Category Archives: information theory

On Kittler and the Autopoietic Integration of Identity Data into the Post-Foucault Assemblage Archive

Jamie Saker
European Graduate School, June 2011
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On Kittler and the Autopoietic Integration of Identity Data into the Post-Foucault Assemblage Archive by James R. Saker Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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With the emergence and acceleration of second generation “Assemblage Archives”, heterogeneous, second-order databases of identity, constructed through the linkage and integration of first-order homogenous collections of individual behavior, the problem of the development and evolution of extrinsic and/or intrinsic normative controls at the second-order level appear to exceed the capacity for private and public control.

In his work Gramophone ,Film, Typewriter, media theorist Friedrich Kittler writes of the connection of the emerging digital data sets to the archive, to which theorist and historian Michel Foucault had substantiated provides for the source of power:

History was the homogenous field which, as a subject in school curricula, included only cultures with written language. Mouths and graphisms dropped out into prehistory. Otherwise events and their stories could not have been connected. The commands and judgments, the announcements and prescriptions that gave rise to mountains of corpses – military and juridical, religious and medical – all went through the same channel that held the monopoly on the descriptions of these mountains of corpses. That is why anything that ever happened ended up in libraries. And Foucault, the last historian or the first archeologist, had only to look it up. The suspicion that all power comes from archives to which it returns could be brilliantly illustrated, at least within the legal, medical, and theological fields.
(Friedrich Kittler; Dorothea von Mucke, Phillipe L. Similon. “Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.” October, Vol. 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 101-118.)

In the two decades following Kittler’s analysis and connectivity to the archive, the realm of digital commerce and social engagement, as particularly but not exclusively constructed on the Internet, has seen evolution of first generation systems arise in correspondence with the nexus of social engagement. Such assemblages of digital history tend to center around the individual’s engagement with specific and subsequently local regions of social experience: driving histories recorded with the Department of Motor Vehicles, merchant purchases captured at the point-of-sale terminal, course and grade transcripts archived at the school and university.

Each first-generation digital archive experienced its construction of capabilities, practices, processes and norms through their initial closures, provided through the initial closures that defined systemic control of the archive, and from the subsequent emergence of capabilities, processes, norms and other behaviors that followed given the definition of the archive through its intrinsic and extrinsic engagement with social, political and economic actors.

In the second major generation of archive construction, entities that include Google, Facebook, Twitter and others have shifted from the development of homogenous archives centered around a locality of social experience toward the creation of second-order archives, constructed typically through the linkage of social locales through the commonality of the individual. As Heinz von Foerster identifies in his 1993 lecture, this integration of first-order systems causes the question of the rules of integration for the second-order archive to be raised:

I have a System A, I have a System B, and now I’d like to integrate both of these into a System C. What rules consist of that allow a new System C to arise, rules of integration, of composition?
(Heinz von Foerster, “For Niklas Luhmann: How Recursive is Communication??”. Lecture given at the Author’s Colloquium in honor of Niklas Luhmann on February 5, 1993 at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Bielefeld. The German version was published in Teoria Soziobiologica, 2/93. Franco Angeli, Milan, pp 61-88 (1993))

According to German systems theorist Niklas Luhmann’s theory of autopoietic closure and control, these first-order archives described by Kittler realized regulations, norms, practices and processes through their engagement within the actors and participants of the homogeneous practice. Actors within the first-order had close proximity to its practice, experientially understood its attributes, requirements, risks, threats and norms. Recurring and frequent interaction by the actors within the first-order provided for the evolution of responsible norms, policies and controls.

Architects, administrators and archivists in the engagement with the first-order “Archive of the Motor Vehicle Driver”, for example, would have had close proximity with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Federal, State and Local auditors, political and citizen-led feedback, and other agents with substantial subject-matter experience to the locality of the first-order archive. As such, the architecture, definition, development and maintenance of these initial digital archives was conducted in close proximity to its stakeholders and realized pragmatic normative practices through this proximity.

Given the premise of the accelerated emergence of second-order Assemblage Archives (or “System C’s” to approximate Foerster’s model), where the individual is no longer defined in relation to a specific field of practice or locality of engagement, but rather through and across the multiplicities of first-order archives in the construction of a second-order archive, and given the extra-jurisdictional detachment this second-order archive realizes through its disconnection from the nexus of practice and actor experience, what are the anticipated consequences and corresponding responsibilities societies have in ethically managing this second-order assemblage?


Post-Structural Judging Paradigms

A work in progress that I’ve been remiss in communicating is my effort on communicating a post-structural interpretation of policy debate. I’ve had many discussions through post-round criticism and out-of-round discussion regarding this interpretation but as a serious work-in-progress, it’s expression has been notably absent.

Having squirreled three times this year (once in policy, twice in LD), I’ve paid careful attention to the panel presented and the nature of the squirrel. I’ve felt that this analysis would be beneficial in the representation and communication of my paradigm; something any person seriously concerned about the pedagogy of debate would be mindful of. This weekend’s squirrel at Westside (Nebraska) in novice policy semifinals was for a Barstow team, against a Millard West team I had just previously voted up in quarterfinals. The squirrel and its post-round discussion by all three judges illuminated the source of difference. As Deleuze would say, it was an intensive difference, not extensive difference.

Beyond Stable Meaning
A clear difference in my approach to the round is in the stability of meaning. Derrida illuminated serious problems in post-Socratic meaning through his deconstruction of Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Rousseau and others who embraced logocentrism (spoken word as true and the written as shady and questionable). Curiously, logocentrism continues to be a dynamic in the round, but an even greater question of hermeneutics (theory of interpretation) comes into play in many rounds where it is assumed that Enlightenment’s scientific approach to reason will unveil the absolute and error-free truth of the warrant. It is this Enlightenment hermeneutic that I’m terribly at odds with and tends to present the clinamen for the squirrel (clinamen is represented here as the least deviation from the laminar flow that gives rise to the vortex of a different order — a new conclusion and an independent outcome, as approximated from Michel Serres’s interpretation of Lucretius as expressed in Genesis, The Natural Contract, and Angels: A Modern Myth).

