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Re: <nettime> unionization and the bots
Alice Yang on Tue, 17 Nov 2015 21:19:36 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> unionization and the bots

     A good read on this topic:


   Reza Negarestani

The Labor of the Inhuman, Part I: Human

   Inhumanism is the extended practical elaboration of humanism; it is
   born out of a diligent commitment to the project of enlightened
   humanism. As a universal wave that erases the self-portrait of man
   drawn in sand, inhumanism is a vector of revision. It relentlessly
   revises what it means to be human by removing its supposed evident
   characteristics and preserving certain invariances. At the same time,
   inhumanism registers itself as a demand for construction, to define
   what it means to be human by treating human as a constructible
   hypothesis, a space of navigation and intervention.^1

   Inhumanism stands in concrete opposition to any paradigm that seeks to
   degrade humanity either in the face of its finitude or against the
   backdrop of the great outdoors. Its labor partly consists in decanting
   the significance of human from any predetermined meaning or particular
   import set by theology--thereby extricating human significance from
   human veneration fabricated as a result of assigning significance to
   varieties of theological jurisdiction (God, ineffable genercity,
   foundationalist axiom, and so forth).^2

   Once the conflated and the honorific meaning of man is replaced by a
   minimalist yet functionally consequential, real content, the humilific
   credo of antihumanism that subsists on a theologically anchored
   conflation between significance and veneration also loses its
   deflationary momentum. Incapable of salvaging its pertinence without
   resorting to a concept of crisis occasioned by theology, and
   unsuccessful in extracting human significance by disentangling the
   pathological conflation between real import and glorification,
   antihumanism is revealed to be in the same theological boat that it is
   so determined to set on fire.

   Failing to single out significance according to the physics that posits
   it rather than the metaphysics that inflates it, antihumanism's only
   solution for overcoming the purported crisis of meaning comes by
   adopting the cultural heterogeneity of false alternatives (the ever
   increasing options of post-, communitarian retreats as so-called
   alternatives to totality, and so forth). Rooted in an originary
   conflation that was never resolved, such alternatives perpetually swing
   between their inflationary and deflationary, enchanting and
   disenchanting bipolar extremes, creating a fog of liberty that
   suffocates any universalist ambition and hinders the methodological
   collaboration required to define and achieve a common task for breaking
   out of the current planetary morass.

   In short, the net surfeit of false alternatives supplied under the
   rubric of liberal freedom causes a terminal deficit of real
   alternatives, establishing for thought and action the axiom that there
   is indeed no alternative. The contention of this essay is that
   universality and collectivism cannot be thought, let alone attained,
   through consensus or dissensus between cultural tropes, but only by
   intercepting and rooting out what gives rise to the economy of false
   choices and by activating and fully elaborating what real human
   significance consists of. For it is, as will be argued, the truth of
   human significance--not in the sense of an original meaning or a
   birthright, but in the sense of a labor that consists of the extended
   elaboration of what it means to be human through a series of upgradable
   special performances--that is rigorously inhuman.

   The force of inhumanism operates as a retroactive deterrence against
   antihumanism by understanding humanity historically--in the broadest
   physico-biological and socioeconomical sense of history--as an
   indispensable runway toward itself.

   But what is humanism? What specific commitment does "being human"
   represent and how does the full practical elaboration of this
   commitment amount to inhumanism? In other words, what is it in human
   that shapes the inhuman once it is developed in terms of its
   entitlements and consequences? In order to answer these questions,
   first we need to define what it means to be human and exactly what
   commitment "being human" endorses. Then we need to analyze the
   structure of this commitment in order to grasp how undertaking such a
   commitment--in the sense of practicing it--entails inhumanism.

   [[Jordan Belson, Samadhi, 1967. Film still. ]]

1. Commitment as Extended and Multimodal Elaboration

   A commitment only makes sense by virtue of its pragmatic content
   (meaning through use) and its demand to adopt an intervening attitude.
   This attitude aims to elaborate the content of a commitment and then
   update that commitment according to the ramifications or collateral
   commitments that are made explicit in the course of elaboration. In
   short, a commitment--be it assertional, inferential, practical, or
   cognitive--can neither be examined nor properly undertaken without the
   process of updating the commitment and unpacking its consequences
   through a full range of multimodal practices. In this sense, humanism
   is a commitment to humanity, but only by virtue of what a commitment
   isand what human is combined together.

