarrying, construction, and demolition. But people can also decide to put dynamite in a parcel and address it to somebody with the intention of killing them.” Corral’s is a special stance, as he wrote in response to a package bomb that injured his brother and another researcher at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, where the injured men studied nanotechnology. The group claiming responsibility called itself Individuals Tending to Savagery in communiques that appeared online. ITS claimed responsibility for at least six other bombings of nanotechnology and advanced technical research labs in Mexico, citing the techno-industrial system’s enslavement of humanity. They wrote in a communique: “The ever more rapid acceleration of this technology will lead to the creation of nanocyborgs that can self-replicate automatically without the help of a human.” While all of the bomb attacks were non-fatal, and only four caused injuries, ITS also claimed responsibility for the 2011 fatal shooting of a biotechnology researcher, Ernesto Mendez Salinas. The group’s stated purpose, in an interview, was to “injure or kill scientists and researchers (by the means of whatever violent act) who ensure the techno-industrial system continues its course,” in the name of reclaiming individual sovereignty.
A related group to ITS, the Obsidian Point Circle of Attack, claimed responsibility for a parcel bomb sent to Dr. José Narro Robles, an administration official at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a head of biotech research there. The motive explicitly stated Robles’s alleged propulsion of the techno-industrial system that enslaves humanity. Taking the anarcho-primitivist accelerationist position, the Obsidian group wrote in a communique:
“[…] the physique, character and mentality of the human being is manipulated and dominated now by machines, our deepest and darkest natural instincts are domesticated with their propaganda on television, radio, internet, newspapers, schools, jobs and universities. Progress kills, sickens and makes everything artificial and mechanical. Narro is only one of its most efficient spokespersons, so he was the target.”
An informal international network of anarchists has emerged with similar aims. In 2012, a loosely affiliated group of eco-anarchists, called Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front, shot, non-fatally, an executive at an Italian nuclear engineering firm. The victim, Roberto Adinolfi, served as CEO of Ansaldo Nucleare, a subsidiary of a weapons manufacturing firm, Finmeccanica. As a result, Italian security services provided 550 bodyguards to potential targets working in political, industrial, and scientific fields. Similar to one of Kaczynski’s targets, Adinolfi denied Anthropogenic connections to climate change, and specifically dismissed the nuclear element of the Fukushima disaster. The Olga cell, believed to be an arm of radical environmentalist group Il Silvestre, wrote in a communique to newspapers after the shooting: “Science in centuries past promised us a golden age, but it is pushing us towards self-destruction and total slavery. […] With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world.”
The group did not stop there. In 2010, Italian police intercepted a vehicle en route to an IBM nanotechnology center in Zurich, Switzerland; explosives packed the vehicle. Three were arrested and eventually convicted of an attempted bombing of the nanotech lab. In the car, police also found 31 letters claiming responsibility for the planned attack, meant for media outlets. In 2011, the group sent a letterbomb to Swissnuclear, demanding the release of the three held for the IBM plot. Protesters outside the trial of the three Il Silvestre members demanded also the release of their “spiritual leader” Marco Camenisch, a designated eco-terrorist active during the 1970s. His anti-nuclear and power infrastructure actions eventually led to the killing of a Swiss border guard in 1989, for which he still serves prison time.
While Camenisch appears to have inspired one generation of activists, ITS and Obsidian both cited Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, as inspiration. Kaczynski is arguably the most well-known anti-technology terrorist, and inspires a new generation of those feeling out of sync. “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race” famously begins his manifesto, published in The Washington Post. Between the 1970s and mid ‘90s, Kaczynski mailed or delivered 16 bombs to researchers and executives involved in technological or industrial advancements. He killed three people and wounded 23 more. Among these bombings: two nonlethal parcel bombs to specialists in materials engineering at Northwestern university; American Airlines flight 444, in which the bomb failed to explode; Percy Wood, the president of United Airlines, causing minor injuries; Patrick C. Fischer, a computer science professor at Vanderbilt University, severely injuring his secretary; Diogenes J. Angelakos and John Hauser, a microwave and electromagnetic researcher and aspirational student, respectively, at UC Berkeley; a failed attempt on Boeing headquarters in Washington state; psychology professor Nicklaus Suino; the fatal bombing of Hugh Scrutton, a California computer store owner; geneticist Charles Epstein; computer science researcher David Gelernter, who denies the scientific consensus on Anthropogenic climate change; the fatal bombing of PR executive Thomas Mosser, who, according to Kaczynski, helped Exxon recover from the public relations disaster of the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident; and the fatal bombing of Gilbert Brent Murray, the president of the California Forestry Association.
Kaczynski’s case has been studied elsewhere in great detail. Yet, as noted above, his influence stretches far beyond his victims—and far beyond anarchists. Beyond acts of violence, recently young people of all political persuasion, disillusioned by deteriorating conditions and stagnating unemployment, have taken Kaczynski’s lead less literally, moving into off-the-grid lifestyles. New acolytes approach him from the conservative Right (not just as schadenfreude for his hatred of leftists). Fox News, in 2013, ran a column by Keith Ablow titled “Was the Unabomber correct?” Ablow wrote that he was “precisely correct in many of his ideas.” The journal First Things, home to neoconservative musings, published a 2017 essay by its deputy editor Elliot Milco. In the piece, “Searching for Ted Kaczynski,” Milco writes: “What I found in the text, and in letters written by Kaczynski since his incarceration, was a man with a large number of astute (even prophetic) insights into American political life and culture. Much of his thinking would be at home in the pages of First Things.” Kaczynski’s papers are reportedly among the most requested documents at the University of Michigan. And in February 2021, reports came out that authorities intercepted letters between Kaczynski and young climate activist Greta Thunberg.