In my interpretation of the warrant, I’m fully comfortable with warrants being signified and re-signified through a system of volatile and dynamic meaning. Stable meaning is a myth: walk in the shoes of a risk manager in a global corporation and you’ll experience first-hand the extreme uncertainties of “Things that are Stable and Not Risky” go radical on you and give clinametic rise to the “unexpected” vortex of the existential-risk black swan. Meaning is shifting, unstable, uncertain and filled with noise.

Subsequently, I approach the presentation of warrants (evidence) as within this system of instability. I find it relevant to apply the claim signified to the warrant, especially given that the claim is usually made at reasonable speeds and the warrant delivered at a velocity far beyond. I find this to be pedagogically consistent, given that in the executive decision-maker climate, most warrants are rarely questioned and claims accepted unless there is reason to question the provider of the warrant. Senior executives tend to rely on the claim presented (and expect tacit representation of warrant) given that the ethical construct is one based predominantly on trust; get the warrant wrong and you usually won’t be along very long.

The Hermeneutic Experienced
An instantiation of this difference follows: Imagine an critical affirmative 2AC presents Berube’s wonderful 1997 warrant that claims that deontological impacts must be evaluated first (that delicious “Five horsemen of the apocalypse” card by former USC debate coach and CEDA theory guru Dr. David Berube). But imagine further that the affirmative claims the card says that “Beer solves poverty.” Now certainly my judging panel of policymakers and college-attending judges will recognize this card and find that claim to be absurd. As soon as the Negative puts the most minor of offenses on the flow (say, referring to their 1NC utilitarianism card and giving a warrantless claim that it’s a better card, and leaving it that), my fellow judges will gladly leap into Interventionland, determining the “beer solves poverty” claim to be fictional and failing to access the “real truth” that’s within the Berube card.

I contest that this is blatant, un-creative hermeneutics. First of all, to make this leap to a “fixed truth of the Berube card” destroys the potentiality of Derrida and deconstructionism. It goes well beyond that, in fact, denying the capacity for the counter-read. It deprives the 2AC from uncovering a new approach to meaning of the Berube evidence. But furthermore, it’s exceptionally interventionist and, I dare say, disqualifies a judge who makes this leap from claiming to be tabula rasa (on this note, I’d suggest that such paradigms are mythical in a system of fluid, unstable meaning).

Instead, I see the 2AC resignification of the Berube as an establishment of a temporary point of order — a footprint (Michel Serres) to which the affirmative seeks to instantiate a new local order of meaning. When presented, I see the least interventionist hermeneutic model as one that accepts this resignification until there is counter-advocacy sufficient to disrupt and re-re-signify.

The Hermeneutic Applied
So how does a team apply and integrate this hermeneutic? First of all, as I explain to any team approaching a panel, I strongly recommend playing the numbers. I’m a game player as are many, and advise teams to work the numbers. If two of the judges are college age policymakers and I’m the questionable third (as Michel Serres would proudly associate), play to the majority. But should you encounter my paradigm in the solitary, or have the capacity to integrate it with your advocacy to the judging panel, the following method may be beneficial.

Consider our Berube scenario: the 2AC has given us a counter-read (regardless of whether this was innovative, shady or outright confused). The Negative should recognize that I will accept the new system of signification absent a reasonable challenge. But what constitutes that challenge? Certainly not a 5-second analytic saying “The 2AC gives their Berube 97 but our 1NC Smithee ’08 is better.” Instead, draw out the Berube, re-re-signify it, or contrast it with the Smithee ’08. Best of all, contrast it, provide me a hermeneutic micro-framework of how to interpret the decision between the two cards, and call for the cards to be read through that framework at the end of the round should they be material to the ballot. I find this approach to be least interventionist in a system of unstable meaning and find great comfort evaluating the competing hermeneutic framework debate (at which even I conclude that we have to “fish or cut bait” and determine a temporary moment of stability through the hermeneutic framework in order to derive a ballot). I typically find that framework through the process of locating resonance-of-meaning and finding that resonance as a signification of a temporary order capable of offering and sustaining the hermeneutic model. This resonance model itself is something that merits further elaboration and exploration in a future post.

Momentary Vortices of Clarity

One of my favorite experiences encountered when pouring through a new work, uncovering new terrain, is the rare but profound illusion of clarity that may arise. I’m well past referring to those moments as illuminations of truth; I’ve spent too much time with the thoughts of Jacques Lacan and Michel Serres to believe such pure truths are approachable (mere approximations are my aspiration, at best). Perhaps, however, they’re best recognized as moments of new creation. A new synthesis. A witnessed vortex.

Earlier last week, we encountered over a foot of snow followed by blizzard winds in excess of 40 mph. Jay and I spent time looking out our back sliding glass door where periodic snow vortices gave rise to temporary moments of order, arising out of laminar flows, etching near-perfect ellipses below and embracing life-like presence as they danced before us. Eventually they disappoint, lifting away or deconstructing into insignificance and chaos. Temporary moment, policy round, new song by a favorite artist, ascending in experimental form only to drift away.

Of Debate and Angels
As our local debate circuit experienced, we cut our first Serres affirmative (one doesn’t dare call a Serres-influenced case a “critical” affirmative) in one of those vortex moments. It functions on multiple levels, as I’d imagine Serres would certainly encourage, embracing pedagogy, hermeneutics, post-epistemology and other aspects of comprehension. As a first iteration, the case operates as a black box, helping us understand the expectations of our circuit’s condition of discourse as much as it does to introduce Serres to the circuit. In this primary respect, the bidirectional discourse is exceptionally true to the philosophy Serres. We use this case as a team and school who has no tradition in debate, let alone policy debate, and the evaluation, reaction, criticism, inspiration and argumentation that occurs within the round as well as outside (especially through the conceptual engagement of the judge) are all moments where the initial vortex forms. Being outside the institution and discursively naive, another parallel.

