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Re: <nettime> Between Tracking and Formulating
Brian Holmes on Sat, 26 Jul 2008 04:01:24 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Between Tracking and Formulating


Jordan Crandall wrote:

> Increasingly, the tracking apparatus is able to reach far back into the
> past, further back than was humanly possible, through the use of
> regressions.  Regressions are statistical procedures that take raw
> historical data and estimate how various causal factors influence a single
> variable of interest (for example, the quality of wine, or an enemy's
> movement).  A pattern is revealed, derived from the past, and this
> demonstrates a likelihood, a propensity, for what could happen today.
> 
> This pattern might be stabilized, made operational, in a formula.  You
> just plug in the specified attributes into a regression formula, and out
> comes your prediction.  A moving phenomenon -- a stock price, a biological
> function, an enemy, a product or part -- is codified and understood in a
> historical trajectory, in order to extrapolate its subsequent position. 
> This formula is not a fixed thing but something subject to continual
> modification.  New factors can be introduced.  It might be stable at one
> point, unstable the next.  It is  modulated as it is modulating.

The text from which these two paragraphs are excerpted is one of the 
most precise analyses of the control society that you will find 
anywhere. It moves from a tightly focused account of the present state 
of applied probability theory (the paragraphs above) to something 
infinitely fuzzier: the affective simulacrum as the all-purpose 
capturing device, where the predictiveness of probability itself is 
abandoned for a more improvised, yet even more effective way of coaxing 
intention into conformity. The fuzzy affective trap is the virtuoso 
sublimation of the total statistical number crunching that now presents 
itself as the very foundation of man's manipulation of man. This is real 
insight into the present.

Jordan Crandall continues to offer us, for free, the most concise and 
up-to-date summaries of sociotechnical strategies that you will find 
anywhere. This guy is hot. So read his text first, before considering my 
objection.

What I can't stand anymore is a certain form of address. It goes like this:

> Ayres points out in his book Super Crunchers that "Traditionally, the
> right to privacy has been about preserving past and present information. 
> There was no need to worry about keeping future information private… Yet
> data-mining predictions raise just this concern… [It] puts future privacy
> at risk because it can probabilistically predict what we will do."  For
> Ayres, this new world of data-mined predictions "moves us toward a kind of
> statistical predeterminism."
> 
> But we do not only need to understand it in this way, to glimpse the
> generativity of tracking.  Because we willingly step into tracks that are
> layed.

 From this point forth, Jordan explores the many different reasons why 
people say "yes" to what is presented as their own irrepressible desire. 
But there is one massive question: What impels the use of this "we," 
when the time for suspensive irony is over and it is all too clear where 
the willingness to conform is leading? Namely, toward imperial 
aggression for the possession of basic resources that comfort the 
anxious middle classes and empower the obscenely rich. Now, of course I 
understand the strategy, please spare me the lesson: the "we" is much 
more uncomfortable, much more subversive, it addresses you where you are 
unconscious of what you do, it joins your proud egotistic self-mastery 
to the real social flow of which you take part. The "we" is critique 
from which there is no escape: it is the linguistic performance of 
belonging whether you like it or not, the illocutionary truth of our 
participation in the social order.

After two generations of this kind of performance in academia, it also 
verges on total hypocrisy.

What is the difference between Jordan's lecture on track-formulation and 
my text, "Future Map"?  Well, there are two main differences. The first 
is that while covering essentially the same ground -- the transition 
from a disciplinary society and society of security devices -- my text 
is expressed through a set of metaphors that provoke the reader to feel 
the unbearable proximity between the Cold War (which we all profess to 
reject) and the present political economy (which is remarkably similar). 
But wait: Jordan is an artist, and if you want poetics, for the last 
fifteen years he had been producing them in his rich and deeply 
metaphorical body of work. This is not the person to fault for a lack of 
poetics. So let's move on to the second thing, which is very simple: the 
address. Over the last fifteen years, all Jordan's work has sustained 
the same uncomfortable feeling of self-conscious participation in the 
status quo. There is a obvious reason for this choice of address: 
uncomfortableness is professionally OK, outright engagement might really 
hurt your career.

Now let's be clear, I am willing to buy the argument that one must 
survive to work inside the system. But the 90s generation now _is_ the 
system, and there comes a point where the only honest thing to do is to 
use the pluralist system as it was originally intended, namely for the 
exercise of a powerful check on the abuses which other parts of that 
selfsame system produce. It is now time for American critics to put 
their tremendous knowledge into real and strictly pragmatic attempts to 
halt the worst, which includes the degradation of "our" consciousness to 
the status of a prescripted affect. "We" who go along with the fuzzy 
object support the worst, which is not a possible future but an actual 
reality.

Novices in the culture game should not get me wrong. I have worked 
closely and intensely with Jordan many times, because of the tremendous 
knowledge that he has been able to deliver about the psychosocial and 
psychosexual implications of militarized technology. I love this guy, 
for the generosity and courage of the work that he has produced over the 
last fifteen years, to my own immense benefit among others.

Jordan, when people like yourself who have become the establishment stop 
saying "we," then there will be a chance to leave behind the horror and 
decadence of post 9-11 America. Now it is time to exceed the prediction 
and let the fuzzy object fall, in order to set another course for our 
collective existence.

for tomorrow,

Brian


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