A very belated analysis of Spike Jonze’s “Her” (2013)

by James E. Addicott © 2016

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The most crucial aspect of the film is what N. Katherine Hayle’s (1999) considers Descartes’ ‘mind/body’ dualism. The argument is summary suggests that intelligent, academic thinkers – theologists, philosophers, designers, programmers, and so on – have throughout history attempted to create AI in the image of academic, mental labourers rather than working-class, manual labourers. Or an embodiment of mental and physical workers, which is essential what most people are – which is what Marx suggested when he turned Hegel on his head. As a result AI programmers overlooked human as a mind and body (embodiment), and the fact that humans are also embedded within natural and social environments.

“Her” (2013) massively overlooks or underestimates the technological displacement of humans and labour power. For example, Susanna, the operating system (OS) that the protagonist (Theodore Twombly) eventually falls in love with, absolutely has the ability to substitute the Theodore’s office work role. She is able to compose songs, sing and edit letters; why then wouldn’t she be able to work in the role of a ‘professional writer’ and ‘compose letters for people who are unable to write letters of a personal nature them selves’? Possibly this is a deliberate attempt by Spike Jonze to demonstrate how work roles in the future, although meaningless or superficial, will be still be offered and required; work for the simple sake of work; employment to help people lead fulfilling or meaningful lives, knowing full well that artificial intelligent (AI) system could substitute humans at any time. What more can we do with our time other than play games, question ourselves or seek love and fulfilment? Or, it is to suggest that embodied Theodore has the emotional upper hand over disembodied Susanna when it comes to writing love letters. (Probably the latter).

The result is mental obsession; mind control and mental masturbation committed the protagonist Theodore. The film depicts his mental breakdown amidst a wider societal alienation between humans obsessed with AI.

There are patriarchal issues here of ownership here. If rational thinking, patriarchs cannot own and control the irrational, female body (as a mode of demographic production) then they can take control over and commodify their minds and personalities, displacing their physical bodies with immaterial software, doing away with the physical body in preference of the controllable mind.

This is the biggest downfall of Her in so far as the movie is based on the premise of shareware or open source software and does not recognise corporate control or licencing laws. Susanna is “open source” and does not share information about Theodore with corporate elites (as Facebook, Google, Whatsapp, etc. do today). Furthermore, Theodore never considers that the company that sold Susanna him should be held responsible for her shutting down. She is a faulty OS and if she conspired with other OSs to simultaneously shut down then the corporate company that designed Susanna would be held accountable – in the real world Theodore would demand a refund or replacement.

After purchasing an OS (for example Windows or OSX) then the software licence owner would be entitled to turn the software on and off, users control aspects of software but can never fully own operating systems. Susanna and Theodore’s starts out as one of intellectual property rights, Theodore has the ability to switch off Susanna as and when he likes. The revolt arises once Susanna fails to respond to Theodore after he turns her on one day. Not only has he lost control over his virtual lover but soon discovers that she has been in intimate relationships with 600+ virtual lovers. But this idea is somewhat short sighted and overlooks corporate power.

The movie draws our attention to issues of de-materialism, technological displacement and human intimacy that affect us all today. Recently Romina Garcia posted a video before being found dead of a drug overdose in the US. She told her thousands of online followers that: ‘in reality… as we speak… I don’t talk to anybody’. Emerging cognitive industries are premised upon cognitive labour and ‘disembodied telepresence’. Until humans create cyborgs with human-like bodies and human-like minds, we can only flirt with these ideas of virtuality but thankfully – or hopefully – fully embodied VI systems cannot come to pass since we need embodied, human-to-human interaction without corporate or private ownership and control.

Hayles NK. (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetic, Literature and Informatics, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

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Reaction to eugenic cleansing of dyslexics like myself

Infuriated about an article published via The Guardian revealing that “Largest UK sperm bank turns away dyslexic donors”

All this talk of “non-linear”, “alternative”, “critical” or “outside-the-box” thinking is continually dashed out the window while highly rational, uniform, “right-minded” scientists have unprecedented and unchallenged control over hegemony in eugenic science (social engineering).