But this first swirl is fleeting and immature. There is much work to do as we share the experience of the Serres contribution. While I plan on a greater introduction to his thought and why it’s overdue for a significant presence in policy debate (as well as elsewhere), I thought I’d provide a first iteration of post-constructive explanation to those who are curious and courageous enough to venture here. It’s a fragment at best; no system or totality. Vortexes don’t work that way, they come and go as experiments.

Post-Deconstructionist Interdisciplinarity
Serres is an creative, positive optimist. We’ve had decades of post-modernism (more than a century, if you recognize the critique of German Expressionists like my favorite, Franz Marc). Ultimately, the post-modern led to Deconstruction, Derrida, Dismay, Disfunction, Delusion, Deleuzian, Distrust, Discouragement and other Depressions. Left with scraps to defend, fragmentation, schizophrenia and psychosis. Akin to a Millard South Fight Club case (with or without aquafication), there was a rock bottom to realize to the (post)modern. But where does one go past this bottom?

Often, when one’s lost, we retrace steps. Question earlier forks taken. Serres, described as a truly amodern philosopher by Bruno Latour, returns to pre-Socrates in his origination of a new fork. Serres is shockingly radical through a rejection not only of the Enlightenment’s claim that natural science has exclusive access to reason, but rejects over two thousand years of institutional construction on science, reason, time and culture. It’s usually at this point that the PhD in Philosophy, frustrated at all the “great poetry but incomprehensible constructions” throws the book out the window, protecting his decade investment in an established institution of thought. The Church precedes the Faith. But for the rest of us who are more interested in uncovering “that which exists past deconstruction” — the open door to the next epoch, the subsequent plateau, the emerging island of order in the sea of chaos — Serres presents one of the strongest indications as to the location of the door. And if you’re a debater who is skeptical of the puppy-mill format of policymaker debate, realizing it’s yet to attain a single net benefit after four decades of practice, chances are the door Serres opens to the realm of the reason we’ve excluded might just be for you.

All indications are that this next island is one where the attribute of interdisciplinarity is a primary strength, both individually and socially. Breadth, not depth, is key to understanding the challenges before us. Particle colliders approximating energy levels within a second of the Big Bang. Billions of hungry Hiroshimas rotting in silos. Nanobots seeking a grey goo meal. More than sufficient depth with no progress in understanding. The singular march of Enlightenment’s Science has birthed the Society of the Idiot Savant.

A second hermeneutics arrives. This potentiality is an curious one, for should it resonate in the next island’s construction, it will have a powerful synthesis that advances systems that embrace difference. The philosopher of relational metaphor, post-modern systems of difference are replaced with temporary orders constructed of unique likeness. Can it be that the post-modern of homogeneity that gave rise to Third Reichs and other great de/reterritorializations can suffer its final critique? Certainly much mischief resides in the next epoch, but one has to wonder just how significant the heterogeneous systemic value will affect the systems of order built upon it.

Vortical Iterations
When approaching such a (re)construction of philosophical thought as Serres undertakes, explanations of the thought requires more than illustrating difference. Serres’s unique conceptualization of time, history, rejection of the Enlightenment’s Ju-Piter (separation of the natural sciences from the social sciences with a unique role of the hyphen), significance of relationship as primary and subject/object as ancillary, the post-Marxist ascent of the first world creating a third and fourth world in structural poverty, the post-structural semiotic role of prepositions as messengers in semiotic systems of meaning, the role of chaos and uncertainty giving rise to systems of order, and so on are all major explanations in themselves.

Indeed, as several astute critical case writers have commented, “there’s a hell of a lot going on… probably way too much for a constructive case” when covering just a small part of Serres. With that simplification in mind, seeking a momentary discursive clarity, the next few weeks over the holidays will hopefully provide an opportunity for this exploration and coverage as the next 1AC vortex conceptualizes.

Flow-Structuralism and Wolfgang Ploger’s “Make No Mistake about This”

A recent viewing of Wolfgang Ploger’s “Make No Mistake about This” at the Art Institute of Chicago brought forward recent criticism of the hegemony of structuralist thought in the evaluation of policy debate judging. Ploger’s work, which is first approached as a projected incoherence encountered on a clean white wall, functions as an analog to the tabula rasa paradigm. Participants viewing the “art work” localized in the wall-space are presented with incoherence, noise and randomness.

However, the disrupting noise (akin to Serres‘ third parasite) of a film projector and the presence of a grand projector-ceiling-floor loop of moving film attracts the viewer away from the projected message and to the medium of the moving film. It’s upon this medium inspection that the viewer discovers a message inscribed upon the film which, when projected at many frames-per-second, embraces error and becomes perceptually incoherent. Inspected more closely, the film contains written discourse of the last words and testament of prisoners condemned to execution. Rendered mere noise on the projection of the wall/flow, the message is only ascertainable when evaluated within the medium itself. Ploger’s discourse then appears to appropriate McLuhan‘s famous quote: “the medium is the message.”

Contrast this experience with the state of policy debate judging (as re-experienced this weekend). Situated on an elimination-round panel and confronted with a concurring pure discourse affirmative and negative advocacy (Jane Reinhart’s Kansas City Central vs. Dana Christensen’s Millard South), the three-judge panel was presented with an error-fraught flow but a discursively clear medium. While the flow debate was problematic (akin to the phenomenally-experienced error projected image flow in Ploger’s work), the primary channel of the medium itself signified a much clearer message: KCC through both its exclusionary discourse and through its solvency deficit when approaching the discursive realm of the Lacanian Community Symbolic (my counter-reading of Millard South’s Community K/Counter-Advocacy) attains no functional solvency whereas the Negative sustains minimal solvency through the community alt.

