Google and The Societies of Control

It seems the online world is talking about the now infamous James Damore memo, lukewarm as it is (and in some ways implicitly defending the narratives ti tires to meekly critique, but never the less has been deemed wrong-think. The memo was quickly scandalized in its repeated scathing denouncements by those inside Google, the professional victim class, and most of all by the mainstream media. I figured that my two cents must be added to the storm of commentary, but I will attempt to bring something new (hopefully) to the cacophony of voices.

YouTubers in particular are not finding out first hand the wrath of college radicals-turned-corporate functionaries, those 20 to 30-something urbanites in the largest coast cities, in Silicon Valley. Those who, perhaps in their attempt at sanitizing the web of what they find abhorrent, may have not been paying attention in class when their professors gleamed over a few passages from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish! But this is a humorous notion for a philosophy nerd such as myself. One thing that gives me a bit of hope in talking about such a stark and bleak subject (as there are excellent videos I suggest everyone should carefully listen to his videos on Google and YouTube[1] , [2], [3] ) is that people are starting to recognize the Multiplicity of the situation. What do I mean by this? People are starting to realize the multifarious nature of censorship in our corporate-technocrat, neoliberal late-capitalist society. Our situation goes beyond what may still see as a strict liberal binary between the “government” (whatever a government is now-a-days) and the “free market” (again, whatever that term even means now-a-days). We have a few libertarians and leftists posing as libertarians who make the old discreditable “they are private corporations, deal with it” line of argument that is so tired and played out it is a wonder how anyone could think in such a way, given our current situation.



Yes, the situation we find ourselves in, in our information age, is that there is no single government or corporation that controls political thinking on the supposedly wild west frontier of the Internet. It is a combination of corporations, governments, and cross-state entities that operate under a series of modern discourses that give them the impetus to favor certain political speech and language over other forms of political speech and language. This is what a lot of the commentators, Youtubers, and pundits miss about the situation. It is a paradox that giant monolithic corporate entities that (more or less) control the flow of information on the Internet, would even think of hemorrhaging massive market share and credibility to go after their political enemies[4]. As Google has demonstrated (and as Computing Forever, real name Dave Cullen, does point out) the political ends of effectively controlling the means of discourse itself outweighs any classical (rather naïve) free market notion of how a company “should” or “ought” to operate, under the blind and ideology-free impetus of market demand and monetary growth.

This is frankly a very bleak and “black-pilled” take on the situation. For you see, YouTube and their masters at Google have been shown just how powerless content creators are. Twitter accounts have no power, even alternative institutions and publications can be effected if they cause enough of an embarrassment or become too much of a threat. Why censor people when you can just lift them off of web hosting services and kill their presence on the Internet all together? This is what the control society is, a corporatized over-structure that primes the means by which we can even think within the open space, the non-space of the Internet[5] and of YouTube to begin with. The functionaries of the new 21st century digital leviathan have now discovered that it is less effective to play games with the mosquitos or, to use the Socratic term, gadflies buzzing around them by censorship. Of course, with censorship comes new languages, new discourses, new language games that elude the slow-learning censors (such as the case with twitter lingo). Why risk a resurgent political right and a dissatisfied moderate left gaining knowledge and practical skills on the limits of how far they can push things? Just take them off the net all together, suspend them instantly, and wouldn’t you know it, everyone will go along with it, because there are little to no alternatives out there.

