Category Archives: Theory

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.

The Tale of the Sculptor and the Alligator

Jade Alligator
Note: I shared this fable at Nebraska Debate Institute this August during my postmodernism lecture to the Lincoln Douglas Debate Workshop, as a introductory encounter with what I referred to as “poststructural constructivism” (per my Luhmann, Whitehead, Serres and Deleuze influences), for the purpose of understanding the extent of how Philosophies instantiated into Theory and Practice/Politics profoundly shape the possibilities and the limits of such instantiations. Given its positive reception, I thought I’d share it here as well in a little more finished form.

The Tale of the Sculptor and the Alligator

by Jamie Saker

A Sculptor, employed by the Sovereign, was known far and wide for his ability to create remarkable likenesses of creatures from stone. As the Sovereign would conquer new lands and cross rugged mountains, he would send great pieces of rock back for the Sculptor to work: Persian red marble, soft white marble and stones of even more exotic flair. Upon receiving a new stone block, the Sculptor would grab his tools and dive into creation, chipping, chiseling and carving massive stone alligators, each reflecting the color and intensity of their original stone.

One day, the Sovereign sent a rare, large block of jade with a request: “As my daughter’s wedding is soon, I ask that you purpose this special stone and carve her a giant swan. This would please me greatly.” Gladly, the Sculptor accepted the assignment and moved the massive stone into his workshop. Weeks passed and the Sculptor was naught to be seen, keeping himself locked away in his workshop for all hours with the special stone with only the endless sound of hammering and scraping to escape its confines. Mere days before the wedding, a message was sent to the Sovereign that the work was complete. Arriving at the Sculptor’s workshop, the Sovereign was presented with a massive object enshrouded with a single white sheet. “Behold,” said the Sculptor as he tugged at the cloth, “I present my greatest accomplishment yet!” The sheet flew to the ground, unveiling a giant, brilliant green alligator.

Enraged, the Sovereign implored the Sculptor to account for this most improper beast expressed in the precious jade, reminding of his most clear request for a swan, appropriate for the royal celebration. “But Sir,” protested the Sculptor, “How can you expect me to produce such an animal when every rock you send me already contains an alligator inside?”

(credit to Michelangelo Buonarroti and François Laruelle for their influences and to Chris Kraus for encouraging the use of colorful words)

listening to the subaltern: concluding the jan-feb LD topic

With only a few weeks remaining on the national high school debate topic, “Resolved: It is morally permissible for victims to use deadly force as a deliberate response to repeated domestic violence.”, I wanted to conclude with a couple of observations based on comments and questions encountered with the cases my team has shared with the debate circuit.

We’ve run several affirmatives, such as our appropriation of Derrida’s “Beast and the Sovereign” that works through one of his last published works, engaging allegory, fable and other forms of storytelling to make serious questions about the integrity of the social contract so many accept without any question. We’ve engaged Levinas and Zizek in an examination of the site of ethical and moral construction, challenging the naive assumption that all individuals (or really any, for that matter) have access to universal notions for the pre-determination of the morality of a contemplated and premeditated act.

We’ve also engaged negative positions that, to confess, have been deconstructive rather than “truth testing” (a word we had to bend to have some chance of engaging the critical thinking of many who were misled in their education toward believing their metaphysics were unquestionable). By unconcealing and illuminating the centerings implicit in the resolution’s words “deliberate” and “permissible,” we brought attention to potentially undesirable and problematic epistemological and cultural packages that travel along with these signifiers.

What is common to each of the cases is that they tend to challenge the ~framework (let’s refer to this framing/enframing with the tilda to distance it from the commonly used term of framework that refers to a type of debate argument often found in policy rounds between critical and policymaker paradigms). Returning to LD after more than twenty years, I was shocked to discover a proto-religion had taken hold of the event I had loved and excelled within in high school. A new metaphysic of “Value & Criterion” had attained imperial authority and commanded over the interpretation of many a judge and debater, a doxology that emerged well after I had departed the mid-1980s high school LD scene. Some rather suspicious characters were found within this realm: Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Hume and a few others. While of certain historical philosophical interest, they commanded a presence within this frozen snowglobe of an event, delimiting that which was legitimate and acceptable to the sovereign form.

What was most curious was the rigor of its structuralist approach; I often felt as if I was back in undergraduate music theory being told that “all composers use figured bass notation and then a formula of rules they depart from in order to compose their music”… a claim that’s quite difficult to reconcile with the existence of the music of Charles Ives, John Cage, Witold Lutoslawski and numerous other composers I personally identified with. Realizing the significant pedagogical and epistemological harm that was being inscribed upon our debate community, we worked through elements of resonance and dissonance to introduce arguments that, as Deleuze was likened to say of his philosophical adversaries, they would recognize immediately as their own yet be horrified when they realized the extent of the mutation.