An interesting aspect of the round was the commentary from the other judges on the 2-1 decision (I post-structurally squirrelled); they complained of error, dropped arguments (an easy Neg win through offense on the perm debate was dropped) and other problems encountered by the flow-structuralist interpretation of the discourse were spoken about at length. But through the whole critique by one of the two dissenting judges, I couldn’t help but realize that there’s was a critique of the deconstructionist reality that is signified by Ploger’s projected images. Yes, the image was filled with error (this is what happens when one reads walls and not the medium itself). Yes, structuralist rules were broken (but true discourse was in the round and never approached by the flow-structuralist judges). Yes, noise was overwhelming and the flow-structuralists (the other two traditionalists) were frustrated, angered and left making a poor decision. But more fundamentally, these judges refused to acknowledge: error is part of discourse. It’s evident that the flow-structural model of policy debate evaluation is incapable of appropriately handling error, given the consistency of decisions that express great consternation with its presence. Indeed, my prior squirrel was also in a round where the other two judges decided to reconstruct a structuralist debate that never happened, seeking to eradicate the problem of noise and recover a perfect-signal/zero-error debate that never occurred, re-affirming their faith in the Church of Structural Debate.

Yet the third parasite rendered a confident decision in an environment filled with error. How was this possible? Simple: that judge evaluated the medium, not the projected message, just as my 11-year-old (future policy debater) walked over to Ploger’s film and looked at the message-within-the-medium, disregarding the error-filed wall projection and read the words-on-film with little error. Ultimately, policy debate has to determine if it wants to perpetrate the myth of flow-structuralism, leading to even further worlds of irrelevance and absent meaning, or identify if it has the capacity to radicalize, put down the pens, stop requiring the Spectacle of the Flow, and evaluate the debate that is present before it. When presented with discourse-upon-discourse debate (where both teams ask to be exempt from the myth of flow-structural debate), a rejection of the flow-structural method is the only least-interventionist approach to take.

A Young Person’s Guide to Managing Critical Thought

One of the greatest challenges to a high school debater who wishes to evolve to the level of a true varsity is an internal challenge: handling the mental barrier which precludes the effective handling of critical thought. This barrier is particularly problematic for policy and Lincoln-Douglas debaters in that it restrains their advocacy, causing their arguments to be noticeably insincere. In close rounds, this superficiality results in a loss, as the judge will more carefully measure the consistency, quality and integrity of the debater’s advocacy presented.

Judging competitive rounds, I’ll frequently observe this problem, such as a debater mishandling a Heidegger kritik by running competing arguments in conjunction with the kritik that horribly conflict with the philosopher’s underpinning message, or in opposing debaters trivializing the thought of a Baudrillard or Zizek as “unintelligible crazy crap.” Both cases indicate a problem in conceptualizing the critical argument, finding its coherent place. Yet in discussions with these debaters after the round, a more fundamental problem lurks below the debater’s conscious mind and prevents comprehension of the philosophical idea, in spite of their better efforts. It is to this barrier I speak.

The Conscious Objection to the Kritik
On the surface, kritiks are strange arguments. Consider my team’s experiment with the running of post-humanist philosophy (Michel Serres “The Parasite” on the Negative, and our Kurzweil, Young and Garreau “Transhumanist Manifesto” on the Affirmative) at policy debate novice nationals. Opposing teams refused to engage the arguments seriously, disparaging and trivializing significantly serious and worthy philosophical thought*. Judges that claimed to be tabula rasa lied**, imposing personal preconditions that rejected even to the point of refusing to flow our arguments (and mind you, these were “national circuit” judges, not soccer moms). Some have described the critical affirmative as “rape of debate,” even when a policy option is presented. Our rejection to thought-that-challenges is substantial.

The curious thing about this visceral, emotional rejection of thought-that-challenges is in its obvious and apparent dishonesty. If we took a moment to reflect upon why our current policy-of-self /is/, we would trace each meme that defines our worldview back to philosophy. How do we encounter consumerism? Do we embrace a work ethic? Do we want that new iPod? Should iPod music be free or should we have to buy them from recording labels? Should I cheat on that test? Is a little bit of plagiarism acceptable, especially when everyone else at school does it? All of these thoughts operating within our personal worldview and through our society’s policy are derived from the instantiation of specific philosophical thought. The very fact that we have the concept of a teenager that continues in an educational program, exempt from the workforce, is a relatively new and radical thought as opposed to the experience of history. Merely one-hundred years ago, teenage debaters would be in the mill or in the fields, toiling away through the identity of non-child. Teen, as a concept, did not exist***.

Yet we find it difficult when we handle these philosophical ideas. Indeed, we respond to them with the primitive response of “fight or flight.” Reject the challenging thought outright in its legitimacy and otherize it, or run away from it, quitting critical argumentation or even the activity itself.

The Unconscious Objection to the Kritik
Lurking beneath superficial objection is a conflict within the debater’s self-identity. Numerous critical arguments encountered in the policy and values debate world challenge the culture from which the debater originates. Baudrillard will question the legitimacy of American foreign policy and the integrity of our news media in the portrayal of it all as nothing but war pornography. Zizek will invert Christianity’s compassionate message of “turning the other cheek” into an expression of a greater violence against the Other which can never be overcome. Heidegger, if approached more than superficially, may challenge the way we define ourselves in the world, and Derrida will challenge our very capacity to understand.

To the unprepared, these ideas will cause problems. If approached with significant, sincere intent to comprehend, yet carried out without prior preparation, they can damage and shatter the debater’s worldview, resulting in visceral rejection even of debate itself. Or the other extreme can occur, radicalizing the debater’s thought toward the encountered view at the expense of the connection of existing culture, relationship and community. As either extreme is highly damaging, most debaters address the problem through the formation of cultural immunities: they create antibodies that kill off questioning thought and protect the identity-that-is.

A Third Alternative
Instead of the binary fight-or-flight choice of identity-shattering comprehension versus numbing rejection of critical thought, a third alternative exists which allows for deep comprehension without significant risk to the debater. To explain this concept, we first need to lay some information theory ground through the appropriation of posthumanist analogy.

