#02 – Is modern state a computer?

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#02 – Is modern state a computer?

by Alessandro Cozzutto 
Creative content & digital strategy @ Slash_Prod
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes + videos

If it is true that the spirit of capitalism is a Turing machine (read Episode 1) and if Charlie Chaplin’s impression of Hitler correctly points out that people have the power to create happiness, why did men create Modern States, instead?

MODERN IDEOLOGIES – The spirit of capitalism – which according to Max Weber originated in British Protestant communities – seizes the world because of its extremely rational organization, an invisible hand that divides the production of a spill up to 17 different operations to spread wealth across nations.

This division of labor becomes also division of intellectual labor, which ends up splitting what was official history in different social sciences (sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.) and media voices (newspapers, radio, TV, Google), each one with different rules, scopes, languages, each one with personal techniques of story-telling about what society is and what should be [Luhmann, Paradox and tautology in the self-descriptions of modern societies].
Kids need to be told a story to fall asleep.
Adults need to hear a story about the society that they live in, whether it be eternal damnation, peace on earth, climate apocalypse, or the proletarian dictatorship.

The uncertainty of tomorrow, together with the dissatisfaction with the present, forces us to picture some sort of future.
Visions of the future, though, call for stories about the past.

A story about what the world has been (so far), like religious revelations, does not need solid historical or empirical grounds.
It simply must sound convincing, i.e. consistent to what people think they know already.
It must be powerful enough to make them undertake common daily actions, such as standing up from bed in the morning, stopping at red lights, or recycling pads.

German sociologist Niklas Luhmann labels this consistent vision of the world – which is not bad nor good in itself – with the often ambiguous term ideology.

Who is the narrator of such a consistent story and why some ideologies prevail on others?

It depends on the story.
#EUandME – European elections 2019
Duration: 2:03 minutes
A consistent story of the Western modern State
Let’s take the birth of the European Modern State in the 17th century, for instance. 
After Thomas Hobbes’ scary vision of a merciless Leviathan, the liberal philosopher John Locke publishes an interpretation of the Modern Western State – such as the one that was just born in England from the ashes of the so-called glorious revolution – as the tool that is supposed to guarantee individual freedoms and secure property rights in its citizens’s interest. 

However, according to a range of historians with very different political background, such as Bertrand Russell, Karl Polanyi, or C.B. MacPherson, it is the newly born British bourgeoisie (land owners & co.) that boosts this consistent vision of the state and adopts it as a legitimization of its recent seize of power. 
This politically-driven origin of the modern state (landed on the continent via the 1789 French revolution) explains why Karl Marx attributed to “ideology” the negative meaning of “false consciousness,” “manipulation,” a political action that aims to legitimate the primitive accumulation of capital and, consequently, the industrial age’s inequalities [Marx, Il capitale].
If the metaphor of an algorithm well identifies the spirit of capitalism, the Modern State’s existence can thus be more easily explained via the image of a computing machine.

According to this metaphor, the ruling class programs this computing machine to execute a formal set of instructions (laws), with the primary task of improving the systemic stability (debugging), that is the status quo, that is their dominion [Bobbio, Stato, governo].
The Partisan – final episode
Duration: 5:00 minutes
Digital power, old inequalities
Like computers that gradually leave the physical constraints of a desktop to become smaller and develop more specialized tasks, more liquid forms of power break the monopoly of modern states over the same territory (local, regional, international institutions), for private purposes (corporations) and sometimes even for opposing, i.e. criminal purposes (think of mafias). 

The interesting point in common is that both changes (in the size/speed of computers as well as in the ideology about Modern States) occur according to the same moral-free mechanism: an algorithm of hyper-rational productivity (see Moore’s Laws), a positive spirit that becomes an “iron cage,” because it turns humans into machine-men, who reduce their life to the endless execution of a mechanical set of instructions.

The will of these machine-men can only aim at increasing their own computing power, cutting out human intervention and adopting a mere quantitative measurement of productivity.

As a consequence, they impose a great dictatorship of things that legitimates the existence of growing inequalities.

This update in the story of Modern States, called positivism in the 19th 
century and, more recently, governance, dictates that neutral technologies and faceless bureaucracies must replace human decisions and unproductive governments [Graeber, 2015].

Nonetheless, history suggests that these stories have always a truly human origin.

Men not only create machines, bills, and states, but also support the dissemination of ideologies that celebrate individual success (“stay hungry, stay foolish”) and cover the political origins of this increasing divide in the social distribution of knowledge, which is going to destroy the middle class as we know it.

History shows repeatedly how a pure rationality of means imposes the application of algorithms that limit the power of a large mass of people on rational grounds.

Which pushes them toward irrational forms of discontent that typically find in minorities the target of blame for the lack of happiness in life.

This is why the great dictator in Chaplin’s title is not the third reich (state), but the crowd of machine men “with machine minds and machine hearts” that react to his pro-humanity speech with the same mechanical roar, which used to endorse the Fuhrer’s message.

Read more about

– Invisible Hand http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_hand
– Moore Law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law
– Positivism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positivism

Cited works 

– Luhmann, N., Paradox and tautology in the self-descriptions of modern societies , in “Sociological Theory”, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring, 1988), pp. 21-37.
– Hobbes, T., Il Leviatano (1651), Torino, Unione tipografico-ed. Torinese, 1965, vol I-II.
– Macpherson, G.B., Libertà e proprietà alle origini del pensiero borghese (1962), Milano, Isedi, 1973.
– Polanyi, K., The Great Transformation, Boston, Beacon Press, 1957.
– Russell, B., Storia della filosofia occidentale, Milano, Longanesi, 1974.
– Marx, K., Il capitale , Roma, Editori Riuniti, 1974.
– Bobbio, N., Stato, governo, società: per una teoria generale della politica, Torino, Einaudi, 1985.
– Graeber, D., The Utopia of Rules, London, Melvill House, 2015.

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