The contemporary anti-technological stance (including that of Kaczynski) to the point of violent extremism, often earns the category of “neo-Luddite” from commentators. “Luddite” is an easy shorthand for all and any critics of technology. This obscures the root, minimizing both the historical situation from which the Luddites arose, and the outright dismissal of those wary of technological determinism. It is then worth considering the origins of the phrase “Luddite” and the rebellion of its namesake. Contrary to popular belief, the Luddite movement was not one of rampant anti-technological sentiment. Rather, it arose in protest to a very specific technology, the stocking frame, and its imposition throughout Britain textile factories in the early 1800s. The various Luddite “armies,” as described by an historian of the movement, caused around £100,000 of damage to machines. In 1812, the Parliament passed a law, the “Destruction of Stocking Frames, etc. Act 1812.” The legislation permitted the death penalty or deportation to remote British colonies on the basis of destroying these frames. Indeed, 17 Luddites were executed, and another seven shipped abroad. The first Luddite rebellion, and the strains of domestic terrorism it shares in neologism, can then be seen as a refusal of synchronization internally, an attempt to break the national-industrial synergy that threatened a certain communal craft. The fusion of industrial power and legislation recalls strains of tech-overlord/government synergy. The Luddite movement shows an early instance of an anarcho-primitivist aim, in reducing the industrial division of labor back to previous iterations. The entirely too-specific legislation in response prefigures many overreaching anti-terrorism laws that then become exploits of state violence.
Neo-Luddism took substantial root after World War II, when the threat of nuclear war condensed technology and annihilation into one. Shortly thereafter, the notion of automation caused a panic among Leftist-concerned labor advocates. As cybernetics took root across the world, the paranoia of robot-run societies and full-on technological determinism to the point of human extinction emerged. However, from the Left, counter-culture advocates as far-out as Timothy Leary believed deeply in the potential of digital networks. Recent communiques by French anarchists point to the potential of horizontal organization, now replaced by top-down digital control, as a rationale for their attacks. In recent years, many digital prophets, once convinced of the liberating power of computers, have turned against the rising tide of full digitization. Langdon Winner, a proponent of “slow technology,” wrote of Luddism as an “epistemological technology" itself, in the sense that, “the method of carefully and deliberately dismantling technologies […] is one way of recovering the buried substance upon which our civilization rests. Once unearthed, that substance could again be scrutinized, criticized, and judged.”
Perhaps the most directly connected terrorist group to the Luddite ideology is the French Comite de Liberation et de Detournements d'Ordinateurs (CLODO, an untranslatable French term meaning something like “bum” or “degenerate”) or Committee for the Liquidation of Computers. Police speculated the group developed out of the anarchist French Action Directe cell; but CLODO, in communiques released to media, consisted of more pedestrian occupations. "We are workers in the field of data processing and consequently well placed to know the current and future dangers of data processing and telecommunications. The computer is the favorite tool of the dominant. It is used to exploit, to put on file, to control, and to repress," they wrote. France suffered a handful of Socialist, anarchist, anti-nuclear, and anti-religious attacks throughout the ‘80s, and CLODO claimed at least six credibly, targeting computer companies with arson. In another interview with a French magazine, an anonymous individual claimed members of the group worked in programming and computer tech, contributing to efforts in more clandestine ways, such as placing bugs into computer programs in order to monkeywrench the systems.
The most serious CLODO attack occurred in 1986, against the US-based Sperry Computer Co. in Toulouse. CLODO indicated the attack was in opposition to the invasion of Grenada, and the computer company’s contribution to weapons development (it now exists as a branch of Northrup-Grumman). Here, extremists take aim at the synchronic aspect of imperialism. Likewise, the Canadian faction of Direct Action stole thousands of pounds of dynamite from the Canadian government, which had been stored in mountainous regions for the purpose of excavation. That dynamite was used to bomb a factory in Toronto, Litton Systems; Litton manufactured guidance control for American cruise missiles. This latter bombing injured 10 people, several of them severely, although the Direct Action group had taken measures to warn the factory workers of their intentions to destroy the building. As the US contracted out so much weapons development, under the guise of aerospace or computer industries, targets such as Boeing, IBM, and other companies earned the ire of terrorist organizations on American soil, specifically The Weather Underground. The WO was able to simply buy dynamite like plywood at hardware stores throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Often, the targets of extremist attacks are not keen on the nuances at work. At the 2001 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Richard D. McCormick, then the President of the International Chamber of Congress, remarked that anti-globalization protesters are “modern-day Luddites who want to make the world safe for stagnation.” The growing environmental consciousness of the ‘80s and ‘90s, paired with the immense boom of technology in the same period, renders these movements indistinct to many. Moreover, the increasing synchronization of industry, communication, and deregulation (in the founding of Amazon, for example) forced an overlap in critical stances that made common friends of multiple movements, culminating publicly in the violent and occasionally terroristic 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, Washington. To quote a cultural study of Luddism: “Therein lie key characteristics of 1990s neo-Luddism, features that differentiate it from the Luddism of 1811: passive resistance, consumerism, and an almost paranoid response to technology as a ‘bizarre and frightening’ force.”
