Monthly Archives: November 2012

Governance and the myth of the static

Here’s a word every college and high school student should learn: Governance. While it has that authoritative “govern”, it needs to be disarmed and understood as the instable farce it actually represents.

Much of my non-debating time in spent in a professional world known as “governance, risk and compliance.” While I try to limit the radiological exposure to the last term, the first and second comprise a lot of my interest and attention. To debaters who find epistemology and, in particular, meta-epistemology (which I define as the practice of creating meaning-and-interpretation production systems) interesting, this is a remarkably engaging place to work that is most likely not listed on your career survey listings. To give you a sort of aggressive explanation of governance and risk, let’s work with the idea that governance is what we do and what we get when we try to model out a system, based on our best estimates of how a system would seem to work well and keep itself well maintained, and risk is what you get and have to deal with when you ultimately fail at the former exercise. If you’re working for a Sandwich Artistry company, governance would be related to the effort to figure out what procedures and policies make sure you make good sandwiches, don’t give your customers food poisoning, and make sure you don’t over-compensate and cause the company to lose money and go out of business. Risk is the practice of dealing with how you might have gotten it wrong, either in what you did or didn’t realize might happen.

Notice I’ve neglected that third term: compliance. That’s the world of busy bodies with clipboards and checklists who check to make sure a governance approach that becomes promoted into the realm of sovereign interpretation (e.g. becomes a law or some sort of a regulatory requirement) is being practiced based on the interpretation of the clipboard police. While these people are vital to the functioning of systems, they tend to be arbitrarians who don’t understand the very nature of their existence. To them, the law is. It always has been. If you’ve seen the movie Pleasantville, these are the black and white types who are terrified of the ambiguity and complexity of color. They require certainty. The belief in rules assures that bad things will never, ever happen, just as long as all those deviant rule-breakers are punished and kept at bay. Compliance with rules is a very special thing, as it defines their sole purpose for collecting a paycheck. We subsequently find compliance professionals in the socially popular fields of speed enforcement, tax auditors and other folks who live within the mythology that the law is reality. While they might be dreadfully simple people, verging perhaps on the side of embracing totalizing ideas that gladly eradicate difference and exterminate those they can’t quite understand, we need these simple individuals when appropriately deployed to ensure that we architects of process haven’t made boneheaded assumptions that could crash the whole damn system.

Yet this presents a problem for us, especially for those of us who either deal with the creative act of governance construction, or work in the abstract “world of the gap” of systemic risk management. Professionally, we often struggle with our compliance peers as they take that which we constructed to be doxological truth (as if God passed the rules off to Moses and we are left to accept it without question). I’ll be the first to admit that many (most?) architects of process are guilty of inattention and distraction. Once something’s built, it’s no longer interesting. We need Ward Churchill’s “little Eichmanns” of compliance to monitor the heat of the engines we made, given the good chance that the whole damn thing will blow up if we didn’t get a little detail right. Or worse, reality changes on us (as it usually does). But who’s going to tell these nasty, anti-intellectual structuralists that the whole system has changed, let alone manage them? This is ugly business, indeed.

I first faced this “puzzle of the compliance structuralists” in 1999, when I was the head of service development for a mid-sized Latin America and Middle Eastern digital telecom startup. My boss, the chief operating officer of the company, would throw assignments at me that consisted of things like defining and constructing a new billing practice or a new network engineering practice out of thin air. Consulting with him on “strategic direction” (sort of a vision thing that you need to connect with to inform your approach), we’d make policies, procedures, standards, and other things that would construct the particular practice. Words became real.

A year after creating a billing practice, I encountered a problem. We’d hired a bunch of people from a former Regional Bell Operating Company (aka a phone monopoly) known then as US West (which became Qwest and, through the powers of other poststructural architects employed by capitalists in the realm of Hardt and Negri’s Capital, transcended to its current state of CenturyTel) and some of the mid-level managers were running in circles, all confused and unable to do their jobs. It turned out that something in the policy and procedure documents I had written the year prior was causing them serious grief, something unanticipated and quite normal as a company moves through supernormal growth and pushes even the best models you could create at the time. I recall joining the meeting in our large conference room and encountering “Joe” and “Marci” who were both exhausted with stress. They explained to me that they had run into a dreadful problem: they were trying to carry out some activity but it simply was impossible due to the fact that the policy prohibited it. They were absolutely stumped.