I’m pretty sure from some of the judge reactions we’ve had that we’ve been successful in this effect.

Subsequently, the general “theme” of our argumentation has been one where we’ve attempted to approximate a formalist construction (meaning “trying to make our argument look and feel somewhat similar to something the LD structuralists would recognize as ‘valid’, without utilizing their form; think of the proto-Ridleys in Alien Resurrection as a not-but-becoming-abject form approach). We’ve also attempted to create substantial instability in the framing itself (think of the black cat that walks past twice in the first Matrix movie, or the warping and bending of fields under stress). Stressing words in the resolution, shifting the intensity of the resolutional world from visual to infrared or ultraviolet, or moving the ontoepistemological center of the ethical-interpretive event (e.g. where is the site of the reading of the act, to which it can be determined to be ethical or moral) have been aspects of this ~framework stressing and bending, deterritorializing and reterritorializing. To those who have felt the worldview shift in the round, this is very much intended.

Behind this work across strata, there are a few aspects within the approach that merit clarification. I’ll address these around some of the recurring questions we’ve gotten:

Isn’t your case being parametric?
This was a puzzling question for me at first, as Jay can attest from my difficulty at first explaining why it is and isn’t. Akin to Derrida’s explanation that rather than claim the written word was not suspect (to the claim that the spoken is more true and pure than the written), Derrida’s analysis in Of Grammatology is instead to illustrate how both written and spoken word are troubled. Parametrics can only exist when one assumes there can be a totalizing universal that can then be sliced down into a parametric. On this level of believing in universalizations of the debate resolution, this is an assumption that goes unchallenged by most within the current structuralist LD paradigm, but by no means is an appropriate assumption to hold unquestioned. To argue that there are no universals and universal cases, however, is the easy and less-than-interesting answer. The more interesting discussion is the deconstructive analysis, which suggests that instead, ALL LD cases are parametric. To run a Kant affirmative on the domestic abuse topic is to reject 2300 years of Western philosophical tradition, save for a very tiny portion of the Enlightenment epoch, and construct a normative “worldview” from this myopic framing. This parametrization is even more violent when it is considered that we haven’t even included substantial bases of Indian, Chinese and other non-“Western” philosophical traditions (We enjoy debating Spivak and Sloterdijk for many reasons, one of which is the occasional reference to the Mahabharata and other epics).

When decentering from the epistemologies of certain dead white-male European traditions, it can be understood that a case based on Hobbes, Locke and Kant is exceptionally parametric. Our construction of ethics from the perspective of a viciously abused child is also parametric; in fact, one would suggest that from the perspective of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and Heidegger’s ontology, we’re going to have great difficulty constructing any reading of the topic through a case that is not parametric. Whether we’re intentioning through the construction of a young child or an dead philosopher, both texts attain precise phenomenological and epistemological coordinates, narrowing the interpretation through a parametric lens. Rather than claim the illegitimacy of the pervasive and nonunique parametric, the more intelligent question becomes one of comparative coordinates.

I’d briefly note that we could even have some etymological fun in examining the baggage that comes along with the word “parametric”, para: along-side, beside, beyond-or-past (paraphysics), by extension; metric: pertaining to a meter, measured. Of a certain ghost-like presence that isn’t before us, but a specter stepping along-side us in a haunting, taunting manner, applying measurement and scrutiny. When in the company of such judgmental spirits, I’m certain many a devious LD structuralist would rather avoid having their imperialist baggage inspected, their sins accounted.

You’re breaking rules by making us defend the entire resolution
This was a recent and most unfortunate interpretation. One of the core components of counterplan theory in contemporary argumentation and debate theory is the concept of a PIC, or plan-inclusive counterplan. In this argumentative analysis, a word of the resolution is tested in order to stress it and force its advocacy or defense. This is a vital test in both debate and poststructuralism; in the former, a problematic word may be covered over and its debate avoided, with assumptions generally accepted by the debaters often on both sides. In the latter, it’s often the grounds for exploring problematic centerings, biases and cultural-epistemological skews.

Consider a real world application: a new policy is being proposed by the ruling demographic that makes clear sense to those intending it to do good will. But due to a difference in cultural interpretation, a word in the policy may be interpreted differently and have devastating results when it is implemented upon a broader demographic. Would we not want to test certain words, especially when these words have had a history to leading to systemic discrimination, exploitation, and even subjugation, violence and genocide? This becomes even more vital when we’re discussing norms; the cultural interpretation of a word for the construction of a social value can hardly be considered universal in interpretation as the mere historical construction of a word’s meaning is intricately connected to the historico-social production that shaped its rough, resonant form. Words like “permissibility,” for instance, may seem neutral to dominant majorities but when encountered by a minority, is consistently associated with a sovereign who “insists on being the one who gets to permit.” Permissibility, obtaining a permit, isn’t a conscious concern for those who have their papers in order and have paid the sovereign’s fee. Words like “permissible” and “deliberate” are far from neutral and demand careful questioning, particularly when issues of ethics and morality are of our concern.