In a 2013 column titled “Sympathy for the Luddite,” the economist Paul Krugman called for expanded social safety nets in response to the decline of labor against capital since 2000, a similar situation that the Luddites faced. The Luddites were supposed to learn a new skill against the mechanization of their former trade; but what, then, if their new skill became technologically displaced as well? In the US, the common refrain became “learn to code,” as manufacturing jobs left for cheaper labor abroad. Salient arguments linking Right-wing extremism and resentiment arising from this situation abound, particularly when un/der-employed neo-Nazis search for scapegoats in the form of immigrants “stealing jobs.” This consideration of globalization also represents the evacuation of finance capital from centers of Western power, to a globalized commercial network much derided by “ecowarrior” extremist actors from the left. In the US and other rapidly developed nations, the move away from extracting value from factories, to extracting value from screens (as described by the media theorist Jonathan Beller) demonstrates an aspect of the later conspiratorial episteme that drives much of fantastical anti-tech actions. That is to say, an obsession with social networks driven by algorithmic marketing, propelling these mentalities to further atomized positions of tech paranoia, nationalism, ecofascism, and worse.
In 1995, Kevin Kelly, the Executive Editor of WIRED Magazine, interviewed Kirkpatrick Sale, one of the most cited neo-Luddite activists outside of Kaczynski. Kelly asked him about a public address where Sale smashed a personal computer with a sledgehammer. “Violence is very powerful, isn't it?” Kelly says. “And remarkably satisfying when it is injurious to property, not people.” Sale responds. Elsewhere, he remarks that, though society at large tends towards oppression, certain people make large differences: “But it is possible for individuals to act out, either alone or with colleagues and neighbors, their opposition to certain technologies.” Kelly and Sale then made a $1000 bet on a trifecta that Sale imagined would beset the world by 2020: a global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size. Following up in a 2021 story for WIRED, the writer Steven Levy links the neo-Luddite to Trumpism: “Like the raging denialist in the White House, the cantankerous anarchocommunalist has quit the game after the final score left him short.”
The link between the most esoteric strain of Trumpism—the Q-Anon believers—and the neo-Luddites is actually more direct. This can be seen in the very pseudonym of Q and that of Ned Ludd, the supposed leader of the Luddite revolt. The origin of “Ludd” is unknown; yet, it is certain “General Ludd” became a collective identity behind which an ideology could be conglomerated, and the general grievances of its adopters expressed through group violence—a strawman Spartacus. The collective pseudonym is similar in the case of Q, a moniker for a group or individual to make claims about the conspiracies of the ruling class. The collective pseudonym of the Luddite rebellion was activated in order to reclaim labor time from the forced synchronization of industrial technologies. The main conceit harnessed falsity in order to reclaim reality away from technology. The Q collective pseudonym activated from the full synchronization of advanced industrial communication technologies, fueling a cultural fever dream that, again, harnessed falsity, but to the order of reshaping reality into the very falsity it manufactured; this led, through the coded transmissions of individuals as high as President Trump, to the assault on the US Capitol building. An inversion of the collective pseudonym was used by Kaczynski in his bombs and communications, that of Freedom Club. Here, he attempted to mask his individual bombings as the work of a group.
Accelerationism, Leftism, Ecofascism
More overlapping and intertwining tendencies of groups who theoretically share few common interests emerge—the Right and Left accelerationist perspectives. Accelerationism refers to the idea that hastening the collapse of the techno-industrial system would bring about certain goals. Kaczynski can be described as an anarcho-primitivist accelerationist, in that he advocated for a Thoreau-like return to the woods. He explained this in Industrial Society and its Future, describing his vision of a broken society at the time of his attacks. “The Unabomber Manifesto,” as it came to be called after publication in The Washington Post, opened with a devoted attack on Leftists and Leftism. Why? Beyond preconditions of anarcho-primitive ideology that advocates individual sustenance and reliance, the pro-collective stance of left-leaning ideologues contradicts the claim to individual sovereignty. Leftists decried the ITS bombings mentioned above. In 2017, ITS claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of two hikers, saying simply that, “no human is safe in nature.” ITS also claimed the murder of a UNAM student; Lesvy Rivera was found strangled with a telephone cord. ITS wrote, “Not even in your damned cities will you be safe.” Kaczynski himself eventually condemned ITS for political ignorance and an “attitude of hopelessness.”
Accelerationists and anarcho-primitivists distancing themselves from Left-leaning positions aligns with the outcome of more recent incidents—yet the tendency trends hard to the Right. The terrorist Anders Breivik is known to have copied large portions of Industrial Society and its Future into his own manifesto, replacing “Leftist” with “cultural Marxists.” This also runs current with a trend in Right-leaning extremist actors to identify as “ecofascist,” a term that links environmental devastation with the necessity of nationalism, arguing for genocidal solutions in order to reclaim ecological balance. This reflects the Nazi slogan “blood and soil,” emerging from the writings of Richard Walter Darré, who wanted to reinvigorate the connection between identity, race, and territory. Brenton Tarrant, the killer behind the Christchurch mosque massacre, claimed openly to be an ecofascist in his manifesto. The Trump administration misconstrued this deliberately. Tarrant called Trump a symbol of “white identity;” White House advisor Kellyanne Conway immediately gave him the misnomer “ecoterrorist,” lumping him in with green revolutionaries and distancing him from nationalist undercurrents in Trump immigration policies. Tarrant never referred to himself as an ecoterrorist. But he did livestream his rampage on Facebook. Perhaps no clearer contradiction could be illustrated between the collapse of industrial society and extremist action than a broadcast on the world’s largest social network. In the view of the ecofascists, a failure to synchronize cultures, technologies, and rhythms of nature necessitates a reset of the most genocidal.