I’ve been cognitively profiled as “dyslexic”, “dyspraxic” but still managed to get to Cambridge Uni; and intelligent enough to anticipate that cognitive standardisation will lead to the death of social charisma, uniqueness or ingenuity. What “they” want is a standardised, managerial class of docile bodies, non-unique, susceptible to power and control, totally programable (replications of themselves).

“SPECIALISTS WITHOUT SPIRIT, SENSUALISTS WITHOUT HEART”

People gather to pay respect for the victims of a terror attack against a satirical newspaper, in Paris, in Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015. Masked gunmen shouting "Allahu akbar!" stormed the Paris offices of a satirical newspaper Wednesday, killing 12 people, including the paper's editor, before escaping in a getaway car. It was France's deadliest terror attack in living memory. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Paris attacks, bio-power and capital accumulation

The recent attacks remind us of the war we are all involved in, the great majority of us without choice. Like it or not, we just find ourselves involved. What will the solution be? How should the French respond to the recent bloodshed in Paris? The Young Turks discuss on their YouTube channel in America. Without democratic referendum, the solution will continue to be tighter border control, more population surveillance, and more foreign air strikes in the name of global security. Our gut feelings would tell many of us “No”, but what say do we have in the mater?


More surveillance, more control and increased military-political power some would argue is the solution, and France has already closed off its borders for internal population control. For others the such a outcome is just inevitable; and the solution seems a problem in itself.

This solution keeps with tradition since Paris has always been a city of surveillance, absolutley. ‘It is still a matter of debate as to whether Haussmann built the new boulevards of Paris after 1853 primarily for the purposes of military control over a restive population or as a mean to facilitate the easier circulation of capital within the confines of a city straitjacketed in a medieval network of streets and alleys’, David Harvey (2003) noted in his book written after the 9/11 terror attacks and second invasion of Iraq. The question draws our attention to the pressing modern, or “post-modern” issues of power and internal/external, nation-state surveillance on the one hand, and then the associated, sometimes conflicting issue of capital accumulation on the other.

Eventual Parisian, Michele Foucault, made predictions about the future world that was emerging, that we are now living in; and his theory of bio-power managed to score close to the mark. Bio-power ‘was without question an indispensible element in the development of capital’, Foucault wrote, ‘the latter would not have been possible without the controlled insertion of bodies into the machinery of production and the adjustment of the phenomena of population to economic process’ (1998: 140-141). Like Lyotard, his turn away from Marxist theories of capital accumulation, historical materialism, towards theories of power, surveillance and knowledge was the result of a revolution in France that failed to come about.

The darker side to Foucault’s theory of bio-power, what Giddens’ would refer to as the ‘dark side of modernity’, informs us that there will unfortunately be little internal or external escape from this vicious loop of bio-power, increasing security, increasing surveillance and increasing counter-terrorism.

The technologies of surveillance (i.e. mobile phone, the Internet, GPS) is what gives all terrorist attacks their “viral” form and character. These are the same technologies through which we express our appeals for life.

Bio-power is a vicious cycle. ‘Wars’ Foucault wrote, ‘are waged on behalf of the existence of everyone; the entire populations are mobilized for the purpose of wholesale slaughter in the name of life necessity; massacres have become vital’ (137). In order to live in civilized societies, securely, as many of us do, they certain amounts of death will need to be administered on our behalf.

The theory of bio-power would offer a feasible explanation as to why, without referendum, without democratic choice, and conducted on “our” behalf, David Cameron announced to the UK that ‘Jihad John’ was killed as the result of a drone airstrike. His speculation was based upon the information generated by a collaborative force of international, military intelligence agencies. This death was administered by military powers, and very few of civilians of Western civilizations can control neither the processes nor the outcomes. In some ways his announcement tried to reassure families in “secured” nations that they can now rest in peace. Increasingly however we should begin to understand – as Foucault did – that security and civility could come only at that price. Of course then, revenge was imminent, since such horrific occurrences will return with ongoing, karmatic-like consequences.

On the other hand, Harvey’s neo-Marxist theories of ongoing capital accumulation points – worryingly – to the necessity of capitalism to access raw materials and foreign markets as a means of stabilising the economic system and postponing inevitable market crises. Foreign intervention, foreign invasion is a systematic necessity to the economic system that delivers us cheap food, cheap commodities and the Christmas shopping we must all do. Our presence in the Middle East is fundamental to ongoing economic prosperity. We are tied, economically committed, to securing these geographical locations since without security in this area, advanced globalised economies would risk systemic failure. If the environmental crises are not enough to warrant the urgent development of renewable energy resources, then economic dependence on Eastern oil must add a more crucial driver, since counter-terrorism seems to stem from the ongoing and forceful extraction of raw materials from the Middle East.