Borrowing from the technology sciences, the concept of a computer operating system kernel is useful for our third-way model. As the mind of the computer system, the kernel controls the management of memory, execution of tasks and jobs, and interaction with interfaces to its user, others (networks) and its own body (hardware). Operating system designers originally created kernels that were thick or fat, loading them up with great volumes of technology culture. These kernels were good at operating within their specific region, but had great difficulty when appropriated to unanticipated realms. For instance, these fat creatures were great at running a personal computer and serving up web pages, emails and office documents, but they performed horribly when asked to fly fighter jets, run soda vending machines or route traffic on the Internet. They named these fat and singular-purpose (singular-culture) entities Monolithic Kernels.

An alternative approach to the monolithic is the Microkernel. This technology being is one which is exceptionally lightweight, bringing only a bare minimum of technology culture and corresponding baggage. As the kernel is a space within which instructions, definitions and culture require protection (in order to prevent against challenges to its fundamental integrity), this lightweight version places the core of identity within a tight package. All the other stuff that might be occasionally needed but wasn’t absolutely critical to the kernel’s existence and identity was placed outside, in objects called Loadable Kernel Modules (we’ll refer to them as Loadable Modules)

For the varsity critical debater, the microkernel paradigm provides a powerful solution to comprehending formerly dangerous critical thought without jeopardizing the integrity of identity. Interestingly, this transition begins immediately with the very recognition that one can have a microkernel, as this discovery immediately partitions the mind of the debater and defines two spaces: that which is core-to-identity (and thus within the Microkernel), and that which is external-to-identity (and thus a Loadable Module).

For those that have read this far, congratulations! By conceiving of the mere potential for defining your thought in this manner, you possess a microkernel. The memetic infection is already complete. (This instant solvency should suggest something of the power of information theory and memetics to the critical debater).

Hacking Yourself
From this point forward, the practice becomes one of identification, categorization and application. A good example of this process is as follows:

  1. Identification: What beliefs do I have? In every day life, when I make a decision (even the most inane, like “how much mustard should I put on my hot dog”), what values do I express in that decision? Where does that value come from? Is there an underpinning philosophical believe I hold that creates that value?
  2. Categorization: For each of the beliefs I have identified, is this belief something that is incredibly foundational to my existence? If I discarded it, what would that mean to my definition of me? How would it affect my connections to others in my life that are meaningful to me? Considering that each belief that is put into my microkernel, I become more and more unwieldy and inflexible, can I define my self in a most minimal form and allow the rest of my identity to be held as a Loadable Module, to which I invoke and execute when I need it?
  3. Application: For all else that is non-core and external to my microkernel, can I identify it and package it in Loadable Modules? For instance, if I am both an athlete and a debater, I am sure there are times where my Athlete culture is not needed in the debate world, and am even more certain that my Debate culture is problematic in the Athlete world. Likewise, I would probably not load my CriticalDebater module at church or at grandmas and argue Nietzsche. I recognize that while I behave as different persons in these different environments, these are all Loadable Modules which I can load and unload as needed. They do not affect the microkernel-that-is-me.

As one can observe, there is substantial utility in creating a protected microkernel that shields identity, while creating the framework for loadable modules to be invoked as needed given the appropriately self-determined circumstance. In my case, the approach has allowed me to seriously evaluate post-modern, post-anarchist, deconstructionist, existentialist and posthumanist thought at a deep and serious level, while remaining intellectually consistent and true in self-discourse. That I’m a Kierkegaardian-influenced person of faith is not jeopardized when I load modules of those who question the very core of Christianity, for instance. As a loadable module, I’m able to examine the critical thought, utilize it for the local condition (e.g. evaluating a debate round, making a business risk assessment), and then if and only if I choose, appropriate small parts of it to my microkernel should I find that thought to be foundational to my core.

With application and practice using the existing topography of one’s self experience and cultural package, our daily engagement with reality allows us to reinforce this microkernel paradigm. In our experience at home, school, work, debate and elsewhere, the following questions help us refine the paradigm:

Q: What modules do I have loaded right now?
Q: Do I run them all the time, or in certain circumstances?
Q: If I run them all the time, is it possible I’ve made this part of my kernel and monolith-ized myself?
Q: If I don’t run it all the time, what places do I find myself running it?
Q: If I shut them all down and only had my microkernel, how would I behave in this environment?
Q: Do I have loadable modules that I don’t like? Nervous or troublesome behaviors?
Q: Can I segment and control or sever those undesired loadable modules?
Q: What new modules can I download (from culture, books, community) and play with?

The last question is a particularly powerful one as it provides the framework for evaluating critical thought. Consider the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari in their deeply significant work, A Thousand Plateaus. Can I create a new module, call it “D&G World” and begin to populate it with their ideas? Should I study Marx, can I create a Marx module, populate it with my Marx studies, and then load it to play with?

In loading/unloading these modules, we find that the greater our definition and precision of our modules, the more utility we gain from the use and combination of modules. For instance, Deleuze describes that he took the worlds of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, loaded them, snuck up behind them and accosted the ideas (recoding the modules) and created entirely new offspring through the process.

It is through this approach that the debater can deeply engage critical thought and gain comprehension, load and unload, examine, play and torment powerful ideas without risk to identity.

Next Steps
Understanding that the approach prescribed here merely opens a door and gives one a less world-shattering method of seriously engaging critical thought, the practitioner should realize that this is merely the beginning, the first room in the world of memetics, information theory and other wonderful applied ontological practice. For the critical debater that wants to take this practice further, especially in the outward application of these techniques to their advocacy, I strongly recommend the reading of Unruh and Wilson’s “The Art of Memetics,” currently available for PDF download and well worth the inexpensive order directly from the authors. (Warning: memetics is an active practice of information theory and strategy, and subsequently will introduce the student to powerful capabilities that capable of both positive and negative change.)