In actions such as peace movement protests—flying drones into nuclear silos to illustrate vulnerability or laying down in front of logging trucks—the symbolism of sacrificing one’s own body for the greater ecological cause reflects a warning to the elimination of humanity, rather than the elimination of humanity as a precondition for environmental stasis and accelerating industrial collapse. This is not to mention the qualifier “fascism” arises from a crisis of capitalism. The exploitation of labor and the grotesquerie of capital fuels anti-technological/industrial extremist action from the Left. As the ITS group, once claiming anarchist-revolutionist positions, moved into ecofascism, they drew ire from Leftist and anarchist groups.
In 2010, James Lee took hostages at the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, Maryland, in the hope of ending aspects of the channel’s programming. Lee, who protested the TV network previously, entered the building with two starter pistols and claimed to have explosives strapped to his body. From an extreme sect of environmentalism called anti-natalist, Lee believed the greatest threat to the Earth was human reproduction. “Humans are the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around and are wrecking what's left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture,” he wrote in a manifesto. He previously protested the Discovery network several times, earning a restraining order against the site. His demands included that the channel stop broadcasting "all programs promoting war." He also demanded ending what he referred to as "all immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that," and to find "solutions for global warming, automotive pollution, international trade, factory pollution, and the whole blasted human economy." Police shot and killed Lee, after a four-hour standoff, when he pointed a gun at one of three hostages he held. In many cases arising from the environmental movement of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and as the material conditions of nation states weaken, proponents turn to ecofascist nationalism to rationalize an easing of resource distribution—or rather, the extreme neoconservative position of resource hoarding.
The environmentalist movement gave rise to what became known as the “Green Scare,” in which members were prosecuted under domestic terrorism laws. Between the early ‘90s and about 2010, ELF and ALF, the Environmental and Animal Liberation Fronts, the FBI attributed thousands of bombings and arsons focusing on property to the groups. In the overlapping ideologies of green anarchy, anti-globalization, and so on, the technology of empire cannot be separated from environmental concerns. Yet in these cases, though the argument for synchronization against such technologies as motor vehicles, ski resorts, etc., can be argued, it is not the technology itself that drives the ideology and action, but the technology that furthers the means of corporations destroying ecosystems in the favor of profits. The difference between ELF, ALF, and anti-technologists can be drawn from the distinct aims of dismantling systems of domination: ecological, animal, and human liberation, respectively. So, while the language of Kaczynski and the ELF communiques reflect on one another, the prioritization of the environment over individual sovereignty makes the difference absolute. When targeting animal research facilities, it is not the resulting technology, but the cruelty of the research that drives the attack.
A crossover to consider is action taken against GMOs and labs researching genetic modification. This overlaps with the anti-science stance that leads to attacks on vaccination sites, a refusal of science not from environmentalism, but from the position of ecofascism or conspiratorial episteme. Of pure extortionate terror, in April 2020, an Italian man sent an encrypted, anonymous email to British National Health Service officials at the height of the first Coronavirus wave. Emil Apreda, who a German court convicted of the crime a year later, claimed to be a member of neo-Nazi group Combat 18. He demanded £10 million in bitcoin or would bomb a random hospital. He negotiated with officials for several weeks, making threats on Black Lives Matter demonstrators after the death of George Floyd. “Even if, as we later found out, he didn’t have access to, or the ability to deploy an IED, if that had become public the consequences of people not having confidence in the NHS was frankly unacceptable,” an analyst said. In the Netherlands, a bomb detonated at a Coronavirus testing center; no one was hurt. A month later, in April of 2021, police in the country arrested a man who plotted a bombing of a vaccination site with “terrorist intent.”
As for GMOs, research labs across the United States were bombed or set ablaze throughout the ‘90s. As recently as 2015, two package bombs were sent to members of the Alianza Pro Transgenicos, or Alliance for Transgenics, in Mexico. This group, composed of 45 different member organizations, is involved in the research of GMOs. A group called Por la Anarquia claimed responsibility, writing, “damage will spread to those directly responsible, whether they are organizations, companies, institutions and individuals in particular.” In the same period, the Paraguayan People’s Army took a hostage. Upon release, the hostage delivered the message to the Paraguayan government that, “Whoever is caught cultivating transgenic soybeans and corn will be shot.” Just a month prior, members of the Brazilian labor rights group, Movement of Landless Workers, broke in and destroyed a transgenic seed lab, threatened workers at a GMO eucalyptus nursery, then destroyed the nursery. Less violently, the “California Croppers,” through the late ‘90s, played football repeatedly on fields with planted GMO corn, inspiring dozens, if not hundreds, of acts across the US. In Europe, uprooting efforts took a similarly deep hold. In both cases, the corn grower Novatis was targeted. The opposition went so far as to cause the American Corn Growers’ Association to advise planting unmodified crops the following year. In the case of Monsanto, one of the world’s largest agriculture companies who regularly develop GMO and lethal-level pesticides, critics have labeled the company itself “ecoterrorist.”
Most proponents laud this direct-action method of clandestine intervention, what anarchists, eco-defense actors, and anarcho-primitivists call “monkeywrenching.” The 1975 Edward Abbey book The Monkeywrench Gang made the term famous and synonymous with not only environmental, anti-machine sabotage or ecotage, but any kind of technical screw ups at all. The book inspired the group Earth First! to act, as well as develop a journal; Kaczynski struck up a correspondence with a writer for the group’s journal in the 2000s, leading to the only recorded interview he did on tape to that point. It was in that interview he revealed consideration of teaming with Islamic extremists to accelerate the collapse of the techno-industrial system, showing the central target point in a Venn diagram of terrorist activity: Western progress, technical synchronization, and expansion.