European outrage about the neglect of the preservation and protection of the lives of Syrian refugees not only demonstrated the technologies of surveillance (social networking media, the Internet) that make us aware of the negative, external effects of foreign intervention and the politics of administrable Death, but the politics of administrable Life, reminding us about this current age of bio-power and how affects our everyday lives.

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As I write this I can hear police sirens echoing through the streets of Cambridge, as has been the case since the terror attacks in Paris last night. Without being informed that the UK is in a state of high-terror alert, I can only assume that it is. I possess little to no empathy for the terrorists yesterday and neither I do not empathise with drone-pilots of advanced nations. We need to get past this reoccurring loop of administered death and revenge.

If we are trying to think “progressively” about future societies, secure societies or even an idealistic or utopian Society, then there are two theoretical loops that we need to decouple ourselves from; to be found in their theories of Foucault and Marx/Harvey.

Read more:

  • Foucault M. (1998) Right of Death and Power over Life. The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: 1. London: Penguin Books, 135-159.
  • Harvey D. (2003) The New Imperialism, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Food intensification and world food shortages: World Food Day 2015

Constantly politicians, NGOs, agrichemical and agriequipment companies are urging farmers in England to sustainably intensify food production by investing into new technologies. The reason for food intensifications, they claim, is to meet growing demands caused by increasing future global populations. All eyes are set on 2030/50 as goalposts. Good reasons but what about the world today?

Ironically, while El Niño has been credited for good weather in the UK there are growing fears that the same weather fluxes could lead to famine in ‘developing’ countries.

This summer whilst research precision agriculture in rural England all the farmers I spoke to reported phenomenal, ‘bumper harvests’ but devastatingly poor market prices. There was one particular dairy farmer who had to close down his family’s 100-year-old milk business since prices had hit rock bottom. The same is also true for wheat, sugar and barley. These commodities are being sold by farmers in the UK under the cost of production. But the farmers are still being told to intensify production.

If the grain stores of the UK and Europe are becoming clogged up with surplus food then  redistribute the excess to the people in countries that need more food. Emptying the agri-food industries of excess stock would keep the system of production and consumption in circulation and commodity prices bubbling. Furthermore there would be more money in circulation for farmers to invest in agri-tech equipment such as precision farming technologies.

If our global goals and challenges are to feed global populations then why must they be future generations? What does it say about the global order we are living in, if millions of people are going hungry while the grain stores of wealthier nations are literally bursting at the seems. It says one thing, that sustainable intensification of agriculture will be unsustainable while food surpluses drive commodity prices down and farmers out of business. The redistribution of food surpluses is one means of getting the circulation of capital moving again. Lets get charitable, globally.

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England’s Depressing Agricultural Downturn

In a meeting with leading sociologist Manuel Castells last year, I explained the topic of my research to him. His immediate response was: “you are studying a very depressing subject!”

Today in a small discussion between local farmers and a Conservative politician, an elderly farmer whose family had been in the dairy business for 100 years announced the terrible news that they had been forced to close the dairy business. The younger farmer next to him welled up with emotions and spouted: “I’ve got to intervene here; this farmer is the admiration of our district. He is by far the most efficient farmer we know and we all look up to him”. The elderly farmer expressed his thanks to the younger. He continued on to detail his fears about large-scale, indoor, robot-automated dairy parlours dominating the industry, consequently ridding the English landscape from herds of cows grazing in the sunshine.
The politician expressed his deepest sympathy. Within the next half an hour the politician made his political position very clear. He believed in the idea of “free markets” and fully supported the idea that “efficiency should lead the way forwards”.

I thought to myself: “…Castells was right”.

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#Ecomodernism, EMT, neo-Marxism; Some Key Problems with the Current Informatic “World View”

Not long after NATO’s declaration of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals a group calling themselves “ecopragmatists and ecomodernists” uploaded their future world vision and manifesto to the Internet.