Long-Term Application
A final comment regarding the utility of this paradigm is necessary. By developing the capacity to load and unload specific perspectives and worlds-of-thought, you will develop a skill that has tremendous utility as an analyst, especially in strategic spaces. Numerous professions greatly desire this capability. In my own profession as an information risk manager, this paradigm has helped me to uncover numerous major risks to my employer that had been previously undetected. Those who proceeded me in examining the risk environment used monolithic and inflexible thought paradigm, e.g. that of an auditor/examiner, or that of the system/network administrator. Through both world-views, the risks that existed were invisible from their vantage point. However, an accomplished hacker or criminal organization would potentially uncover that hidden risk as they characteristically do not approach a system from a typical vantage point. By evaluating the environment through multiple paradigms (via loading the corresponding modules), the risks became immediately clear.

This skill is equally valuable in forecasting consumer behavior, creating corporate strategies specific to potential future scenarios and carrying out countless other applications where the assignment is to either assess the status quo from a nonstandard vantage point, or to anticipate how to design an system for a future environment we haven’t encountered yet. In fact, its utility is relevant toward any situation where we wish to examine our environment (past, present or future) from any other vantage point than the one we’re presently in.

Postscript: One final comment that didn’t make the original posting is very relevant. Many will find that this paradigm and approach will greatly accelerate the process of engaging, comprehending and applying new areas of thought. In educational and professional environments, we’re often asked to take on a new assignment, evaluate from new view. When seen through the lens of “adding another module” and then using the existing framework to apply and test, one can rapidly bring on new capabilities. The microkernel approach embraces “framework reuse” which greatly speeds one’s effort in engaging and utilizing new areas of thought.

* The Transhumanist Manifesto addressed the pending end-of-humanity as we know it through the realm of the Singularity, actually affecting each and every one of us should the increasing body of work addressing this potentiality be true. This topic is by no means obscure, having found increasing popularity on NPR and other mainstream sources. Contrast this to the significance of an imaginary single space-based solar satellite proposed by a high school debater using fiat to an end that will never actually occur. In a sense, critical affirmative vs. policymaker inverts the reality of discourse, where the only absurd and silly argument in the room is the pretend policymaker plan. Fiat makes for unreliable cars and even less reliable discourse.

**There are two types of tab judges: Those that have preconditions (and thus are not tab), and those that lie. For a more honest alternative, embrace the information theorist paradigm and embrace preconditions, subjectivity of position and noise.

*** Actually, we don’t even need one-hundred years of history to find this truth. My very own paternal grandfather left home at age 13 and crossed the country hitching freight trains to work sheep ranches in Montana in order to send money home to his mother and his sisters during the Great Depression. I enjoy reminding my children of this fact when they’re less than eager to help around the house (a rare occurrence, I should add).

Digression: White House Kindersprache

Much angst has been expressed this week on President Obama’s plans to speak to the nation’s elementary school children this upcoming Tuesday on the subject of community and personal responsibility. Observing the alarm in the conservative communities and the subsequent counter-alarm from the left in reaction to their unprecedented rejection, I felt I might share a perspective from a realm outside of either political domain.

I’ve found the rejection of the right to be a curious one, especially from a constituency that has historically respected the political office even when its occupier was one to which they had great disagreement. During both Carter and Clinton terms, the right expressed great frustration with policy and personal issues (e.g. Lewinsky scandal), but the support of the executive and commander-in-chief was generally present (compare this to the absolute rejection of the left to President Bush, even through the rejection of his very legitimacy of office which constituted the most profound and profane of exclusions). Even when there has been material objection to the executive, it has typically been on predicable ground: e.g. defense of values of patriotism or faith, objection to Federal encroachment upon federalism, or the concerns of Bill of Rights violations (e.g. second amendment).

However, the current reaction appears to be less associated with an enumerated principle and more with a visceral, emotional objection. It increasingly appears that the President has elicited alarm through a break-down in trust at the most fundamental level with both independent and conservative individuals. For those desiring any further policy progress by this executive, understanding this break down in trust will be fundamental to that aim. Some are already pronouncing Obama’s political capital exhausted absent a major change of course, as witnessed with the healthcare fiasco and abject mismanagement of his senior managers (per the failure to conduct any background checks on the czars and subsequently pack the White House with unaccountable radicals, many with criminal records; a brand-of-corruption and cronyism formerly perceptually dominated by the right).

Many have expressed that they would see no benefit from the current president speaking to our students. Should the students be presented with a pioneering scientist, a globally distinguished philosopher, innovative community leader, accomplished musician or successful entrepreneur, they would encounter someone who’s life experience constituted a message with potential value for their self-application. But as they explain, very few students would encounter a personal experience within a political machine that advanced one with no meaningful accomplishments and a stealth career of staying anonymous and avoiding taking any position in order to ascend to national office when the right powerful elites advance their status. Subsequently, Obama’s “life experience” value is no greater than that of a state lottery winner, and may indeed communicate the wrong message if shared. Given this lack of a meaningful life story to follow, I’d have to agree with those that state that the President’s message is not likely to be one which speaks from an experience most students would aspire to follow.

My Take
I personally prefer allowing discourse, especially when it’s used in the context of localized learning, aligns with student development plans, and is initiated in a “pull” manner (e.g. the student/teacher combination elects to receive and evaluate the message in the furtherance of educational advancement). But recognizing the role of the President as the embodiment of paternalistic Federal power, I’m a strong opponent of push-messaging directed at creating a fictional discourse between the student and the President. At a minimum, this false dialog confuses the student into believing she/he has a direct connection with the President and encourages the unhealthy projection that the President personally cares for their life advancement. This trespasses on the uncomfortable ground of populists and propagandists.

Worse yet, the false president-student connection distorts the student’s comprehension of the learning model, reinforcing Federal hierarchies as the preferred structure and damaging decentralized models. Instead of seeing their relationship within the educational institution as the primary coefficient in advancing their education, the concept of President-as-My-Personal-Mentor is forwarded. These messages are particularly damaging to the K-6 student who is just developing their learning experience model, and include monstrosities written in the White House’s directive to school principals (that included a list of recommended questions that be asked of the student following the President’s message) such as:

  • Who is the President of the United States?
    He is a great man who is the leader of our country and a leader in the world.