Cyberterrorism, Conspiratorial Episteme, Critical Infrastructure
Interdependent synchronic relationships imply interdependent threats. Communications technologies synchronize production, infrastructure and commerce; the effect of an attack on one system cascades to others. Critical technical infrastructures such as power grids, communications networks, transportation systems, and even water supplies are vulnerable to attacks, and have long been targets. As far back as the 1880s, socialist-anarchist revolutionaries saw urban gas and sewer pipes as points of vulnerability, in which explosives could be placed to disrupt municipal operation and undermine government trust.
About 100 years later, the Canadian Direct Action faction used their pilfered dynamite, mentioned above, to bomb a substation attached to an under-construction transmission line on Vancouver Island, in the hope of reclaiming the ecological sovereignty there. In 2012, anarchists in the UK attacked railway signals, hoping to cause disruption among the Ministry of Defense and related businesses, including Raytheon and QinetiQ. Again, ALF, ELF, and other ecoterrorists are considered responsible for the bulk of attacks on pipelines, electricity transmission systems, and other resource provisioning networks; between 2000 and 2010, almost half of all terrorist incidents in the US were attributed as such. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, ecowarrior attackers targeted telephone lines and radio towers. Recently, a rise in attacks on such infrastructure demonstrates less of an ideological cohesion, and more paranoia of anti-tech/government synergy, leading to conspiratorial episteme unmoored from what could be considered critique of these networks.
With the rise of digital communications, the threat to other infrastructures was overlooked. Since the ‘90s, government resources for protection, in the power sector especially, centered on cyberattacks to prevent hackers from control or internal shut down. This left a blind spot for authorities, who neglected the physical aspects of the infrastructure, such as substations. As these attacks increase, a rethinking of security from the virtual to the physical took place. It was a similar thought process to the “shock of the old” of the September 11 attack, in which the “failure of imagination” was, in fact, assuming the synchronization of terrorist agents with advanced technologies. Wrote one theorist: “Our tragic mistake was not that we pursued the new. It was that we neglected the old. And it is a pattern that could have troubling implications if we do not recognize its applicability to other key parts of our technological culture.”
In February 2021, a hacker gained access to a Florida town’s water supply system. They changed the levels of lye in a treatment plant to a potentially lethal level. A recent report by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names warned that anonymous saboteurs disrupt global web traffic by rerouting server requests through sites that could steal data and monkeywrench commerce. ISIS attempted disruption of US power systems in 2015 through cyber-attacks, apparently unsuccessfully. Outside of explicitly stated terrorist organizations, Russian malware was found on networks at industrial plants throughout the US in the same time period. In 2012 and 2013 Russian hackers successfully accessed public networks. A series of reports later in 2015 revealed that Iranian hackers gained enough network ground to “control the entire operational capability of the US power grid.” A 2016 analysis attributed much more tactical strength to “hacktivists” such as the online group Anonymous: “Anonymous is headed in a more disruptive direction beyond attacking corporations and government websites.” This is of course not to mention the alleged state-sponsored interference of Russia with the 2016 election and DNC email breach, or, for that matter, the US infiltration of the Iranian nuclear program, known as STUXNET. This reveals the distinctions between cyberwar, cyberattack, and cyberterrorism, the latter an erroneously overused term.
For cyberterrorism, consider a hack of the Yahoo news website in 1997. The hacker Kevin Mitnick, who went to jail in 1995 after a two-year manhunt, had recently been convicted on an array of wire, computer, and cellular fraud charges. Two fellow hackers broke into the news website. They posted a message demanding Mitnick’s release, claiming that “Mitnick did what he did out of intellectual curiosity, without compromising the hacker ethic.” The message claimed a logic bomb would destroy the computers of all who visited the website, and that a virus implanted within would cause havoc on Christmas Day, if Mitnick were not released; Yahoo decried this a hoax, and the message was visible for only about 15 minutes, and only then to people with certain web browsers.
In 1995, Jim Bell, a former Intel engineer and an original member of the cypherpunk movement, came up with what may be an example of true, and at least a first instance, of cyberterrorism. He called the idea “Assassination Politics.” Bell worried governments would overstep regulatory powers, banning cryptography and digital cash, in opposition to the liberating potential of the web. While many of the era attempted to forge cyberspace into a reflection of offline life, Bell asked what the reversal would do. He, and similar crypto-anarchists, attempting to flex the anonymous freedom of the internet, suggested a public-facing but cryptographically secured list of potential targets of assassination—all of whom would be overreaching government officials. Then, those with grievances could place bets on the lives of those on the list. He suggested, “if only 0.1% of the population, or one person in a thousand, was willing to pay $1 to see some government slimeball dead, that would be, in effect, a $250,000 bounty on his head.” Bell then leaned on extreme neo/liberal faith in market forces to go to work, driving extremists to kill politicians for a portion of the betting pool. He envisioned an early cryptocurrency to facilitate the transfer of funds. IRS inspector Jeff Gordon, who had a hand in jailing Bell for tax evasion in 1997, compared him to Timothy McVeigh. Gordon found online a version of the “Assassination Politics” list in 1999, which led to the conviction of Carl Johnson, a fellow crypto-anarchist. Bell emerged from prison in the year 2000; the government-dubbed “techno-terrorist” leaned into his libertarian sentiments, saying officials should be concerned for their safety. Of course, blockchain technologies and dark web browsers have emerged in the years since, making such conspiracies feasible.
Bell’s concern for privacy, a libertarian bent related to the market-driven obsession with taxation implied above (he once stink-bombed an IRS office), intersects directly with a larger anti-surveillance faction of extremist actors. When Google debuted its wearable Glass device, several assaults occurred on those wearing the tech in public. Elsewhere, civilian drone operators have been assaulted, of particular note the Connecticut case in which a woman was caught on video by the very drone she feared. These are random acts of violence, to be sure; but their rationale intersects with a growing paranoia of not only privacy advocates, but anarchists.