   The analysis of the structure and laws of commitment-making and the
   meaning of being human in a pragmatic sense (i.e., not by resorting to
   an inherent conception of meaning hidden in nature or a predetermined
   idea of man) is a necessary initial step before entering the domain of
   making prescriptions (whether social, political, or ethical). What
   needs to be explicated first is what it takes to make a prescription,
   or what one needs to do in order to count as prescribing an obligation
   or a duty, to link duties and revise them. But it must also be
   recognized that a prescription should correspond to a set of
   descriptions which at all times must be synchronized with the system of
   modern knowledge as what yields and modifies descriptions. To put it
   succinctly: description without prescription is the germ of
   resignation, and prescription without description is whim.

   Correspondingly, this is an attempt to understand the organization of
   prescription, or what making a prescription for and by human entails.
   Without such knowledge, prescriptive norms cannot be adequately
   distinguished from descriptive norms (i.e., we cannot have
   prescriptions), nor can proper prescriptions be constructed without
   degenerating into the vacuity of prescriptions devoid of descriptions.

   The description of the content of human is impossible without
   elaborating it in the context of use and practices, while elaboration
   itself is impossible without following minimally prescriptive laws of
   commitment-making, inference, and judgment. Describing human without
   turning to an account of foundational descriptions or an a
   priori access to descriptive resources is already a minimally but
   functionally hegemonic prescriptive project that adheres to oughts of
   specification and elaboration of the meaning of being human through
   features and requirements of its use. "Fraught with oughts" (Wilfrid
   Sellars), humanism cannot be regarded as a claim about human that can
   only be professed once and subsequently turned into a foundation or
   axiom and considered concluded. Inhumanism is a nomenclature for the
   infeasibility of this one-time profession. It is a figure for the
   impossibility of ever putting the matter to rest once and for all.

   To be human is a mark of a distinction between, on the one hand, the
   relation between mindedness and behavior through the intervention of
   discursive intentionality, and on the other hand, the relation between
   sentient intelligence and behavior in the absence of such mediation. It
   is a distinction between sentience as a strongly biological and natural
   category and sapience as a rational (not to be confused with logical)
   subject. The latter is a normative designation which is specified by
   entitlements and the responsibilities they bring about. It is important
   to note that the distinction between sapience and sentience is marked
   by a functional demarcation rather than a structural one. Therefore, it
   is still fully historical and open to naturalization, while at the same
   time being distinguished by its specific functional organization, its
   upgradable set of abilities and responsibilities, its cognitive and
   practical demands. The relation between sentience and sapience can be
   understood as a continuum that is not differentiable everywhere. While
   such a complex continuity might allow the naturalization of normative
   obligations at the level of sapience--their explanation in terms of
   naturalistic causes--it does not permit the extension of certain
   conceptual and descriptive resources specific to sapience (such as the
   particular level of mindedness, responsibilities, and, accordingly,
   normative entitlements) to sentience and beyond.

   The rational demarcation lies in the difference between being capable
   of acknowledging a law and being solely bound by a law, between
   understanding and mere reliable responsiveness to stimuli. It lies in
   the difference between stabilized communication through concepts (as
   made possible by the communal space of language and symbolic forms) and
   chaotically unstable or transient types of response or communication
   (such as complex reactions triggered purely by biological states and
   organic requirements or group calls and alerts among social animals).
   Without such stabilization of communication through concepts and modes
   of inference involved in conception, the cultural evolution as well as
   the conceptual accumulation and refinement required for the evolution
   of knowledge as a shared enterprise would be impossible.^3

   Ultimately, the necessary content as well as the real possibility of
   human rests on the ability of sapience--as functionally distinct from
   sentience--to practice inference and approach non-canonical truth by
   entering the deontic game of giving and asking for reasons. It is a
   game solely in the sense of involving error-tolerant, rule-based
   practices conducted in the absence of a referee, in which
   taking-as-true through thinking (the mark of a believer) and
   making-true through acting (the mark of an agent) are constantly
   contrasted, gauged, and calibrated. It is a dynamic feedback loop in
   which the expansion of one frontier provides the other with new
   alternatives and opportunities for diversifying its space and pushing
   back its boundaries according to its own specifications.


2. A Discursive and Constructible "We"

   What combines both the ability to infer and the ability to approach
   truth (i.e., truth in the sense of making sense oftaking-as-true and
   making-true, separately and in conjunction with one another) is the
   capacity to engage discursive practices in the way that pragmatism
   describes it: as the ability to (1) deploy a vocabulary, (2) use a
   vocabulary to specify a set of abilities or practices, (3) elaborate
   one set of abilities-or-practices in terms of another set of
   abilities-or-practices, and (4) use one vocabulary to characterize

   Discursive practices constitute the game of giving and asking for
   reasons and outlining the space of reason as a landscape of navigation
   rather than as a priori access to explicit norms. The capacity to
   engage discursive practices is what functionally distinguishes sapience
   from sentience. Without such a capacity, human is only a biological
   fact that does not by itself yield any propositional contentfulness of
   the kind that demands a special form of conduct and value attribution
   and appraisal. Without this key aspect, speaking about the history of
   human risks reducing the social construction to a biological
   supervenience while depriving history of its possibilities for
   intervention and reorientation.