I responded “Well, it looks like we have to change the policy.” The reaction I got was akin to Moses saying “Well crap, it looks like that particular commandment sucks. Let’s toss it out and write a new one.” There was an implied sovereign diety implicated in each of the codified policies, according to Joe and Marcy. To change the law, or even question it, was an act of heresy. (Note: For those playing the home version of Radical Realism, the application of the potential to the real, this is a reason we study the problematic German philosopher Carl Schmitt in spite of all of his problems. Schmitt’s Political Theology, for instance, gives a remarkable accounting of how theological things we’d otherwise expect to be rational can be, such as governance and compliance processes).

I won’t go into the theories of why Joe and Marcy believed so faithfully in the “truth” of those policies (that’s an aspect of a lot of the theory I’m subsequently working on now), but I do want to share the realization from that conversation as it unfortunately seems to be consistently found across our various systems, practices and governance approaches. When I had the required humility to confess the failure of my best effort in constructing a particular aspect of the policy (specifically, a “policy control” I had engineered to attempt to keep some specific bad things we were worried about at the time from happening, and subsequently prevented a process from evolving through stresses that temporarily pushed that control space), I discovered I had two colleagues who felt as if they had just seen the Wizard behind the screen. They saw the glimpse of the fiction of governance, being told that this Sovereign Law they believed limited their very existence and practice was nothing more than a fiction that had become real. A mere hyperstition I got wrong.

Given the willing admission and confession that I blew it when my boss and I made that policy control, we quickly moved on and made the company better. But curiously, many controls and governance specifications we encounter in society are guarded by lesser creatures: incompetent policemen who know nothing of the originary fiction of the control’s half-assed narration. They’re the bureaucratic frauds who have assumed the mantel of a practice they know nothing respective to its original purpose, subsequently doxologizing the routine they inherited from their predecessors. Accidental movements become ritual: an incidental, accidental action constructed in response to a singular specific becomes a theological doctrine, imposed with the power of Inquisitional Authority by those who have an utter lack of comprehension of the actual purpose of the initial need.

The conclusion I’d suggest is this: every governance artifact, every rule, law, code, bylaw or expectation, is a consequence of someone else’s past. It might have been useful to them in their negotiation of reality in their time, but there is absolutely no certainty that it matters to yours. In fact, it may kill you, or make you seriously sick. In this world, you can’t coast. You can’t defer your responsibility for questioning the reality you’re confronted with and doing your best to build a model that seems to help you survive it. Failing to think, and assuming you live in a static universe where prior experiences predict the future, only ensures you will have an exceptionally painful and quite possibly fatal experience in a universe indifferent to the general laziness and incompetence of universalizing humans.

Think, engage, model and adapt. And never, ever assume the map handed down to you by a prior generation will get you through life’s minefield.