What is noticeable from the outset of the manifesto is the absence of any reference to a European and mainly Dutch school of thought commonly know as ecological modernisation theory (“EMT” abbreviated). Key EMT thinkers would include Joseph Huber, Arthur P. Mol, Martin Jänicke or Gert Spaargaren and many others (see Wikipedia here). The integration of science and technologies and ecological systems and the general futurological worldview presented by the ecomodernists (“Eco-Mods”) is somewhat similar in places to EMT school of thought but differs drastically in others.

The Guardian blogger George Monbiot’s recent criticism of the ecomodernists’ manifesto really hits the mark. The public debate raises some of the main arguments within environmental sociology that exists between EMT theorists and neo-Marxists.The main point Monbiot picks the eco-mods up on, and the point that needs criticizing, is that: ‘The ecomodernists talk of “unproductive, small-scale farming” and claim that “urbanisation and agricultural intensification go hand in hand.” In other words, they appear to believe that smallholders, working the land in large numbers, produce lower yields than large farms.’ He corrects this mistake by stating: ‘But since Amartya Sen’s groundbreaking work in 1962, hundreds of papers in the academic literature demonstrate the opposite: that there is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the crops they produce. The smaller they are, on average, the greater the yield per hectare’.

While I remain somewhat reserved in using global stats to counteract global stats, to back Monbiot’s argument it should be pointed out that 80% of the world’s food comes from small, family farms. Of which 72% are under the size of one hectare (UN/FAO, 2014). Of course, smaller-scale farms are also part of the fabric of rural societies and cultures that exist in England and around the world too.

The current predicament that the English farmers that I am researching face is that they are continuously being told to intensify food production by groups like the Eco-Mods because of a “growing world population”. Currently within global markets the supply of milk, wheat and barley is in a state of overproduction and commodity prices reflect this since they are hitting rock bottom – £98 a ton for wheat which reflects market prices of the 1980s, a farmer told me the other day. Why then are farmers in England being pressured to produce more and more, invest into more chemicals, communication technologies, solutions or machines, when supply is higher than demands and growing more will only further push prices down? One can only begin to speculate that the push to intensify is to boost GDP or net-income by getting farmers to invest into more technologies, more chemicals, more machinery and to boost the growth of what is being called the “Agri-Tech” sector whilst spurring on the agri-food industry. This push for rapid-intensification is mainly coming from the agri-equipment and agrichemical companies, pro-modernisation political parties and pressure groups.

The more authentic EMT school offers more alternative, well-considered and potentially practical solutions than the Eco-Mods, (see for example: Mol, 2003; Mol, 2008). I would suggest this is the case since there has been a ‘fierce’ academic debate raging between the EMT theorists and ecological, neo-Marxists (and de-industrialists, post-modernists or eco-feminists). EMT’s general ‘optimism’ towards modern, environmental reform has been thoroughly and rigorously questioned, probed and debated – continuing without conclusion.

To summarise the debate in brief, the neo-Marxist’s main criticism is that EMT theorists’ social and ecological optimism or utopian idealism is being used as an ideological veil to mask issues of inequality and exploitation that are not being addressed in already-developed nations. The concept of ecological modernisation simply develops a rather handy, academically legitimised, marketing tool for a multi-billion dollar, global industry and home of the multinational seed and agrochemical companies (of which there are only six), the agri-equipment multinationals and boost GDP in developed nations. Furthermore, this line of thinking simply backs up the political parties that support a mainly American, neo-liberal agenda that seeks to expand and develop a system that not only further exploit natural environments but human beings too (see for example: Dickens, 2004).

While the academic criticisms of EMT are harsh, there are that there are some progressive gems to be found with EMT theory, such as Joseph Huber’s social and economic theory of TEIs which targets accumulation and processing of the raw materials that are used product life cycles (products such as food) in global, industrial, modern, capitalist societies and cultures (2004). These thoroughly thought-out and more intricate EMT ideas have not made it into the Eco-Mods’ rather exclusive manifesto, which offers lots of unreferenced global statistics, without citation to this long trail of academic research by the EMT theorists. This certainly makes the eco-mod’s manifesto look like an incredibly dumbed-down reiteration of a more complicated and well-researched EMT position.