   In other words, deprived of the capacity to enter the space of reason
   through discursive practices, being human is barred from meaning
   anything in the sense of practice in relation to content. Action is
   reduced to meaning "just do something," collectivity can never be
   methodological or expressed in terms of a synthesis of different
   abilities to envision and achieve a common task, and making commitment
   through linking action and understanding is untenable. We might just as
   well replace human with whatever we wish so as to construct a
   stuff-oriented philosophy and a nonhuman ethics where "to be a thing"
   simply warrants being good to each other, or to vegetables for that

   Once discursive practices that map out the space of reason are
   underplayed or dispensed with, everything lapses either toward the
   individual or toward a noumenal alterity where a contentless plurality
   without any demand or duty can be effortlessly maintained. Discursive
   practices as rooted in language-use and tool-use generate a
   de-privatized but nonetheless stabilizing and contextualizing space
   through which true collectivizing processes are shaped. It is the space
   of reason that harbors the functional kernel of a genuine collectivity,
   a collaborative project of practical freedom referred to as "we" whose
   boundaries are not only negotiable but also constructible and

   One should be reminded that "we" is a mode of being, and a mode of
   being is not an ontological given or a domain exclusive to a set of
   fundamental categories or fixed descriptions. Instead, it is a conduct,
   a special performance that takes shape as it is made visible to others.
   Precluding this explicit and discursively mobilizable "we," the content
   of "being human" never translates to "commitment to human or to
   humanity." By undergirding "we," discursive practices organize
   commitments as ramifying trajectories between communal saying and
   doing, and they enact a space where the self-construction or extensive
   practical elaboration of humanity is a collaborative project.

   Making a commitment to something means vacillating between doing
   something in order to count as saying it, and saying something specific
   in order to express and characterize that doing.

   It is the movement back and forth, the feedback loop, between the two
   fields of claims and actions that defines sapience as distinguished
   from sentience. To make a commitment means "what else," "what other
   commitments" it brings forth and how such consequent commitments demand
   new modes of action and understanding, new abilities and special
   performances that cannot be simply substituted with old abilities
   because they are dictated by revised or more complex sets of demands
   and entitlements. Without ramifying the "what else" of a commitment by
   practically elaborating it, without navigating what Robert Brandom
   calls the rational system of commitments,^5 a commitment has neither
   sufficient content nor a real possibility of assessment or development.
   It is as good as an empty utterance--that is, an utterance devoid of
   content or significance even though it earnestly aspires to be

   [[Brassaï, Untitled from the Series II "La mort," 1930. Gelatin silver
   print. Collection MACBA, Barcelona.]]

3. Intervention as Construction and Revision

   Now we can turn the argument regarding the exigencies of making a
   commitment into an argument about the exigencies of being a human,
   insofar as humanism is a system of practical and cognitive commitments
   to the concept of humanity. The argument goes as follows: In order to
   commit to humanity, the content of humanity must be scrutinized. To
   scrutinize this content, its implicit commitments must be elaborated.
   But this task is impossible unless we take humanity-as-a-commitment to
   its ultimate conclusion--by asking what else being a human entails, by
   unfolding the other commitments and ramifications it brings about.

   But since the content of humanity is distinguished by its capacity to
   engage rational norms rather than natural laws (ought instead of is),
   the concept of entailment for humanity-as-a-commitment is
   non-monotonic. That is to say, entailment no longer expresses a cause
   and its differential effect, as in physical natural laws or a deductive
   logical consequence. Instead, it expresses enablement and abductive
   non-monotonicity in the sense of a manipulable, experimental, and
   synthetic form of inference whose consequences are not simply dictated
   by premises or initial conditions.^6 Since non-monotonicity is an
   aspect of practice and complex heuristics, defining the human through
   practical elaboration means that the product of elaboration does not
   correspond with what the human anticipates or with the image it has of
   itself. In other words, the result of an abductive inference that
   synthetically manipulates parameters--the result of practice as a
   non-monotonic procedure--will be radically revisionary to our
   assumptions and expectations about what "we" is and what it entails.

