The Security Apparatus
story © Michael Betancourt, April 24, 2014 all rights reserved.
Linkages between agnotology, hyperreality, and surveillance converge in the security apparatus: a paradigm of observation and control whose function is both immaterially productive (it enables the autonomous semiotic generation of value) and restrictive (it enables the mobilization of physical/immaterial force to defend this immaterial production). These productive-restrictive activities are distinct, yet mutually reinforcing—they form a dynamic cycle masked by the aura of the digital’s stripping of physicality from conscious consideration. Without this distanciation of the physical, the productive-restrictive cycles would become apparent through their necessarily disenfranchising actions as human agency is usurped by automated processes and autonomous oversight. The security apparatus appears as an impartial, disinterested alternative to the variable contingency of human agency: its uniformly applied mechanical responses create an illusion of objectivity. This mechanical response is a crystalized ideology, an inflexible restriction iterated by the all-or-nothing logic of digital protocols that are incapable of ambiguity, plurality or contingency apparent in the “right to read” implemented as Digital Rights Management (DRM)—either you have authorization or you do not. This authorization implicitly demands a continuous monitoring and maintenance where its authoritarian machinic surveillance, whether as immaterial production or socio-political control, serves to reify the security apparatus in the implementation of digital technology itself. DRM is the most visible prominence of this implicit, ubiquetous system that directly impacts the human readable form of digital objects, but this most apparent example is precisely an isolated surfacing of larger, dominant systems for control and observation that lie within the ‘database’ that enables immaterial production.
These multivalent dimensions of ‘security’ in digital capitalism reify the convergent aspects of agnotology and surveillance—each is a reciprocal justification for the other: agnotology renders established knowledge uncertain, requiring greater detail and contextual understanding; surveillance provides this understanding, but at the same time produces so much data that its interpretation becomes uncertain because of the destabilizing effects of the equivalences posed by agnotology. Their linkage is thus a ‘virtuous circle’ where each begets the other, making their expansion inevitable: the logic providing these justifications is inherently circular, but this circularity is not a flaw of the system, but its precise focus—a circularity necessary for digital capitalism to become dominant.
The prophylactic disenfranchisement of human agency enables the generation of new domains for commercial expansion by transforming non-productive use values into new forms of value via immaterial production through the surveillance capacities of digital technology: transferring this implicitly policing action is apparent in the shift to digital capitalism itself. Once a physically productive economy becomes one based on semiotic manipulation, the foundation of production undergoes a fundamental transformation from facture to reconfiguration—the database as a model. This transformation simultaneously enlists surveillance (data collection) as the technical means for both the expansion of productive capacities and their defense against any socio-political challenges that might emerge. This change invokes surveillance at its most basic level: the immaterial securities that are so central to the circulation of values within digital capitalism depend on the database for their recombinative processes. This semiosis reveals the digital aspiration to the state of information is coupled with the innate need of digital capitalism for a continuous growth of values. The semiotic expansion of immaterially generated values is apparent in how capitalist productive ‘domains’ expand within society; all these activities are a reflection of attempts to reify the aura of information in immanent form. This instrumentality demonstrates how aspirations to the state of information become a literal tool of control and prediction (the security apparatus).
Thus, agnotology is not a cause, but a symptom of the expansive nature of the semiotic processes embedded within and enabled by digital capitalism. Disjunctions between physical assets and their role as immaterial tokens in semiotic production (via the database) reflect the structural demand in capitalism for continuous expansion (growth). Agnotology is uniquely suited to the demands of digital capitalist surveillance by interrupting the evaluative process assumed to lie at the base of all market decisions (the “rationality of markets”)—agnotological uncertainty makes any choice appear equally “good” (valid)— conventionally closed only by the utility (use value) of those interpretations: it emerges when the contingent relationships between production and representation are recognized as being arbitrary, whose meaning is unstable, with dependencies relative to their particular application at any given moment. This continuous expansion of immaterial production, and simultaneous expansion of value accumulation without restraint. Eliding differences allows the semiotic manipulation of values; the “openness” of interpretation expands without constraint. This shift is performed by the complex relationship of physical and immaterial commodities in the valorization process mediated by agnotology and surveillance.
Connections between agnotology and hyperreality provide the foundation for the ‘security apparatus’; their similarities are readily apparent: agnotology is a particular failure of knowledge and interpretation (focused epistemologically on the methods and procedures by which we arrive at conclusions, think), while the hyperreal is a specific effect on perception/conception of the physical world itself (focused ontologically, transforming the underlying interpretation of the physical). Both have a semiotic character, but with divergent foci. Their impacts on interpretation originate with the same semiotic foundation in digital capitalism: the substitution of the semiotically produced for immanent physicality, enabling/contributing to the capitalist demand for the expansion of markets into new, previously unvalorized domains. These processes act together as enablers for semiotic recombination, each reinforcing the other in the denial of physicality inherent to digital capitalism.
Copyright © Michael Betancourt April 24, 2014 all rights reserved.
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