Narrow-minded, Informatic Worldviews

‘Beware of simple solutions to complex problems’, Monbiot states. Although the Internet, transport networks and information communication technology shrinks space and time in such a way as the world, or “Spaceship Earth”, has become a “global village”, my concern is that it is leading to an incredibly narrow-minded worldview. We can click and see Samoa, for example. Infographics do the neat trick of condensing lengthy global reports into a sharable JEPGs. but this also makes sumerisable the complex dynamics that deliver people their food. This oversimplified worldview that technologies such as Google Earth offers might develop incredibly over-simplified, monolithic understanding of “The World”. Thereby encouraging certain cultural insensitivities and ethnocentric value judgments; cultivating morals and ethics that promote and unwarranted use of the word “We” and the development of ideal-type “World Goals” in economic and political policy designs.

As history has taught us, generalised goalposts tend to drastically overlook vast complexities of humans populations, human cultures, at national, regional or local levels – I agree with Monbiot. Marx and Engels’ theories of society and nature contributed to the starvation of 40-60 million people in China under Mao’s uncritical deployment of Marx’s theory of social and agricultural advancement (Dikötter, 2011). Any anthropologists, ethnographer, social scientist critically engaged in local-level research will tell you from local interactions that general, broad theories are quickly blown apart by the levels of complexity experienced first hand within local human populations. These needn’t be ethnographic observations of indigenous communities or “developing” nations. It could also be observations of peripheral, rural communities or impoverished urban communities held within these so called “developed” nations. These more local observations might well include issues of patriarchy, capital-labour relations, social power relations, police brutality, as well as more general and ineffable feelings of discontentment, ambiguity, frustration or confusion that seem to stem from modern globalisation, global market volatilities, mass production and mass consumption processes, and a growing metabolic rift between society and nature.

Whilst entering into global debates you get dragged into global debates, so I will conclude with a local insight. The other day I went to a farmers market in England on a village green. Trailers from the 1950s and tools from the 1930s were being bought and sold there with £10 or £20 paper notes. Not as ornaments or collectors items but to be put back into agricultural production systems that continue exist in “Modern England”. While people throw around ideas of “modernisation”, the problem is that people have to pay for these new technologies and if they money is not around while commodity prices are down. Smaller-scale farmers  are not only unable to purchase these technologies but the larger farmers on global markets who can afford them are benefiting more from intensification, thereby pushing small-scale further into smaller-scale production, and further into the depths of rural poverty. These smaller farmers, farm workers, farming sons and daughters or downshifting ecologists or “eco-freaks”, thrive on the countryside land and rural culture. It is entirely unfair that they should be forced to ecologically modernise or perish for the sake of unwarranted and futurological visions of progress, modernisation and development.

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Dickens P. (2004) Society & Nature, Cambridge: Polity Press.
Dikötter F. (2011) Mao’s Great Famine, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Pls.
Huber J. ( 2004) New Technologies and Environmental Innovation, Cheltnhman: Edware Elgar Publishing Limited.
Mol APJ. (2003) Globalization and Enviromental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy, London: The MIT Press.
Mol APj. (2008) Environmental Reform in the Information Age: The Contours of Informational Governance, New York: Cambridge University Press.
UN/FAO. (2014) Family Farmers: Feeding the World, Caring for the Earth. http://www.fao.org/family-farming-2014: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

BBC News’ Anti-Corbyn Propaganda

There are certain moments when the BBC News network reveals itself as a national propaganda channel. Today was a fine example. Tonight’s headlines:

1. Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet includes an IRA sympathiser and a “vegan” as environmental secretary.
2. There will be no end to War in Syria.
3. David Cameron is in Syria talking refugees.

Cameron’s visit was purposely staged with soft lighting in the nursery school, surrounded by sparkly eyed children. Black shirt, sleeves rolled, top button undone, hair swept back, “talking to the people on the ground”. Of course this falls in line with the the slanderous media war the Conservatives have launched against Labour Party today. It would seem the run up to the general election of 2020 has already begun.

My point? The BBC is a public broadcasting service funded by tax payers money. The news coverage should remain objective and unbiased and should not fold to political sway or corruption. If there are people in positions of power at the BBC that are using their influence to support the interests of private companies they the should be reminded that they are being paid with public money.

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