"Inherited will... the destiny of the ages and the dreams of the people... These are the things that cannot be stopped. As long as people continue to persue the meaning of freedom, these things will never cease to be!" - Communist Revolutionary Leader Monkey D. Dragon
Ok the last thread was kinda dead by the time I posted this (~40 views in the last 24 hours), so I hope this new thread can rekindle discussion on a most excellent topic...
Sorry again for the late response, it took me quite a few train rides to finish this. Turns out that all I really feel like doing when I come home from work is playing video games and drinking bourbon, haha. But this was a lot to think about! I found myself agreeing with you on many points, but of course, in the end, a contrarian like me, being both a technologist and a luddite, can't help but disagree vehemently with you every conclusion haha... you got me feelin' like I'm in the role of the reactionary here!
Cybersyn is a tricky subject for me. You know, there's two considerations here. The first is Cybersyn as it actually existed, in which, given the level of technology available at the time and the short span of its life, it couldn't have been more than a toy, still not yet beyond the shadow of the Cybersyn that shined in Stafford Beer's mind's eye. To me, however, what's really interesting here is the Cybersyn truly stands in dialectical juxtoposition is not totalitarian dictation. What is most interesting about Cybersyn, to me at least, is as a a method of socioeconomic organization, while totalitarianism I think is more of a mode. There are many types of totalitarianism, from under the pressing thumb of a tyrant to being channeled through mass movements. We instead should look towards Laissez's Faire - the free market economy. Now here is a proper antithesis! And indeed, after Pinochet had his goonsquad dismantle Allende and Beer's budding Marxist monument, he invited his own extrapatriate contractors, the Ambiguously Free Duo, milton Freedman and Freederich hayak, to remold Chile's economy in the shape of this vicious ideology. It was a transaction beneficial for both parties: Pinochet was able to keep control for far too many years, and in return, the AFD were able to use their "Chilean Miracle" as a propaganda tool in new battlegrounds far away.
That Cybersyn and the capital-F Free market have modes in common is apparent when you examine how they operate. Each represents a super-structural system for regulating and directing the social order by controlling the magnitude of the inputs to various nodes (representing aspects of the economy) in order to control their outputs, which then of course become the inputs to other nodes, etc. The difference is how they go about doing that: a top-down system like Cybersyn tries to regulate the *value* of goods by mediating their magnitude in order to let the system solve for the equilibrium flow, while the market tries to regulates the *flow* of goods by mediating risk (i.e. potential changes in value, its derivative) in order to the system find the equilibrium value. In neither case do they purport to directly assume responsibility for the social order.
In this way, one could see great potential in Cybersyn, at least on the surface, in that the aim of regulating value is essentially an exercise of trying to bias the system, i.e. society, towards some goal by the system controller, and that could theoretically be done by a true democratic vote. We could have our cake and eat it too... In contrast, the market is an autonomous entity, a beast prone to roam wild until it is attacked and consumed by some other beast, more vicious and powerful. (or perhaps even by a capitalist bishokuya, like Lloyed Blankstein or Jamie Dimon, just for the hell of it. Itadakimasu!)
However, it is also precisely because of that potential for control that Cybersyn suffers a fatal flaw: it will never be able to maintain itself in balance while maintaining an accurate representation of the underlying economy it seeks to model. Not at least without consuming an infinite amount of energy. Even if we were able to freeze time, and spend our whole lives investigating the most appropriate coefficients for every filter and feedback loop to the millionth decimal point, the second we let the economy run again, the system would slowly start to unravel. As time rolls on, so too does the smoldered desires and dreams of men begin to inflame again. Absolutum Obsoletum.
Now, luckily, (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), there is a way to mitigate this inevitable phase-decay: by increasing the complexity of the system. A filter could be replaced by a homeostatic loop, for instance, regulated by some other; furthermore, the filters and amplifiers inside that loop can like be likewise replaced, etc, increasing system robustness and accuracy with every revision. However, taken ad absurdum, like the ambitious cartographers of Borges' On The Exactitude of Science, if you increase complexity enough you will eventually converge on very system you sought to model! We need not take it that far to see other problems, of course. As the system increases in complexity, so too does our inability to understand and control it, and so too does it take ever increasing energy to operate. The fear of living at the mercy of entrenched technocrats is not an unfounded one... living life under the thumb of some aspergite that cares more for maintaining system balance then they ever could about the people that it contains. (Hahaha, sounds just like this very forum, am I right guys? Eh Eh? Eh???) "Change this coefficient to this!", the politicans may tell them. Well sure... as long as you don't mind my multiplying by the reciprocal down the line... Am I sounding a lil paranoid? I'm not so sure...