State of the Non-Exception: Sovereign Creativity Beyond the Juridical

According to theorist and American University in Cairo professor Graham Harman, “one of the most important decisions made by philosophers concerns the production or destruction of gaps in the cosmos. That is to say, the philosopher can either declare that what appears to be one is actually two, or that which seems to be two is actually one” (Harman 2). This paper examines the philosophical gap created by the state of exception, recognized as distinct yet instrumental in the definition of the sovereign expression of power, as identified by German political theorist Carl Schmitt. From this recognition, the paper proposes a subsequent closure or destruction of an aspect of the Schmittian gap through the analysis and claim that the framing of the exception is implicit to the epistemological construction of creative sovereign power. The paper furthermore claims that, through a reading of Schmitt’s Political Theology, this epistemological non-exception — a quantum indeterminancy of the possibility for exception that resides at a superposition of radical potentiality outside the instantiation of materialized exceptions (as non-geometry would be to the instantiated model of Euclidian Geometry) expressed through juristic decision — already resides within Schmitt’s exception but is subsequently de-emphasized in the 1922 analysis. Through the analysis of contemporary explorations of the exception, particularly informed by an epistemological opening brought forth by Agamben and consequentially interpreted through the loosely described radical meta-epistemologies of “possibility or fiction becoming real” of Laruelle and Negarestani, the claim is advanced for a model of a non-exception that is latent across the epistemological power-production system. The non-exception, it is therefore argued, is the consequence of the creative fiction-writing act of the sovereign in the construction and exercise of exception and law.
Fenrir and Tyr
Exceptional Topology
In a topological map of sovereign expression, where does the exception reside? In response to the rationalists’ exclusion of the exception, a reaction to the seeming irrationality of the exceptional terrain that exceeded analytical and scientific measure, Schmitt’s analysis constructed a conceptual Venn diagram that carved sovereign expression into two: codified law and exception. Instead of rejecting the exception as an incoherence or error in the law, Schmitt recognized a situational law from which both exacted and excepted expression was included: “The sovereign produces and guarantees the situation in its totality” (Schmitt 15). By dividing sovereign law into codification and exception, Schmitt illuminated the fabric that binds them both.
Of even greater importance was Schmitt’s recognition of the exception as event, within the durationality of sovereign engagement in the law. Beyond the static representation of sovereign code and non-code in a sociological Venn-space, the law was thrown into time and observed to be functioning particularly at the moment of juristic decision. “It would be a distortion of the schematic disjunction between sociology and jurisprudence if one were to say that the exception has no juristic significance and is therefore ‘sociology.’ The exception is that which cannot be subsumed; it defies general codification but it simultaneously reveals a specifically juristic element – the decision in absolute purity” (Schmitt 13). It is this accounting for chronos, specifically in the recognition of the exception as an occurrence at the moment of decision after the formation of the law, that requires calling into question. While Schmitt acknowledges the capacity for the exception to exist beyond codification, particularly in its totalizing occupancy, he suggests its most manifest appearance is in the expression of sovereign authority through the juristic narrative of the decision. Specifically, “the exception appears in its absolute form when a situation in which legal prescriptions can be valid must first be brought about. Every general norm demands a normal, everyday frame of life to which it can be factually applied and which is subjected to its regulations” (Schmitt 13). The most pronounced expression of sovereign authority is in its judgment, according to Schmitt: the citizen stands awaiting law or exception before the seated sovereign resting upon his throne.
Yet while the intent of the exception is the rule over chaos through the construction of normative narratives manifest in contract and law, Schmitt appears to recognize that the problem is further upstream in epistemological navigation. Requiring homogeneity in normative narration for legal order, “a normal situation must exist, and he is sovereign who definitely decides whether this normal situation actually exists” (Schmitt 13). Yet normativity cannot be constructed at the tail end of the process; it is an ingredient implicated in the epistemological soup from which an instantiated politics is nourished. Juridical determination and judgment certainly informs society, particularly as an expression of sovereign-epistemological interpretation through the laughter, scowl or condemnation of the sovereign at the interpretive application of the law, this trailing action is much too late: the moans and organic leakages of the recently-impaled citizens marking the path toward the castle of the penultimate sovereign, Wallachia ruler Count Vlad III, conveyed a confirmation of imperial Potestas as a strong power understood through acts and edicts, but leaves insufficient understanding of the fictional writing of sovereign Auctoritas. Vlad the Impaler, like all good sovereigns, was first and always a great writer of fiction.
Hyperstitional Author
In the etymological indications latent within the Latin Auctoritas, from which Agamben notes a connection to the root Latin auctor (author) and authorship, the auctor is “the person sui iuris (the pater familias) who intervenes – pronouncing the technical formula auctor fio (I am made auctor) – in order to confer legal validity on the act of the subject who cannot independently bring a valid act into being” (Agamben 76). From this authorship of construction and bringing-into-being, the possibility for topological reunification of Schmitt’s opening definition of the sovereign as the author of the decision-exception may be radically reconstructed into a new claim that:

Sovereign is he who narrates the law from the hyperstitional potential of the non-exception.