  • What do you think it takes to be president?
    It must take an awful lot to become president. (This reinforces the elite “I am honored to be spoken to by such a great man” quality of the dialog-to-be-established)

  • To whom do you think the president is going to be speaking?
    Well, to students, right? (Another effective mematic manipulation technique is in play with this question, posing an obvious question to create the student’s visualization of “President to Anonymous Masses of Students” image which will be shortly shattered. We must first be made to feel anonymous in the cult before being singled out by the Leader for love and attention)

  • Why do you think he wants to speak to you?
    What? He wants to speak to ME? Personally? (This shifts the students perception of the message from generic to specific and is an exceptionally effective technique in mematic exploitation)

  • What is the president trying to tell me?
    He *is* talking to me! I have a direct relationship with the president as he is speaking to me and I’m being asked to interpret his message!

  • What is the president asking me to do?
    That the President would speak to me and now call me out for action is very special. I’d better not let him down.

  • If you were the president, what would you tell students?
    (Shifts the perception of the dialog and further reinforces the students projection of personal communication with the President and expanding the emotional connection. This role-reversal technique is commonly used by social engineers to disarm perceptual defenses; once I’m seeing the relationship from the eyes of the Other, they become me and I become them. I mistakenly attribute my motives, beliefs, etc. to my representation of the Other and disable natural defenses).

  • What new ideas and actions is the president challenging me to think about?
    (NEW ideas are imputed to be better than OLD ideas through this question. This implicates the status quo and its institutions, including the student’s current educational program, the political climate, etc. This statement also furthers the paternalistic model of Leader engaging young student to change the nature of things through thought that which rejects the old).

  • Does the speech make you want to do anything?
    (Ties discourse to action)

  • Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
    (Prepares action for radicalization when opposition is met to the NEW ideas)

Overall, there is nothing accidental nor innocent in this program, as it constitutes some of the greater thinking in current social engineering theory. The effect is a program that succeeds in re-orienting the student toward unquestionably receiving the President’s message, rejecting the current model of “teacher as educational thought leader”, replacing it with a populist hierarchical system where the President is the leader and sends instructions that are to be converted to action through the new channel, rewards NEW thought/action over the OLD status quo, and prepares for radicalization should resistance to change be encountered.

Should one take the explanation by the White House that their intentions are sincere and are not aimed at reprogramming America’s youth, the current speech should be canceled and an alternative approach would be appropriate. President Obama’s presidential campaign showed itself to be Internet savvy, using Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, mass emails and other technologies to engage and excite its constituency. Many independents were greatly excited by the campaign’s rejection of old guard hierarchy. Yet as anticipated by Agamben’s State of Exception, the new executive never dismantles the old hierarchy; he merely co-opts it, re-appropriates it and assimilates it to his own ends in the process of advancing even further Executive power.

Were the President to be true to his rhizomic campaign strategy, he would discard the effort to impose hierarchical authority over U.S. students and transmit push-messages through static and non-interactive media, and instead utilize Youtube and other Internet forms to engage truer dialog with the students. Throw out the paternalistic television and radio broadcast and appropriate to disseminate education-positive messages to America’s students. This approach would be compatible with the student’s learning objectives, would reinforce their local educational program and supplement it with supportive messages regarding the importance of education from the President, rather than representing an attempt to circumvent that program.

Risk Existentiale: A topology for risk

As mentioned previously, I’m continuing my work on Risk Existentiale, although the path continues to elongate with each further effort to comprehend a specific space. Increasingly, I’m seeing this “small space project” expand into an undertaking that will require considerable time and effort to carry out. For that purpose, I’m aware that some of the ideas need to get further circulation in the public commons, allowing them some play and exposing the light of discourse upon them.

For those not familiar with it, Risk Existentiale is my project toward a greater understanding of why existential risk happens in the corporate landscape (while it may lend itself to other institutions, the nonprofit and governmental agency are clearly not in the scope of the work). Most of our advancement in the risk management profession has been superficial and limited in descriptive and prescriptive quality. The fundamental question I pursue in this work asks:

Why it is that, in spite of all of the regulations, compliance frameworks, standards, policies, checklists, auditors, assessors and analysts, we continue to be surprised by risks? This problem affects all realms of corporate risk management — financial, operations, information, technology — and in spite of even greater application of risk rules, practices and methodologies, we seem further away than ever from control.

Earlier explorations on the subject, such as my Self-Evidence in Existential Risk or my Paulo Freire essay explore thoughts on the origins of this problem at a definition-of-truth level (e.g. “which truth are you seeking?” as some, including Heidegger, allege we may be unaware that we are using the wrong one). However, this increasingly leaves us with a one-dimensional description with little utility. There is much, much more going on that merits our attention.

Indeed, a path that has guided my approach to date can be well represented by the analog of the recommended discourse in Saul’s book, “Voltaire’s Bastards,” where it is suggested that we’ve grown too complacent in embracing policy and rejecting philosophy. Borrowing from Saul and appropriating Michel Serres (in particular, his Genesis), I would suggest that policy is nothing more than a local philosophical island of instantiation. Or as Deleuze and Guattari would describe for more persistent instantiations, a policy is a plateau in which a particular dominant thought from philosophy became the general way of thinking for the duration of the plateau’s existence. It is through this appropriation of islands and plateaus that one may regard our current approach to risk as one that is limited in its instantiation, subject to recurrences of failure until we sail away to a new instantiation with a topology more appropriate at comprehending the dynamic of risk. Furthermore, the application of Foucault’s analysis of discourse as a conceptually-limiting function that defines the capacity and perceptual limit of the system and the participants within it correlates to the island or plateau and has significant relevance in this investigation.

A Topology, Finally
Muddled in the deep plumbing of Derrida, Serres, Saussure and Lacan (of which a lot of the information theory and semiotic aspects affecting risk reside), I came up for air and grabbed Slavoj Zizek’s recent work, Violence: Big Ideas/Small Books. In it, the Slovenian genius of applied philosophical thought and cultural theory introduces a framework for violence which lends itself remarkably well to the topology of risk I’ve sought.

