Fields of Potentiality: Part 3 – Patchwork and Institutional Oceanography

We can see through 5th generation warfare and meta-perspectival lenses, the human as central actor may well be subsumed to alternative ontological frameworks that emphasise alternative users. As I’ve argued with regards to institutions attempting to map the conversational nexuses of modernity[1], the increasing levels of linguistic output and by extension linguistic heat create clinamenetic stirrings that go beyond modern institution’s boundaries, thereby increasing the informational complexity beyond their capability to manage. And in cohering new institutions, these may move beyond the human subject-user as its central focus, going into new technological and posthuman perspectival worlds that are below and beyond human comprehension. In mapping this, it would not be cartographic, mapping geography and landscape, but rather an oceanography of alternative codes and semiotics, where the new lifeworlds are below the surface of our view, deep in the inky black of posthuman nexuses.

The speed now present in life, from logistics to technology bring forth whole new levels of optics that flatten and interface human lives. Perspectival lenses are shortened to recognise not a deep level of human-machine interconnectivity and addressability, but an interfacial regime of signs and screens that do the work of interpretation and narrativisation for you. Space and time have been warped by speed, delimiting the former as connectivity becomes instantaneous and distances between people and cultures are eliminated due to accessible knowledge and televisual/fibre optic linkages. Time has been limited, pushed away from the chronology of sequential events, as sequences translate into moments and singular anamnesis. Things blur and collide into moments of exposure, creating highlight reels and compilations.

While transhuman fantasies of bio-hacking and singularity may hold truth for the future of computerisation and machinic organisation, their shadows present darker futures of body chop shops and organ factories. For all the potential of prosthetisisation to extend and expand human cognition and our control over nature, there is an equal possibility of a general sedentariness setting in as instantaneous communication and visualisation present an array of set possibilities at our fingertips (or even directly by linking cognition directly with computerisation i.e. jacking in). A “loss of sight or, rather, ‘loss of ground'”[2] sets in as visual fields are both expanded (virtually) but also contracted as these spaces are made open to new forms of subjectivation, sensor arrays and virtual worldbuilding that set in place control mechanisms, limiting conversation and the clinamenetic fragmentation of intercursive flows. The possibility of full interfacial arrays create attempts at “consistent systems”[3] which inevitably remain incomplete. Rather than expanding human cognition, it can just as much be dulled and subjected to posthuman diagrammatic striation as we are presented with the full array of desires in virtual realms and Deleuzian cities.

Thus the first thing to recognise is the limit of human cognition with regards to these new potentialities. “Our observations of reality must be incomplete since we depend upon a changing concept to shape or formulate the nature of new inquiries and observations. Therefore, when we probe back and forth with more precision and subtlety, we must admit that we can have differences between observation and concept description”[4]. This suggests a form of mapping that is cognizant of the very limits of understanding, which is particularly important in posthuman fields of possibility and alterity. An oceanography suggests a large degree of ignorance, as the connection between what we directly see and what we are vaguely aware of becomes increasingly fraught. The line between observation and orientation in governing OODA loops is blurred as we are aware of posthuman users and the subversive potential they have, yet are unable to decouple them from individuated perspectives that posit the individual human as the primary mechanism for governance. The concept of potentiality that is trying to be uncovered and understood is covered in an inky black oceanography that obscures and delimits understanding and shared output. Its fields or oceans are full of dark, entomological creatures with their own codes of governing and being. How open and transparent these fields can be made is paramount to beginning to abstract and map these multiplicitous and dark forms. This is where governance as a set of coherent, shared understandings comes to the fore, and where the positing of new human subjectivities that can interact and compete in these governing topologies becomes important.

Lewis elucidates some of the potential perspectival lenses that can begin to cohere into new understandings of subjectivity and emplacement. There is going local, where informational complexity is localised and de-scaled so as to make it easier to parse and work with. “If we can’t trust what we’re seeing in mass media, maybe we’ll return to thinking about the things we can do something about in our communities”[5]. However how far this goes seems limited. It appears to be the neighbourhood association method of governance, where strict standards are enforced by neighbourly forms of intrusion into one’s private life that limit one’s autonomy. Instead of beating techonomic surveillance, you ground it at a human scale that can be equally awful. It also encourages the entrenchment of tribal identities, replicating at smaller scales the networked divisions found in existing political dichotomies that I spoke of earlier, and potentially exacerbating them as you combine networked tribalism with localist inquisition.