Given that this assertion may take some unpacking in order to digest, one should first assume a topological “concept space” of all potentiality. This lumpy plane of pregnant conceptual chaos is the epistemological fabric, hyperreality or superposition from which all combinations expressible at any time are realized. Numerous poststructural philosophers have contributed to this topological space of unrealized epistemological potential, from Michel Serres and a sea of chaos from which islands of order may emerge (the author’s approximation of Serres Genesis) and Francois Laruelle’s radical superposition of non-philosophy and the concept of the One, to German poststructuralist Niklas Luhmann’s conception of autopoiesis and autoemergence, from chaos into order.
Connecting to the gap Schmitt recognizes in the Venn diagram of “exception and law,” we can subsequently place the exceptional-codified duality firmly within instantiated space of the realized and actualized. As a construct that is no longer unimagined, the exception is instantiated through the construction of the sovereign, driven perhaps by the state of emergency or crisis, but also by opportunity for the realization and formation of new powers: rarely is sovereign expression solely constituted by mere reaction.
Within the topological space of all potentiality, the pregnant void, the sovereign must certainly effectuate a construction of the law from this raw epistemological fabric. But how does this assemblage of the law occur? While Schmitt provides us with an account of the exception’s application following the law’s formation, its ancestry is left unquestioned. How did the law arise and who authored its interpretation? From what fabric is the narration cut? What deals were made and lies told to negotiate its insertion? Beyond the interpretation of an already-written law, what is absent in both Schmitt and Agamben’s analysis of epistemological creation is a linkage that connects the radical framework of potential realization to the political movements of the sovereign
It should subsequently be proposed that the greater role of the exception is in the framing and maintaining of the law itself. This is a matter of writing new fictions, or more specifically, fictions that are intended to be hyped, experimented with, and considered for their utility in becoming real interpretations that construct meaning. For the sovereign, Negarestani’s hyperstition, understood as “a fictional work or belief system that somehow gradually takes on the appearance of reality” (Szulborski) is a new interpretation of that which may become law but isn’t yet. From this conceptual appropriation, the sovereign borrows from the archives of the non-exception (the not-yet-realized exception that lurks awaiting extraction from the void) and presents a new fiction outside of the codified law, creating and experimenting with the potentiality of the radical construction. This is the Happy Hunting Grounds on the sovereign’s private estate, the grounds for game and sport that are limited to sovereign privilege, for the construction of new narratives which may, if useful, become law and/or exception. New powers, certainly those necessary due to Schmitt’s unforeseen contingencies but also those which adapt and advance sovereign influence commensurate with social and technological advancement.
As Agamben examines Schmitt’s exception in its contemporary application in the Guantanamo detention camps of then United States President George W. Bush, the non-exception finds itself illuminated in the drone warfare of his successor, President Barack Obama. Confronted with campaign commitments to conclude the extra-legal detention camps and equally constrained by a pragmatic realization of the depletion and exhaustion of neo-liberal terror-eliminating idealism, the necessity for creative narration was immanently realized as the Obama administration sought solutions from the archive of the non-exception. Classified target lists constructed and executed without juristic intervention, kill lists reviewed and ‘actioned’ by a select executive panel and approved by the sovereign himself, actualized a technocularcentric hunting ground for the play of new sovereign authority.
Sovereign power rarely rests, evolving and radicalizing as necessitated for its survival. Schmitt’s conception and Agamben’s advancement of the theory of the exception appropriately unites the exceptional and codified law into a common topology and furthermore propels it into the durationality of sovereign event-space. Residing on the inheritance of a structuralist past from within which the law is always previously written, the prior interpretation lacked sufficient acknowledgement of the creative authorial power of the sovereign, particularly in the engagement and play with the potentiality of the non-exception that, given hyperstitional treatment, becomes juristic material for a not-yet-codified law.

Works Cited

Agamben, Georgio. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford University Press.

Agamben, Georgio. 2005. State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell. University of Chicago Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1969. The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. London and New York: Rutledge, 2002.

Foucault, Michel. [1975-1976] 2003. “Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976”, trans. David Macey. Picador, reprint edition.

Harman, Graham. [1922] 2012. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Winchester UK and Washington DC: Zero Books.

Kara, Ashok. 2001. Ghosts of Justice: Heidegger, Derrida and the Fate of Deconstruction. iUniverse.

Kelly, Kevin . 1995. Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, & the Economic World. Basic Books.

Laruelle, François. 2011. Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-philosophy, originally published in French as Les philosophies de la difference by Presses Univeritaires de France, 1986. London and New York: Continuum.

Negarestani, Reza. 2008. Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials (Anomaly). Melbourne: repress.

Rescher, Nicholas. “Process Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2010. accessed April 21, 2012.

Robinson, Keith. “Between the Individual, the Relative and the Void: Thinking the Event in Whitehead, Deleuze and Badiou,” in Event and Decision: Ontology and Politics in Badiou, Deleuze and Whitehead, ed. Roland Faber, Henry Krips and Daniel Pettus. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.

Schmitt, Carl. 1985. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, originally published as Politische Theologie: Vier Kapital zur Lehre von der Souveranitat, trans. George Schwab. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Szulborski, Dave. 2005. This is Not a Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming. Incunabula.

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State of the Non-Exception: Sovereign Creativity Beyond the Juridical by James R. Saker Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.