Borrowing from Zizek’s triumvirate model, risk consists of a single foreground domain of Subjective Risk, and two background Objective Risks: Symbolic and Systemic Risks. Through this application, great descriptive potential is immediately apparent and eventually, prescriptive value may eventually be derived. I’ll briefly describe these three elements, of which great work lies ahead in their examination, verification and application.

1. The Subjective Foreground
Subjective Risk: This is the domain of risks that affect a subject, such as a person, a portfolio, a computer server, a web application, a company’s reputation. Displayed on the canvas, these are the entities we discretely identify. This is the realm of known risk, that which our auditors, examiners and assessors evaluate, and to which our policies, regulations, standards and such attempt to manage. Indeed, this constitutes the overwhelming majority of our experience in the risk management profession: a world in which we attempt to prevent, detect and control risk. Yet in spite of our best efforts, we continue to be surprised by risks that appear “out of nowhere.” Our checklists didn’t anticipate their potential through the questions we asked, and our models excluded their existence. We’ve felt that there is more risk out there, but relegated them with Otherizing language by calling them Outliers and Black Swans. Those risks which we do not understand are unnamed, external and other, we declared as we embraced our hopelessly inept model.

2. The Objective Background
Behind the foreground of subjects that have commanded our attention in our assessments and audits lies a background — a canvas of what appears to be noise when our lens is adjusted for the near-field. That it appears as little more than entropy to us is not surprising: Cross-apply Zizek’s observation on violence to our world of risk: Subjective and Objective risk cannot be perceived from the same standpoint. Subjective risk is seen as the “perturbation of the ‘normal,’ peaceful state of things.” However, objective risk is inherent in the normal state of the subjective, invisible from its view as it is constructed in its essence and being (Zizek 2008). Zizek likens this to dark matter lurking about. Within this realm of the objective, we have two domains of risk:

a. Symbolic Risk: The domain of the symbolic is that of the very mind, thought and discourse of the corporate being or egregore. It is the domain where of our corporate reality is constructed and semiotics defined; a realm influenced by the thought of Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Lacan and Derrida among others. To explain the fundamental significance of semiotics in the definition of the corporate egregore in this essay is well beyond its scope; indeed, I’ll be fortunate to appropriately represent it in the several hundred pages I anticipate Risk Existentiale will occupy. That said, others have already laid some ground in the evaluation of semiotics in corporate thought. Fiol’s 1989 work on the impact of semiotics in corporate language on corporate boundaries and joint ventures, and Barley’s 1983 study on semiotics and organizational cultures, encourage a journey in this realm. For all the discussion among risk managers on “risk appetite,” “risk-averse/accepting/inclined cultures,” and so on, we should recognize these as indicators of the Symbolic domain. A serious exploration of this domain from the perspective of risk is overdue and will constitute a significant portion of Risk Existentiale.

b. Systemic Risk: From the symbolic domain that defines the thought and discourse, the Systemic is the body-without-organs of the corporate egregore. This is the domain of information flows, processes, transmissions and transformations. This is the realm of Deleuze and Guattari, and from a technological risk perspective, engages the thought of Alexander Galloway and McKenzie Wark.

Function of the Topology
In the proposed topology of risk, I would argue that a corporate entity which has experienced its evolution to the state of egregore (where a corporate mind distinct from that of its individuals has evolved) has seen that egregore accept a language, style of thought and perception in the domain of Symbolic Risk. As the egregorical entity engages in its information flows, it extends this quality of risk into the domain of Systemic Risk. In proper Deleuzian form, one would further expect smoothing of space to occur as the egregore’s body-without-organs extends through corporate departments, client relationships, vendor partnerships and other flows. Indeed, one would even expect the capacity for smoothing to occur in the flows between corporate egregore and regulator (to the potential dismay of those that anticipate autonomous supervision). This flattened space becomes our Risk Topography, which becomes our environment that gives rise to “explosions” (Zizek) of risk into the Subjective Risk domain.

From background to foreground, the Symbolic Risk of Long-Term Capital Management in the formation of their semiotic language which defined certain risks as “impossible” gave rise through its expression in its Systemic Flows and explosion into Subjective space of an existential, market-jeopardizing financial catastrophe. Or the NASA egregore that established a language of “launch at all costs” and gave rise to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Indeed, we hear of explanations after the fact, blaming corporate cultures, group-think (a fashionable, lightweight term for the information theory egregore phenomenon) and other Objective Risk causes, yet our methodologies ignore this difficult analysis and proclaim “if only we added more regulations and auditors, we might have prevented that!”

Progress Report
Given the re-appropriation of Zizek’s wonderful topology, I’m encouraged that a descriptive effort will certainly be possible. Indeed, much progress has been made in the Systemic environment, through the examination of Galloway, Wark and others. I’m increasingly certain that a Deleuzian model will emerge here; Galloway’s efforts in this space are too compelling, though their examination has been from a predominantly technology-centric perspective. Backing the view out to one which embraces the general realm of corporate risk will take further effort. The Symbolic Risk domain remains a realm of great potential, yet also lurks as what we call in policy debate a “time-suck.” And of course, none of this roadmap anticipates what lies ahead in the integration of the topology, its linking to the Subjective Risk domain, and the analysis of any prescriptive potential.

With that said, it’s a path I find compelling and necessary. I believe we’re past due in recalling our current methodologies, given their absolute inadequacy in anticipating all but the known risk. Give my disinclination to write without seeking perfection, this blog will continue to be a source where many of the raw ideas will be hammered out, integrated or discarded. As always, comments and perspective that give illumination to the Risk Existential entity are welcome and encouraged.

A further challenge to the undertaking exists in its approach. I would hope and expect the project to have utility in the applied space of corporate risk management, yet increasingly recognize that we must leave our current plateau which requires a journey through deep and difficult terrain. One concept for the completed project is a true executive summary at the forefront, which provides ground sufficient for one eager to apply the thought, absent the deeper exploration. An example of this would be a Routledge Critical Reader-like introduction for an executive and professional audience, followed by the domains within the topology in full analytic detail.