In 2013, an anarchist group in Germany held a rally against CCTV cameras proliferating throughout Berlin, in opposition to the European Police Conference held there. The rally then spurred a campaign to disrupt these surveillance networks, moving from Berlin, to Finland, to Greece, and then to the US; it now holds global prominence. The movement gained speed under the guise of an online game known as Camover. The game is simple and, again, paradoxical: the player, so to speak, records the destruction of CCTV cameras, and then posts the footage to a webpage. The target is state surveillance specifically, and several participants are quoted as not intending to harm the protective measures of “mom-and-pop” shops. Therefore, ideology running undercurrent to this is largely anarchist, but nebulously libertarian, as revealed by an interview done with Vice. The Camover organizers called themselves "a diverse group of people: Shoplifters eluding capitalism who don’t want to be monitored, passengers who don’t want to be followed step by step, and anarchists fighting everything that wants to control us." The Camover blog has not been updated since 2013. Around that time, a group of anarchists in the Puget Sound area released a statement through the website claiming responsibility for destroying 17 surveillance cameras, in opposition to the imprisonment of activists who refused to cooperate with a grand jury. Greek anarchists in particular seem to be particularly adept at destroying CCTV cameras, using lassos and motor vehicles to pull down pole-mounted cameras as high as 50 feet in the air.
The networks connecting these surveillance systems, the physical infrastructures of internet services, are also vulnerable to attack. In many of these cases, the incidents go unsolved, so attributing an ideological position is difficult or impossible. Yet it is worth discussing if only to describe the vulnerabilities were more coordinated groups, made up of individuals akin to Tarrant, Lee, Kaczynski, Islamic extremists, or some combination of these viewpoints, to stage a larger assault. While cellular or microwave broadcast infrastructures consist of polycentric service points, fiber optic cables hold the potential for single points of failure. Commerce, communications, and travel all rely on such systems.
For example, a bomb threat at a South Carolina Google data center in 2014 caused a panic and evacuation. In February 2015, an anonymous group cut through a cable in northern Arizona. For 15 hours, this halted credit card transactions, study at a nearby university, and disrupted 911 service. At least 14 such “coordinated” attacks occurred throughout California between July 2014 and September 2015, according to the FBI; security analysts suggest this was part of a larger “cyberespionage,” coordinated attack effort on California-headquartered businesses, as much of the sabotage effected Silicon Valley tech giants yet extended out beyond Sacramento. FBI investigators, who act on behalf of the “critical communications infrastructure” of such networks, say perpetrators often dress in disguise of telecom or construction agents, in order to gain unfettered access to sites. In April 2009, a coordinated group severed fiber optic cables at four sites disrupting landline, cellular, and internet service in and around Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties. Because fiber optic cables, referred to repeatedly as “the backbone of the internet” often run along major transportation lines, they are not only easy to find but also consolidated in those areas.
Al-Qaeda planned a 2007 attack on a London data center through which a significant chunk of internet traffic flowed in the country, at that time. Scotland Yard claimed credit for preventing the attack, one which, according to computer files seized in a series of raids, aimed to bring chaos to the UK. The target was the headquarters of Telehouse Europe, which housed dozens of servers. The attackers went through “intense reconnaissance,” intending to blow up the data center from the inside. The Telehouse hub was nicknamed CTU (at the time, after the counterterrorism unit in the television series 24) because it housed infrastructure controls that would coordinate backup power across Britain, in the case of a disruptive terrorist attack elsewhere. This indicates the possibility of a broader planned attack; the seized computer files showed that this bombing was one of many options considered by the cell.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Texas in April 2021, 28-year-old Seth Aaron Pendley attempted to buy plastic explosives from an undercover FBI agent, in an alleged conspiracy to bomb an Amazon data center in Ashburn Virginia. Pendley intended to “kill off about 70 percent of the internet,” a statement he made on a web forum called MyMilitia. The complaint alleges he researched topographical maps and drawn diagrams of the Amazon campus and intended to “piss off the oligarchy.” Amazon had been on high alert for such threats since January, when, after the storming of the Capitol by Right-wing extremists, the company ceased hosting the popular Right-wing app Parler. Indeed, Pendley was present at the January 6 event. "Sounds like war!” one Parler user posted upon news that Parler would no longer be offered in Apple and Google digital stores. "It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS Data Centers—the locations of which are public knowledge."
An NYPD Intelligence Bureau report issued on 20 January 2021 described white supremacists and nationalist extremists particularly as targeting critical infrastructure in the US, “to incite fear, disrupt essential services, and cause economic damage with the United States and abroad.” The report cites a number of recent incidents, including a 14 December 2020 attack on a cell phone tower in Fairview, West Virginia, in which the tower’s main power cable was severed and its backup batteries removed; this disrupted service through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Elsewhere, the report cites a neo-Nazi chat group that discussed these attacks as necessary to the accelerationist ideology that advocates a hastening of social collapse to bring about race war. Three separate DHS intelligence reports arrived on January 5 and 6, citing several incidents of cell phone tower attacks; an anonymous official told the investigative journalism outlet The Intercept it was unusual to see three such reports in the compacted time frame, particularly considering the January 6 insurrection.