   The non-monotonic and abductive characteristics of robust social
   practices that form and undergird the space of reason turn reasoning
   and the intervening attitude that it promotes into ongoing processes.
   Indeed, reason as rooted in social practices is not necessarily
   directed toward a conclusion, nor is it aimed at establishing
   agreements through the kind of substantive and quasi-instrumentalist
   account of reason proposed by Jürgen Habermas.^7 Reason's main
   objective is to maintain and enhance itself. And it is the
   self-actualization of reason that coincides with the truth of the

   The unpacking of the content of commitment to humanity, the examination
   of what else humanity entitles us to, is impossible without developing
   a certain intervening attitude that simultaneously involves the
   assessment (or consumption) and the construction (or production) of
   norms. Only this intervening attitude toward the concept of humanity is
   able to extract and unpack the implicit commitments of being a human.
   And it is this intervening attitude that counts as an enabling vector,
   making possible certain abilities otherwise hidden or deemed

   It is through the consumption and production of norms that the content
   of a commitment to humanity can be grasped, in the sense of both
   assessment and making explicit the implicit commitments that it
   entitles us to. Accordingly, to understand the commitment to humanity
   and to make such a commitment, it is imperative to assume a
   constructive and revisionary stance with regard to human. This is the
   intervening attitude mentioned earlier.

   Revising and constructing human is the very definition of committing to
   humanity. Lacking this perpetual revision and construction, the
   commitment part of committing to humanity does not make sense at all.
   But also insofar as humanity cannot be defined without locating it in
   the space of reasons (the sapience argument), committing to humanity is
   tantamount to complying with the revisionary vector of reason and
   constructing humanity according to an autonomous account of reason.

   Humanity is not simply a given fact that is behind us. It is a
   commitment in which the reassessing and constructive strains inherent
   to making a commitment and complying with reason intertwine. In a
   nutshell, to be human is a struggle. The aim of this struggle is to
   respond to the demands of constructing and revising human through the
   space of reasons.

   This struggle is characterized as developing a certain conduct or
   error-tolerant deportment according to the functional autonomy of
   reason--an intervening attitude whose aim is to unlock new abilities of
   saying and doing. In other words, it is to open up new frontiers of
   action and understanding through various modes of construction and
   practices (social, technological, and so forth).

   [[Jordan Belson, Samadhi, 1967. Film still.]]

4. Kitsch Marxism

   If committing to being human is a struggle to construct and revise,
   today's humanism is for the most part a hollow enterprise that neither
   does what it says nor says what it does. Sociopolitical philosophies
   seeking to safeguard the dignity of humanity against the onslaught of
   politico-economic leviathans end up joining them from the other side.

   By virtue of its refusal to recognize the autonomy of reason and to
   systematically invest in an intervening--that is, revisionary and
   constructive--attitude toward human and toward norms implicit in social
   practices, contemporary Marxism largely fails to produce norms of
   action and understanding. In effect, it subtracts itself from the
   future of humanity.

   Only through the construction of what it means to be human can norms of
   committing to humanity be produced. Only by revising existing norms
   through norms that have been produced is it possible to assess norms
   and above all evaluate what it means to be human. Again, these norms
   should be distinguished from social conventions. Nor should these norms
   be confused with natural laws (they are not laws, they are conceptions
   of laws, hence they are error-tolerant and open to revision). The
   production or construction of norms prompts the consumption or
   assessment of norms, which in turn leads to a demand for the production
   of newer abilities and more complex normative attitudes.

   One cannot assess norms without producing them. The same can be said
   about assessing the situation of humanity, the status of the commitment
   to be human: humanity cannot be assessed in any context or situation
   unless an intervening, constructive attitude toward it is developed.
   But to develop this constructive attitude toward human means to
   emphatically revise what it means to be human.

   A dedication to a project of militant negativity and an abandonment of
   the ambition to develop an intervening and constructive attitude toward
   human through various social and technological practices is now the
   hallmark of kitsch Marxism. While kitsch Marxism should not be inflated
   to the whole of Marxism, especially since class struggle as a central
   tenet of Marxism is an indispensable historical project, at this point
   the claim of being a Marxist is too generic. It is like saying, "I am
   an animal." It does not serve any theoretical or practical purpose.

   The assessment of any Marxist agenda should be done by way of
   determining whether it has the power to elaborate its commitments,
   whether it understands the underlying mechanisms involved in making a
   commitment, and above all, whether it possesses a program for globally
   updating its commitments. Once practical negativity is valorized and
   the intervening attitude or the constructive deportment is dismissed,
   the assessment of humanity and its situations becomes fundamentally
   problematic on the following levels.