In any case, an economy dominated by an autonomous market isn't any better, if not much worse. For in whose hands could I feel more uncomfortable than a bureaucrat’s, then a greedy business magnate's, who would crush and squeeze the lifeblood from my body simply to lotion the delicate skin of his palms? But... I wonder what Stafford Beer would think of the works written by our so called "Masters of the Universe", whose millions upon millions of lines of code regulate the American economy? Virtual speculators trade billions of stocks, bonds, and commodities per second, indirectly setting the prices of every good in the economy to near-instantaneous equilibrium value. And it works pretty well, too - why, it has to! Given that the minor, minor, minor fractions of percent-error that are in effect extracted from every transaction is Real Money, (Yeah, just like in Office Space, haha yeah I saw that movie too. Ok.), that accumulates in the pockets of bankers and brokers - thieves both, the system would fail in an instant if its functioning was not near-perfect.
So where the cybernetic system fails due to a fLaw of managed complexity, the market fails due to a fLaw of Perfect Information. And in fact, these are the same thing, as they both represent the impossibility of the information entropy in the system reaching towards the infinite, and thus there lies the implication that the error between this ideal and the actual reality will feed-back negatively in order to mitigate the overall entropy. And indeed, would any of us question that they, the maintenance men of the market, have power today that dominates our country's political will for their own purposes? Cybersyn and Wall St. are actually two sides of the same coin, you see. Well, I see it that way at least. Cybersyn for the proletariat, Wall St for the bourgeoisie.
This is not to say that humans should never organize, burn it all, anarchy forever, Kurt Cobain still lives man, in our hearts man, you know it, etc. The answer is probably, haha, somewhere in the middle, or, more likely, somewhere outside this spectrum entirely. One interesting development are the changes happening in the Cuban model under Los Brothas Castro, who have, its recently been reported, begun loosening the grip of the command economy in order to allow some sectors of the economy to become autonomous. The few reports in the Western Media I've seen about this of course proclaim "AHHHHHhh ITS THE END OF COMMUNIST CUBA LET THE FREEDONG MARKET RING!!!", but we can see better that the objective here is to alleviate the unnecessary overhead while still maintaining its overarching democratic essense.
But, subtleties of economic organization are not really what this thread, nor this dialectic, is about. I have also come to the same conclusion, from a different point of vantage, that the dialectical synthesis here is this:
With cybernetics we seek to lift the problems of organisational structure out of the ruck of prejudice-by studying them scientifically. People wonder whether to centralise or to decentralise the economy - they are answered by dogmas. People ask whether planning is inimical to freedom - they are answered with doctrines. People demand an end to bureaucracy and muddle---they are answered with a so-called expertise which from its record has no effect. If dogma, doctrine and expertise fail to give effective answers, then what criterion of effectiveness shall cybernetics use? My answer to this question is: the criterion of viability. Whatever makes a system survival-worthy is necessary to it.
The criterion of viability is a critical one, I think, but it also brings to mind another, its counterpart, and just as critical: to what extent do the means justify the ends? Or do the means become the ends? Thus Stafford Beer continues:
As I read your last pages, I had a vision of you lining up a row of molecules and saying: “Look, chaps, don’t polymerize. There’s no future in it. You’ll find that you’re part of some damn organism, and your individuality will be subordinated to the total need. You might want to be a bit of an eye, but some totalitarian bastard ‘principle’ is going to send you off to the thyroid gland. Stand up for yourselves”. But it turns out to be in the nature of certain molecules to polymerize.
For Beer, Cybersyn was just the beginning. His was a millenarian dream, a teleological argument that the purpose of economic organization is the furtherment and fermentation of economic organization itself - that we move humans as beings away from our humanity and towards something beyond human, something that better embodies a more-prefect order. And that the essential limiting counterbalance to that goal is freedom - freedom as movement against order, not "freedom" in the narrow bourgeoisie sense. This is as true for Cybersyn as it is for the Free Market. A sentiment that humanity can no longer take care of itself, if it ever could, but perhaps our works - our capital - which we see as more pure, as… better than ourselves, maybe that could do it better. A materialist’s fetish,and the dominance of future generations by our dead labour. In a way, it is a dream that we, ourselves, can become works too, little molecules, distilling our souls down to the purified essence of what makes us useful to some greater purpose and power. This sentiment is one I am very familiar with; being something of a professional cyberneticist myself, I work with many others who feel this way, although they would never outright say it.