The NYPD report cites in length the case of Anthony Quinn Warner. At the end of 2020, at 5:30 a.m. on Christmas morning, 63-year old Warner drove an RV into the downtown Nashville arts district. The vehicle, outfitted with a large speaker system, blared the Petula Clark song “Downtown,” recordings of gunshots (apparently to attract police) as well as warnings to evacuate the area, due to the vehicle being wired with a bomb. The blast killed only Warner and injured few others, while damaging 40 buildings and taking one out completely. The warnings indicated to intelligence analysts that Warner targeted property and buildings, one an AT&T data center, a regional telecom hub. Warner’s father worked for BellSouth, a telecom company acquired later by AT&T. Knocking out power, the bomb disrupted 911 service in the vicinity and knocked out some major services across the Southeast for nearly three days. The issue significantly affected air traffic control capabilities at the Nashville airport, leading to an FAA halt on Christmas Day flights for several hours. Elsewhere in Nashville, businesses were unable to process credit card transactions. The attack led US intelligence agencies to consider copycat attacks on critical infrastructure around quarantine areas, healthcare facilities, government buildings, and other related 5G sites.
Months before Warner detonated his bomb in Nashville, the FBI, DHS, and National Counterterrorism Center issued a joint intelligence bulletin describing an imminent threat of violence directed at telecom networks; the DHS released internally its own assessment earlier in May, warning of potential harassment or violence to telecom workers. Between December 2019 and the report issuance, five cell tower attacks in Memphis alone were reported, in addition to 14 others across Tennessee. In some of these, circuit breakers were sabotaged. In April 2020, arsonists targeted a major cell tower in Portland, Oregon. The DHS specifically, in an earlier memo, issued a warning to telecom workers that extremists may target them. In more than 80 incidents, telecom workers in Britain faced the threat of violence personally while on the job. The joint intelligence bulletin referenced similar incidents in Australia, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, where at least 17 attacks occurred. The brief cited an “anarchist extremist ideology” proliferating online, as part of an “international day of sabotage.” By the end of May 2020, a series of about 70 arsons on cellular towers and communication equipment in Britain were reported; that number more than doubled, to 159, by the end of 2020. In the Netherlands, 16 incidents were reported, as were similar attacks in Ireland, Cyprus, and Belgium.
An extra dimension, particularly in Britain, consisted of conspiracy theories that linked Coronavirus and the installation of 5G networks across the country and the world. Warner himself apparently believed some versions of these claims and thought his bombing was heroic. This theory speculated that the new cellular frequencies broadcast the virus to infect individuals. The link arose because the Chinese technology firm Huawei had been contracted by the British government to add 5G technology to the communication network there, at the same time the Coronavirus began spreading. Conspiracists derived another link by noticing that the Wuhan region of China, where the virus first proliferated, apparently had been one of the initial testing grounds for 5G technology. Again paradoxically, these conspiracy theories are spread using the technology they decry. Amir Khan, a former world-champion British boxer with a large online following, helped spread this notion in a series of YouTube videos uploaded with his cellphone. In the US, celebrities like Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, and the Rapper Wiz Khalifa amplified these theories through their online platforms. An analysis by The New York Times found the disinformation spread to Facebook groups in Switzerland, Uruguay, and Japan.
A National Academy of Sciences panel spelled out the threat to exposed grid substations in a 2007 report, most of which was classified until 2012, saying substations are “the most vulnerable to terrorist attack,” and that if three in any area were knocked out in tandem, an area could suffer huge power loss. A 2013 report from the Electric Power Research Institute stated 2,500 attacks on transmission lines and 500 attacks on substations occurred overseas between 1996 and 2006. In one remarkable 2014 incident, a coordinated attack on transmission lines in Yemen left the entire nation of 25 million without power for days. In a more coordinated 2013 Mexico incident, extremist actors used Molotov cocktails to attack nine power plants, disrupting power for 400,000 homes for 15 hours. The group then set fire to four gas stations. Authorities believed the incident to be the work of cartels asserting control over infrastructure in the area. In 1990, the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment warned that utilities were “vulnerable to saboteurs with explosives or just high-power rifles.” In September 2016, near Kanab, Utah, shots were fired into a substation transformer, knocking out power for surrounding areas for nearly 8 hours and causing $1 million in damage. Because of the multiple shots in the specific target and the damage done, power company officials did not think the attack indiscriminate. In October 2013, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Jason Woodring for a series of attacks on the Arkansas power grid. In these incidents, Woodring downed a multi-state transmission line, bombed a substation, and used a stolen tractor to pull a second transmission line down. Though Woodring pleaded guilty to the attacks in federal court, he never gave a motive. He disrupted power for at least 10,000 homes and caused more than $2 million in damages. A series of 2014 New Jersey incidents also raised alarms, including one case in which a suspect claimed to have a bomb when entering a power station.
The most significant of these recent events occurred in the early hours of April 16, 2013, where both a power substation and internet infrastructure were attacked in tandem. A team of snipers carried out a coordinated attack on a PG&E power substation near San Jose. Nearby, another of the crew entered an underground vault and severed fiber optic cables owned and operated by AT&T, knocking out phone and 911 service in the area, within three miles of the 2009 fiber-optic incident. The shooters fired methodically for nearly 20 minutes into 17 transformers, knocking out the substation, which supplies power to Silicon Valley, completely. The attack caused thousands of gallons of coolant oil to leak and disabled the transformers for four weeks, with $15 million in damage inflicted. About 100 high-powered rifle casings were found in the area, none with fingerprints. Jon Wellinghoff, at the time the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, called it the "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred," raising alarms that a larger-scale, coordinated attack could cripple the US power grid. An analysis by his commission indicated knocking out a relatively small number of substations could throw most of the US into a blackout. The coordination of the attack caused widespread panic among utilities companies and regulatory committees, admitting the vulnerabilities of the power grid to terrorist attack. PG&E later committed $100 million to a new security infrastructure around substations. In 2015, a DHS official indicated at an energy conference an “insider” had carried out the attack. The very same substation suffered another sabotage and pilfering incident in 2014, further showing the vulnerability of these networks, even after enhanced security measures.