   Without the constructive vector, the project of evaluation--the
   critique--is transformed into a merely consumptive attitude toward
   norms. Consumption of norms without producing any is the concrete
   reality of today's Marxist critical theory. For every claim, there
   exists a prepackaged set of "critical reflexes."^8 One makes a claim
   in favor of the force of better reason. The kitsch Marxist says, who
   decides? One says, construction through structural and functional
   hierarchies. The kitsch Marxist responds, control. One says, normative
   control. The kitsch Marxist reminds us of authoritarianism. We say
   "us." The kitsch Marxist recites, who is "us"? The impulsive
   responsiveness of kitsch Marxism cannot even be identified as a cynical
   attitude because it lacks the rigor of cynicism. It is a mechanized
   knee-jerk reactionism that is the genuine expression of norm
   consumerism without the concrete commitment to producing any norms.
   Norm consumerism is another name for cognitive servitude and noetic

   The response of kitsch Marxism to humanity is also problematic on the
   level of revision. Ceasing to produce norms by refusing to undertake a
   constructive attitude toward human in the sense of a deportment
   governed by the functional autonomy of reason means ceasing to revise
   what it means to be human. Why? Because norms are assessed and revised
   by newer norms that are produced through various modes of construction,
   complex social practices, and the unlocking of new abilities for going
   back and forth between saying and doing. Since being human is
   distinguished by its capacity to enter the game of giving and asking
   for reasons, the construction of human ought to be in the direction of
   further singling out the space of reason through which human
   differentiates itself from nonhuman, sapience from sentience.

   By transforming the ethos of construction according to the demands of
   reason into the pathos of negativity, kitsch Marxism not only puts an
   end to the project of revision. It also banks on a concept of humanity
   outside of the space of reason--even though reason's revisionary force
   is the only authorized force for renegotiating and defining humanity.
   Once revision is brought to an end, understanding humanity and acting
   upon its situations has no significance, since what is deemed to be
   human no longer enjoys any pertinence.^9 Similarly, once the image
   of humanity is sought outside of reason, it is only a matter of time
   before the deontological distinction between sapience and sentience
   collapses and telltale signs of irrationalism--frivolity, narcissism,
   superstition, speculative enthusiasm, social atavism, and ultimately,
   tyranny--heave forth.

   Therefore, the first question one needs to ask a humanist or a Marxist
   is: Are your commitments up to date? If yes, then they must be
   subjected to a deontic trial--either a version of Robert Brandom's
   deontic scorekeeping or Jean-Yves Girard's deontic ordeal, where
   commitments can be reviewed on the basis of their connectivity, evasion
   of vicious circles and internal contradictions, and recusal instead of

   If commitment to humanity is identified by active revision and
   construction, ceasing to revise and refusing to construct characterize
   a form of irrationalism that is determined to cancel out what it means
   to be human. It is in this sense that kitsch Marxism is not just a
   theoretical incompetency. It is also--from both a historical and
   cognitive standpoint--an impulse to regress from sapience back to

   To this extent, it is not an exaggeration to say that within every
   kitsch Marxist agenda lies dormant the germ of hostility to humanity
   and the humanist project. Practical negativity refuses to be a
   resignation, but it also refuses to contribute to the system and
   develop a systematic attitude toward the affirmative stance "implicit"
   in the construction of the system.

   Humanism is distinguished by the implicitly affirmative attitude of
   construction. Insofar as the kitsch Marxism resignation implies an
   abandonment of the project of humanism and a collapse into regressive
   passivity, we can say that kitsch Marxism's refusal to both resign and
   to construct is tantamount to a position that is neither passive nor
   humanist. Indeed, this "neither/nor" approach signifies nothing but a
   project of active antihumanism that kitsch Marxism is in reality
   committed to--despite its pretensions to a commitment to human. It is
   in the wake of this antihumanism or hostility toward ramifications of
   committing to human that the identification of kitsch Marxist agendas
   with humanism appears at best as a farce, and at worst as a critical
   Ponzi scheme for devoted humanists.

   In its mission to link the commitment to humanism to complex abilities
   and commitments, inhumanism appears as a force that stands against both
   the apathy of resignation and the active antihumanism implicit in
   practical negativity as the fashionable stance of kitsch Marxism today.
   Inhumanism, as will be argued in the next installment of this essay, is
   both the extended elaboration of the ramifications of making a
   commitment to humanity, and the practical elaboration of the content of
   human as provided by reason and the sapient's capacity to functionally
   distinguish itself and engage in discursive social practices.


   1. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn1
   2. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn2
   3. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn3
   4. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn4
   5. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn5
   6. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn6
   7. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn7
   8. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn8
   9. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-labor-of-the-inhuman-part-i-human/#_ftn9

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