There is going authoritarian. “Authoritarianism controls the flow of information so that conspiracy theories never spread in the first place. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have tried to moderate content on their platforms, but this has proved to be an extremely thorny game of whack-a-mole and a textbook example of a wicked problem”[6]. There is going virtual, whereby moving one’s lifeworld from the organic to the computerised provides levels of control and certainty that are beyond the messiness of the real world. Of course with the increase in digital selves and botnets, the extent of this informational control may be limited as posthuman actors begin to inhabit and structure virtual worlds to their own ends. Finally there is the meta perspective, which attempts to analyse and map the various ideological and systemic lines that striate the modern world and its governance structures.

As the author notes with the Epsilon Project, a meta-perspective allows for a deeper understanding of the ideological currents at play, where they intersect and where they border. By providing a diagrammatic overview, one can see the intersecting lines and borders, and cohere new political imaginaries from the outsides and insides of these new borders. As Raunig noted with the Platonic concept of the wild, those outside of existing political ontologies have the capacity to subvert existing norms and ethics, and develop experimental methods for new means of becoming. The issue however is how we move generally to this meta-systemic perspective. As Chapman notes in the development from communal modes of understanding to systemic modes[7], the increased levels of abstraction and indexation are not easy to implement, and they cause problems as people find the systemic mode alienating, and thus will attempt to return to the communal mode through forging local, tribal connections in rationalised technological landscapes. Thus the issue the author raises around CGI social media influencers comes out of this, as attempting to forge relations with a leader/influencer can easily be co-opted by political or corporate campaigns that enforce new means of subjectivation.

In moving to a meta-systemic perspective, these issues are potentially exacerbated as people are unable to cohere their own senses of self in a world where perspectives and ideological frameworks aren’t fixed. The concept of an online profile already installs this meta-systemic issue in some way, as people attempt to present the best version(s) of their self, promoting narcissistic and false behaviours and presentations as these are the most popular/infamous. Dividuation is this sense continues unabated, ripping apart subjects into constituents. As much as social media and online activity can provide new formats for connectivity and post-ideological frameworks that move beyond simplistic binaries, it can also entrench tribal perspectives and further alienate individuals as their senses of being are fragmented into different perspectival lenses. Both “group identity theft”[8] and the devolution of enlightenment rationality into binary systems of belief (such as the conflictual sovereignties I mentioned earlier) present a further fragmentation of online communities into self-destructive or insular groups that trudge toward extremism.

There is also the issue of romanticism in this nomadic approach to identity construction. Metamodernism posits an understanding of subjectivity that attempts to combine modernist dreams of utopia with postmodernist cynicism and skepticism of overarching narratives. It oscillates “between hope and melancholy, between naivete and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity”, attempting to use pluralism and irony to produce desires rather than dystopic and melancholic visions[9]. However none of this removes the possibility for the brutality of the consequences that changes in systemic visions can bring about, and indeed is it a wise course of action to posit a naivety in relation posthuman subject-users who may well engage in a conflictual or violent manner. Further, is the concept of an atopic metaxis, a place that is no place, the appropriate framing device for a metamodern subject. Placelessness is one of the defining issues of confirming and finding identity in the institutional oceanography I mentioned. It produces forms of alienation and displacement that rock the foundations of one’s being, helping produce the postmodern mess of identitarianism we see today.

Similar issues occur in Brent Cooper’s framing of metamodern subjectivity as new user subjectivities that must come as we further abstract our universe, with machinic entities producing their own linguistic and social maps to interpret and delineate the world. “‘The system’ is the emergent entity stacked on all our subroutines, protocols, beliefs, pathologies, and abstractions. Abstraction is the key to unlocking our individual wisdom, as well as social systemization and justice”[10]. How far this goes is questionable, as I mentioned with regard to the switch from communal to systemic methods of reasoning. As abstraction and the associated mapping that comes with it ramps up, human mental modelling in its current state may not keep up, instead devolving into clannish behaviours and attempting to salvage the human from the machine and/or synthetic. Cooper’s solution of combining socialist and capitalist socio-economic elements shows this shortcoming, as it is reliant on modernist ideological schemas to develop new socio-economic imaginaries through combining two grand narratives. But where do socialism and capitalism lead to exactly. By combining capitalist practices of profit with social provisioning through collective means (state or otherwise), are we really reinventing the wheel or attempting to create a Keynesian system of fiscal distribution and nation-state power. If the latter then all we’re doing is imagining putting the genie back in the bottle, while markets powered through technological means open up new avenues of competition and governance, and new forms of user create non-human centred structures and institutions. Attempting to re-forge the exception that was the settled Keynesian capitalism of the post-war era is more an attempt at nostalgic world-building than serious engagement with our current intercursive structures.