Once again, the more interesting exploration of the “rule breaking” question is not in the linear defense to the problematic charge, but rather how the charge is impotent while also pertaining to all negative cases debated. As each affirmative constructs an ontoepistemological world (a world conceptualized from a specific ontological coordinate within a framed manifold of epistemological potentiality), each world is an advocacy of a “truth” (or “meaningfully explanatory and predictive resonance of sufficient signal and limited noise”). Each word in the resolution is traced in a highly specific way – either intentionally or not – enveloping certain signifieds within its border while willfully leaving other signifieds out. Consider the resolution:

Resolved: All human beings should be protected by the state from death.

Should an affirmative be questioned on their advocacy of this resolution if their trace of the “human beings” signifier intentionally leaves out “those deemed not human”? Daniel Goldhagen’s important 1997 work Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust addresses this very tracing and suggests the definition of Jewish individuals as “rats, vermin, not humans,” as evidenced throughout generations of anti-Semitic German literature, may have profoundly contributed to the societal “moral permissibility” of allowing millions of Jews, Roma, and other peoples to be sent to their death. Is requiring the Affirmative to defend the evidence of a problematic trace fair grounds? Or rule breaking? And if it’s the latter, to quote a remarkable debate coach and friend Dana Christensen, wouldn’t we have an obligation to challenge and break these rules? I’d suggest there may be a more important debate regarding moral obligations underpinning the framing of debate rules if that were indeed the case.

Aren’t you cheating by not debating the resolution?
This infrequent question has perhaps been the source of greater disappointment than the rest. Hearing a few judges (not the majority, fortunately) repeatedly claim that “I think you’re doing shady things by debating these cases that really aren’t about the resolution” shows the failure of our academic project in debate more than anything. Consider that on the topic of women being domestically abused, raped and murdered, some in our LD world would immediately run to a handful of very dead, old white guys to serve as authorities over what is and isn’t moral. This observation was the very grounds for one of our cases, as we are quite certain that the first thing that pops into the mind of a woman or child about to be violently beaten and even possibly killed, is not: “What would Immanuel Kant say?”

Doesn’t this racing for the “Good Book” of the Enlightenment when faced with a contemporary crisis suggest the slightest bit for concern? Are we really that disconnected and insensitive to an other’s plight? Is this a snow globe of privilege and pedigree? If we have vital projects like Women Under Siege and remarkable artistic, poetic expressions from subaltern women through movements such as the RAWA in Afghanistan, how could one feel comfortable silencing these voices in our experience? Should LD become a “Dead White European Males Only” zone?

I’m certainly understanding of the remarkable contribution this narrow pedigree of thinkers provided for us; Deleuze, Spivak and Derrida (three of my favorite thinkers) repeatedly acknowledge their tributes to the work that they had done, but remarkably, continue the evolution of thought forward. The real statement made in that question is not an accusation but rather a defense: Why are you encouraging thinking in our debate experience when I was told that rote skills, memorization, and drills were all that was needed to succeed. Why are you intending to threaten my legitimacy by rendering me obsolete?

To this final charge, I am indeed guilty. As one aligned profoundly with Ranciére’s pedagogical project, and working intimately in the world of systemic risk, I am firmly convinced that unless we advance our systems of learning to encourage and engage our young people with critical and creative thought, there is sufficient reason to doubt humanity’s long-term survival. The problems we face today are ones that memorization and rote drills cannot solve, nor “depth over breadth” approaches to a silo’ed education. Inter-and-multidisciplinary approaches, crossings of borders, infusions of poetry and aesthetics into science and literature, and continued engagements and challenges of the assumed frameworks, are necessary for our future generations to have a chance at resolving the problems that contemporary thought cannot reconcile.

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?

Simon Critchley on Space

“Space is alien, frightening and terrifying, other than through scientific laws which explain its motion but don’t give us the meaning back. Gnosticism comes back in a new way; we live in a world indifferent to us. If we want to create meaning, we have to create another world.” – Simon Critchley, European Graduate School lecture, June 4 2011

Simon Critchley on Futurism

“The future is a delusion; it’s fascist. You end up with a delusion of the present which is novel and then you extrapolate from there. That’s fascism. That’s capitalism. That’s an amnesia of the present and ultimately an ideology against the future. The point is to try and stop, to insert a spoke into the motor of history and slow things down. The idea that we need to accelerate is nothing more than ideology.” – Simon Critchley, European Graduate School lecture, June 4 2011