“General Interest Extremism”
This attempted a brief survey of extremist attacks against the aegis of synchronization. It also considered terrorism itself a certain technology of warfare, in dialogue with technological progress and attempts by ruling powers to synchronize technology with subalterns. Yet the lack of motive of an attack does not exclude that attack from serving the goals of other terrorist groups. If the primary goals of terrorist organizations involve the destruction of technologies, secondary and tertiary goals gp unremarked upon. The common strategic and ideological target makes strange bedfellows of otherwise disconnected groups. As even the US military edges further into cyberwar and such advancements as drones or other autonomous weapons, the immediate targets of groups as far flung as the Taliban overlap with those as close to home as the Vanguard America. Therefore, as ideologies continue to splinter, thanks in fact to proliferating advanced communications, such attacks will likely increase. Accelerationists hope to hasten the collapse of the techno-industrial system, from overlapping Leftist, neo-Luddite, and anarchist positions. Right-wing and neo-Nazi extremists believe accelerating techno-industrial collapse will more quickly bring about race war, a logic that may lead to ecofascist ideology. This overlaps with environmental terrorism, which sees technology and industrial might as in direct opposition to the sanctity of Earth, also a path to ecofascism and broader anti-natalist positions. Anti-imperialists see technology as a component of warfare. Religious extremists may attack critical infrastructures for strategic reasons. Paranoiacs and conspiracy theorists attack technologies out of constructed narratives.
For this reason, the overlapping interests become what I call “general interest extremism,” rather than the “special interest extremism” designation of authorities. If an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group bombed a server farm somewhere in the US for strategic disruption and weakening critical infrastructure, this serves the goals of accelerationists, neo-Nazis, ecofascists, leftists, neo-Luddites, ecowarriors, paranoiacs, anti-imperialists, anarcho-primitivists, conspiracy theorists, and so on. General interest extremism can then refer to any extremist action that overlaps not in ideology, but in tactical goal. I submit that a terrorism of deconstruction serves the goals of so many disparate groups that it is indeed a perfect model of general interest extremism: against synchronization.
Consider once more the bet Sale made in the ‘90s on conditions of a full revolt: a global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size. While the arbiter of the bet ultimately declared Sale the loser, it was not an easy and steadfast conclusion. While “technology” becomes an easy target of marginalized, economically disenfranchised, and politically frustrated extremist actors of all ideological persuasions, the broader underlying themes are familiar ones: imperial overreach, military blowback, capital evacuation, provisioning of resources in a world of an uncertain future, where technocratic faith within government widens the gulf between security and fear. General interest extremism is not simply a clever catchall. It is also meant to signify how much in the general interest it might actually be to slow the current trajectory of industrial society. It is a bleak riposte, but a realistic one. We know many, if not all, terrorist groups earn the sympathy of at least small sectors of the public. What does it tell us when the interests of so disparate ideological extremist actors earn sympathies from one another as well?
The greatest repetitive corollary: refusal to bring an end to certain systems of reproductions, modes of thought, paradigms of value, methods of exploitation, any order other than materials science only when convenient for the power elite. Even when experiences of place contradict, we are meant to orient ourselves in regard to the maintenance of repetitive corollaries. It is not a fiction, but an abstraction, like so many abstractions we use to organize coexistence. Yet its current denies collective experience, even as it forces individuals into a single, siloed, individuated temporal mass. The Bergsonian ideal of becoming must be embraced as the fundamental reality. This implies the malleability of any economic, religious, scientific, or political system. I am advocating the immanence of change, the full positivity of difference. I suggest, in some sense a Deleuzian proposition of schizophrenia as a strategic method, a rework of philosophical fundamentals, to reclaim a future, and break from the modern/postmodern internalized paralysis that accompanies alienation as affect in this temporal regime.
I offer a countervailing distillation of Enlightenment individualism to a philosophical fundamental: to exist is to conceive of others. Only such a radically non-individualist narrative of existence provides the bedrock of a substantially transgressive temporal movement, to unifying the poetics of fate and eradicate the scaffold surrounding the horizon of belief. It was Rumi who said: “the body is a device to calculate the astronomy of the spirit.” The developments of the hypermodern, the stage beyond postmodernity, allow an appendage in the asynchronous: the heart is the clock of eternity. The only path forward is, paradoxically, to coordinate and disengage a rethinking of synchronization on the fundamental level, the possibility of new histories overlapping with the discontinuous—the true potential of the asynchronous. What is the hostility to breaking continuity? “Live free or die” has morphed to “live free forever.” The increasingly insistent presence and precision of clock time, against the backdrop of frozen historical time postmodern theory contended (concretized evidently only with the passage of the age in the hypermodern/digital arena) intimately enmesh, holding static. This limits horizons of possibility and attitudes toward change. We cannot foresee a new future in large part because the future presented to us becomes immediately disruptive of collectively lived experience, reducing all temporalities to a unilocular perspective without nuance, and all spaces to privatized in time by the asynchronous apparatus. This could be a tool of emancipation or liberation; its obfuscation by nation states and power centers force more insular yet gentle mechanisms of domination to emerge, in order to maintain a temporal hold on globalized polity. Any serious resistance effort therefore must demand a reorganization of time, of a return of time from private interests. Whether this will be done peacefully or with blood is a matter for history.
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