Metamodern subjectivity, as well as ignoring the brutal consequences of systemic and meta-systemic change, also has the potential to devolve into transcendental nomadism with the aim of individual enlightenment. The postmodern nomad as such a subject is exemplified by Christopher McCandless[11], a Kerouacian hero whose death was caused by his philosophical hubris and naivety. As a metamodern persona, he recognised the futility of societal mass and looked to find light by flitting through the poles of the massed landscape. However, his postmodern reality came to bite as in his hubris he effectively killed himself. The poles he found himself between came to be the reality of his experience, and that in his attempts to escape he found these polarities to be multiplicitous rather than dichotomous. In other words, the stifling experience of civilisation turned out to be less harmful than the pure brutality of fissiparous nature. Being a tardo-frontiersman he wanted to separate the terra from the incognita, and in the process simply found that nature was as much a cruel bastard as society is. While McCandless was ensconced in a primitive romanticism, the lesson to be learnt is that full indulgence can lead to warped behaviours, either naivety leading to starvation or technological escapes that produce their own forms of brutal repression. The nomadism that both these polarities represent is an uncritical devolution into sedentary behaviours that attempt to recreate or create niches in society. A kitsch primitivism or a virtual realm of desire fulfilment. Both are uncritical in their perceptions toward actually existing technological and societal paradigms, and retreat into comfort zones of ludditic tribalism or computerised enrapturement, all the while reality explodes around them.

However despite my criticisms of the meta-systemic perspective, the reality unfolding before us suggests that there is little else to do but move into these new perspectival lenses that view systems and ideologies as methods toward dealing with complex adaptivity. In this sense patchwork theories are one such set of conceptual tools that allow us to understand the fraught nature of governance and produce methods for dealing with it by developing experimental subjectivities and networks within wider topologies. Unlike metamodern subjectivity, this recognises the capacity for failure (and indeed its necessity as we find modes of being and governance that are commensurate) and the potential brutality that may develop as new tools are created and concepts wrought open and made dividual. “These create not just sovereign patches as described by Moldbug, but patches of subjective modes of production and lifeworld-creation across various planes. A topography of varying scales and multiplicitous methods is emerging from the modes I’ve described, creating spontaneous disorder and collapse as well as methods for alterity”[12]. Patchwork is a clinamenetic series that delineates space in its sovereign and networked forms. It is neither utopian nor dystopian, rather an ambiguous field for configurations to evolve in decaying systems of informational/discursive complexity. The institutional oceanography I speak of can be understood as the various potential developments of patchworks of governance developing and combining.

“Not only is space conceived as fragmented, but space itself is also dynamic, mobile (imagine moving platforms). Patchwork doesn’t delineate a rigid set of neighbours for each patch, but allows local structures to change internally and with respect to its outside: some patch might want to cluster next to some set of microstates, another time escaping them, or drifting out into the open smooth cosmos, alone, but perhaps connecting via the immense cyberspace, or even stranger vistas, to the others. Just like the individual subject – strange, not-fixed, mobile, “garnering here, there, and everywhere” through connections, but not integrations. Travelling”[13]. Patchwork then is the development of institutional concatenations from dividual lines that are both combinatory and contrastable. War machines and nomadic configurations present possible methods for navigating the oceanography that is felt but not seen.

“From these new textual and conversational modalities alternative governmentalities and modes of living are grown. Constant adaptivity in meta-systemic frameworks will be necessary to cogently understand where these modes are and where they are going. Governing then will turn from a plan into an open-ended strategy”[14]. As posthuman subject-users develop and configure, the fields of potentiality I speak of in regards to corporate and market ontologies, networked tribes and battlespaces are neither beneficent nor malevolent, but rather the developing realities of accelerated innovation and change. As human subjects are a-centred, new methods of governance are required that understand the various levels of subject, their relations amongst themselves and between each other, and their affects on wider intercursive flows. Fields of potentiality then means the ability to experiment along decentralised, dividual lines that can combine and open various patterns of being and living, questioning them and forming working models for further observation and thus re-looping the OODA loop. Where this leads remains open-ended.


[2] Paul Virilio, Open Sky









[11] Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild




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