The reality of Online censorship and the curating of content by powerful corporations, working hand in hand with governments[6],[7] and trans-national governing bodies (such as NGOs) will be as such: at the top, or anyone who has the ability to curate the net, all more or less follow the same cultural norms, ideologies and programming. In terms of our response, the most likely outcome will be similar to the response everyone had to YouTube when they used to change layouts and templates every so often. Everyone hated it back then, but eventually after a while, everyone got used to it. Slowly but surely, online censorship will be normalized in much of the same manner. As for the behavior of silicon valley trans-nations, we like to think the standard behaviors in the Market, behaviors such as generating revenue, operating within an environment of competition, catering to content creators, adhering to principles that these companies once paid lip service too in order to gain public trust, etc. still hold. But in reality all of that is meaningless. Jack Dorsey at Twitter for example, may lose big in the short term, maybe even the long-term. But when he and his team, and all the other Bugmen who run Silicon Valley, can control the cultural narrative, who would honestly care about “respecting” the opinions of users or gaining legitimacy in the eyes of the public? And even still, why should the average tech-company even care about the opinions of people they have blindly cast aside as horrible racist Nazis! Apart from the actual violent extremists on both the left and right, even the most tepid and mild-mannered moderate left-leaning anti-SJW falls into this category too. The mere act of questioning is seen as a hostile act of hate and intolerance.

The takedown of those who are labeled as undesirables gives tech companies the faux-cover to go after the reasonable voices, the Jordan Petersons of the world. Prof. Peterson of course recently was taken down completely from YouTube and other Google services for an hour, but was quickly given back his person-status on their platforms after an immediate uproar[8]. This seems like a superfluous action on the part of Google, they know he is a larger than life public figure with the reach to stage a massive online uproar and counter-protest. Google cannot hurt him for now, so we can only conclude it was an act of dominance and signaling, showing off Google’s ruthlessness as it were. Google in a way is foreshadowing how things will go down. You have the usual SJWs who have managed to infiltrate Silicon Valley, those college-aged hipsters, the graduates in things like sociology, public relations, communications, and any other non-STEM field pool of subjects tech companies hire from (I.E. people who are more than likely from the political far left). As their rhetoric becomes more craven and obnoxiously radical by the week, so to the “standards” of discourse that is allowable for advertisers and corporate marketing-speak becomes narrower, with the rules governing speech becoming more byzantine. This is what the way of the future is: Google and other corporate net service providers don’t really care about shutting down the websites and accounts of clowns, self-incendiary pariahs that LARP radical political ideologies, or neo-Nazi FBI honey pot sites. It looks good on paper, but does little in the long view of things. What the people in Silicon Valley, not the tech developers and engineers themselves but the Bugmen who control policies, for the most part really care about is going after people exactly like James Damore, Prof. Bret Weinstein of the infamous Evergreen College incident, and Prof. Peterson. In other words, reasonable, hyper-intelligent, non-bombastic and aware figures that give way more legitimacy to contrarian ideas then any trolling, unserious alt-right anonymous twitter personality ever could.



What is The Model of The Control Society?

Let us ponder upon the brilliant analysis of what is referred to as the middle period, the “disciplinary” and “power-knowledge” period of Foucauldian thought as explicated by Michel Foucault’s colleague and fellow French 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze; the control-society or societies of control take up the basic Foucauldian concept of what is known as “discipline” or disciplinary discourses that have arisen during the 18th and 19th centuries. Foucault sees power as ubiquitous, no longer having a central point like the state, but rather in the modern world, has become all-pervasive, constituting what it even means to be a human being. Power transformed out of the necessity of the various changes that have taken place in the modern world. No longer does power merely repress, but also creates as well, and can account for counter-forces or what he terms “resistances to power”. Power now becomes discipline, regulation, ordering, standard procedures, etc. kind of like the orders of a school, a bureaucracy or a military barracks. Disciplinary action has two effects, primarily on the body: 1. Is that you are engaged in a matrix of power that regulates behaviors, functions and operations, and 2. This power becomes internalized, to the point of your existential makeup being constituted by discipline[9].

The control society expands upon Foucault’s analysis of controlled spaces or enclosures that form grids of disciplinary power and surveillance in society. These enclosures to quote Deleuze:

“The difference instruments or spaces of enclosure through which the individual passes are independent variables: each time one is supposed to start from zero, and although a common language for all theses places exist, it is analogical. On the other hand, the different control mechanisms are inseparable variations, forming a system of variable geometry, the language of which is numerical (which doesn’t necessarily mean binary). Enclosures are Molds, distinct castings, but controls are modulation, like a self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve who’s mesh will transmute from point to point”[10].