But I say that it is a fatal mistake to think of people this way! A fatal trap, although I understand the logic behind these thoughts very well. It goes like this: using the axiom of choice, if we take an individual (or group of individuals) that are a subset of a larger set of individuals, then it is tempting to say that, given that any action by the subset does not affect the composition of the set, then, therefore, the potentiality for the freedom of action for the subset on the set (that is to say, the interactions between the smaller group and the larger group) is thus subsumed in the total freedom of action for the larger group. (meaning that all potential actions are closed in a loop) This leads to the claim that, therefore, freedom is not an autonomous complex intrinsic to the individual/smaller-group, but movement within an all-encompassing homostatic loop in which we all take part. That he who does not feel me is not real to me, therefore he doesn't exist, so *POOF* - vamoose you son of a bitch. (H to the izz-o, M to the okay how about the rest of y'all carry out this chant awhile) And this conception of freedom as rights and liberties/privledges is congruent to that. For every positive freedom, is there not a negative complement that is but a half-circle around the loop? That someone's privledge to kill is inverse to everybody else's right not to die? What else could freedom be beyond that?
Returning to Beer:
What about the dialectic problem of unity and differentiation in society that disappears in the bland slab of margarine you are calling 'Freedom’? You evince no cybernetic consciousness. What about the structures of recursion and autonomy that are in fact the guarantee of liberty within each homeostatic loop? You evince no insight into the Chilean experience. What about millions of people struggling against their past oppression?
In what sense can a people struggle, or in fact be oppressed to begin with, if their freedom is guaranteed within the loop of their own survival? Would not the free-est way to live then be to close ones eyes, hum a quiet lullaby under ones breath, and do exactly as one is told without a further thought to the matter? My friend Moolali used to say that to me, whenever he stressed about arrange marriage that his parents forced him into. To him too, it was all a question of viability in the struggle for survival. If he fought, with all his might, against the marriage, he would not have won, and the rest of his life would have suffered for it. Or so he said. And so he closed his eyes, hummed a little lullaby, and said he was better for it. But is that really freedom? Is that really viable?
Mohandas Gandhi is one that so often get a bad rap around here; the argument goes something like, that in the turmoil of the first half of the 20th century, the British had but little choice to relinquish control of India. All Gandhi had accomplished, for all his hootin' and hollerin' (or rather than opposite of that actually haha - "bougie activism" is how I remember it being called the last time this came up) was to delay the inevitable. To me, an argument like this is ridiculous. Had Gandhi not attacked the Bourgeoisie exactly where it hurt them the most, would India have truly achieved the level of independence it now has, for better or worse? And I don't mean on the British side - think how common it is to hear upper-caste Indian expatriates - doctors, lawyers engineers, and scientists - defend, with absolutely no-irony, for the British exploiting and massacring their people for hundreds of years. "Oh, but it was good that the British conquered our country! They gave us technology, and civilization, and showed us the proper way to do business, haha!" What would be the nature of the autonomy of the people of the sub-continent today if the cozy relationship between these powerful sympathizers and the British Crown stood fast? I do not think that Zizek is not mistaken when he sez that Gandhi, on the ideological level, was more violent than Hitler - for he understood that the critical battle for freedom, for his people's case, required a rupture on the level of class, not nationalism.
It is a mistake to look at a method of economic organization, see it as a form of "collective," and dub it Communism, just as it is a mistake to see "collective" as the same as Communism. Were the Fascists of Italy or the Nazis of Germany.... Communists? Is a colony of ants, or a hive of bees? A big oozing mug of LCL? There is a big difference between a collective and a community - a big difference between a lynch mob and a worker's council. The form is not what matters here, but the structures of power between the participants. If, on the mass level, we have true Democracy, or at least as something as close as reality allows - then we can call that Communism. If we need to redefine the word "freedom" for it to exist at all, then we have something else entirely.
Thus, *my* understanding is that the nature of power and its structures is critical to understanding the question of freedom. [zizekvoice] Conception of freedom as liberties and rights ignores the most important aspect of freedom at all - the freedom to change what freedom means. This, I claim. [/zizkevoice] This "meta-freedom" is movement orthogonal to the homeostatic circuits in which rights and liberties flow, stretching and skewing their form. For what else than that is the dream of Communism, then the dream of the ultimate realization of this kind of human freedom? And why else could this dream have survived through the centuries, to be inherited by us today, but because it is a dream inherent to humanity itself? Were we to crush it in the clutches of Cybersyn, how then could we call this Communism?