 

To break down the language of Deleuze, one must envision that Google has created a mass plastic or malleable mold of interactions, exchanges, information, social media, etc. the “numerical language” is the systems of control that formulate the non-space that is the internet (since most refer to the internet as passing through Google), and the mold created by these net tech companies, is designed to adhere to the rules, terms of service and hidden means of censorship that constitutes life on the Internet.

Let us examine another quote:

“We are in a generalized crisis in relation to all the environments of enclosure–prison, hospital, factory, school, family. The family is an “interior,” in crisis like all other interiors–scholarly, professional, etc. The administrations in charge never cease announcing supposedly necessary reforms: to reform schools, to reform industries, hospitals, the armed forces, prisons. But everyone knows that these institutions are finished, whatever the length of their expiration periods. It’s only a matter of administering their last rites and of keeping people employed until the installation of the new forces knocking at the door. These are the societies of control, which are in the process of replacing disciplinary societies”[11].

 

The endless regimes of censorship, the changing lingo associated with what is considered “bigot, racist, sexist, Nazi” dog whistles according to our cultural and social media gatekeepers, the changing practices by which even the most moderate of voices are labeled non-persons and thus subject to various hidden tactics of obliterating their online presence, etc. All of this goes into the changing face of a society run by control rather than normalization and discipline. Surely we are still being normalized, but the new regimes of power can operate outside of the view of most people, thus eliminating the possibilities for resistance, and yet be bold-faced in the voracity by which they carry on installing their political agendas.



Deleuze is clear that these changing practices of the control society, as He saw it even in 1992, would increasingly find new methods of exchange and dispersion that leave out the mass-dividual entirely. Not only will any identity outside of the control society be stripped form us, but the very processes by which we are effect in our personal lives will become increasingly automated. Some examples He uses are currency exchanges on the market by corporations, heath and safety data collection, the abandonment of physical university research for powerful computing algorithms, to name a few[12]. A pertinent example currently would be the infinity of possibilities for curating content and censorship present in various online AI programs and algorithms Google and YouTube are using to weed out various forms of content they find beyond the pale, with a very limited and slow appeals process to boot. There is no present solution currently to these issues, for it would entail changing the culture of Silicon Valley and the globalized neo-liberal corporate structure to begin with. At best we can form discourses and practices of micro-resistances, despite forsaking some grand illusion of toppling our cultural, corporate, and governmental masters. Most of us live in an increasingly alienated and controlled online world, so burrowing deeper into the virtual underground perhaps may be our only option for the time being.

(Artwork done by Me: https://www.facebook.com/giantartproductions/photos/a.1259517184086426.1073741837.1254797357891742/1576484852389656/?type=3&theater )

 

[1] Cullen, Dave (Computing Forever). “It, Has Come To This”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnqO5RUZvxE

[2] Cullen, Dave (Computing Forever). “Goggle’s Next Move To Destroy Wrong Think”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLt0ch13oWc&t=169s

[3] Cullen, Dave (Computing Forever). “Culture Wars, Silicon Valley’s Obsession With Diversity Hiring”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuNjW9zXw5E

[4] 1791L. “Goggle Surrenders”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTIVtpLw1uk&list=FLrQ86SElXd015FpRVeft5dg&index=1

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_place

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/apr/27/facebook-report-government-propaganda

[7] https://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/29/facebook-asked-for-more-data-by-governments-but-it-cant-tell-most-users.html

[8] http://www.torontosun.com/2017/08/01/free-speech-advocate-jordan-peterson-suspects-political-reasons-might-have-been-behind-google-shutdown

[9] of course this is a very quick and rough sketch of Foucault’s basic concept of discipline, I would highly recommend his book Discipline And Punish as a must-read in political philosophy and modern history.

[10] Deleuze, Gilles. “Postscript On The Societies Of Control”. October, MIT press. Vol. 59 (Winter, 1992): 4.

[11] Ibid, 4-5.

[12] Ibid, 7.