As a continuation of an earlier post, this entry aims to explain in a little more detail my work around the notion of techno-diagrammatics and Beer’s Cybernetic Model of Contemporary Capitalism. As I expected, I discussed elements of this work in two meetings. In April, I participated in project Antikythera’s Synthetic Catallaxy workshop in Mexico City, where I briefly presented my conceptual and speculative approach to Beer’s model, followed by a series of informal conversations with other workshop participants. In May, back in Berlin, I presented more extensively in the Projects Seminar class co-taught by Shintaro Miyazaki and Sebastian Kawanami-Breu for the MA in Media Studies at Humboldt University. I took the actual circuit model I had built (see previous post), and after a historical contextualization, I demonstrated the circuit and we had a discussion about it. These conversations turned out to be very enlightening – I’ll try to unpack some of it below. But first, I’d like to give you a still simple explanation of how the model I’m building works, and how it relates to Beer’s original model.

First circuit implementation (digital simulation) of Beer’s “A Cybernetic Model of Contemporary Capitalism.” First layer only. Made with TinkerCad.

Above, I’m reproducing the image of the first version of the simulated model. Simply put, the batteries represent what in Beer’s model is depicted as money supply and Capital (see the second image in the previous post). The first group, called Exploiters, is represented here by an array of six blue LEDs. They are attached to the first breadboard for operational purposes. As you can see, as soon as the batteries are connected to the circuit, the blue LEDs – i.e., the Exploiters – are turned on at full intensity. This directness is intended to show that they are the ones receiving the money supply directly, without any major filters. On top of the upper breadboard there is a potentiometer – a knob. This is to represent that this group, the Exploiters, is actually in charge of regulating the flow of capital. In other words, by turning the potentiometer on or off, the flow of electricity – the representation of circulating capital here? – is open or closed, with all the nuances in between. Thus, when the flow is allowed to circulate, the electricity first reaches the Commodity Production cluster. This is relevant in relation to Beer’s diagram because it states that the primary goal of capital is production. Here, in the subsystem around the lower breadboard, yellow LEDs represent hypothetical goods being produced. The intensity of their brightness – that is, the level of production – depends on how open or closed the potentiometer above them is. From this cluster, electricity flows up to the subsystem in the middle: the Exploited Class in Beer’s jargon, or workers in general. They are represented by red LEDs, the brightness of which also depends on the manipulation of the potentiometer. This means, diagrammatically speaking, that if their brightness is intense, they are being reached by Capital in an important or rather positive way, and conversely, if their brightness is low or zero, their connection with Capital is poor or absent. It can also be noticed that the red LEDs are more numerous and arranged in a disorderly manner, while the blue LEDs are less numerous and follow a more hierarchical arrangement, so to speak. This is meant to represent one of Beer’s key arguments: that the spontaneous and somewhat disorganized organizational structure of the Exploited Class offers them an inherent potentiality to manage the nature of complex systems – a potentiality, however, that they usually aren’t aware of and therefore don’t benefit from. Finally, between the Exploiters and Exploited clusters, there is a piezoelectric component – the round black piece. This element represents what Beer called the Class War, or, in other words, the natural struggle between these two groups due to their opposing interests. Operationally speaking, the signal that drives the piezoelectric comes from the Exploited system, and thus its noise is directly proportional to the state of the potentiometer – in rigor, a numerical value between 0 and 1023, where zero is turned off.

This last aspect made me think of an apparent inconsistency in my techno-diagram. For wouldn’t it be the case that, if the Exploited Class is being reached by Capital in a more intensive way – e.g., more and better social services, better wages, etc. – then the intensity of the Class War should be then lessened? As in European welfare states, one might say? Like in post-war Germany? – to paraphrase Sebastian Kawanami-Breu’s comment on this point in the above mentioned conversation. If so, the intensity of the piezoelectric’s noise should instead be inversely proportional to the potentiometer’s regulation of the flow of electricity, or in this case, Capital. With this in mind, I modeled a second simulation of my techno-diagram (see image blow). I added a logic inverter using a transistor and some resistors. In a word, instead of passing the electrical signal from the Exploited cluster directly to the Class War (piezoelectric), it first goes to the inverter component, which, as its name suggests, inverts the signal: when the Capital signal is high (1023), the noise of the piezoelectric is low (0), and vice versa. In general, this worked well, but only as an on/off switch. That is, the noise of the piezo was either on or off with no in-between states as I originally intended – I need to do more electronics research to make a smoother implementation of this part.

Second circuit implementation (digital simulation) of Beer’s “A Cybernetic Model of Contemporary Capitalism.” With inverter. First layer only. Made with TinkerCad

Nevertheless, the mere process of going through the design and production of these two versions of my techno-diagram was very enriching and worthwhile. First, the inclusion of the inverter component seemed so arbitrary that I realized that I was only concerned with the operation of the circuit, or at best, following very general and probably inaccurate socio-political conceptions. Moreover, the inverter component did not represent anything – either from Beer’s diagram or from the social space – and therefore its presence seemed unjustified. Second, this issue made me think that while in rich welfare states a somewhat generous flow of Capital may indeed have ameliorated the intensity of the Class War, in some middle-income societies – like my own, Chile – the increasing flow of Capital to the working classes has nevertheless be accompanied by an increase in the intensity of the Class War, sometimes leading to quite serious events. In short, the very process of working on the implementation of Beer’s Cybernetic Model of Contemporary Capitalism is already proving to be quite rewarding in itself. And that’s just with its first layer, which still doesn’t show all the cybernetic complexity that Beer actually modeled in that document. Therefore, from my point of view, this endeavor is really promising and can activate rich connections and exchanges, perhaps as a hub, with the field of engineering and electronics on the one hand, and the social sciences and critical humanities on the other.

First layer of Beer’s “A Cybernetic Model of Contemporary Capitalism.” Re-drawn by the author from a photocopy of the original retrieved from Raul Espejo’s personal archive.

Finally, a note from a comment I got from Sebastian and Shintaro: where is surplus value in the first layer of Beer’s diagram? As they rightly pointed put, this is a fundamental element of Marx’s critique and therefore it should be on the diagram; but it’s not, at least not explicitly. However, in the essay that accompanies the diagram, Beer briefly mentions this question and places it right in the area Shintaro pointed out in our conversation; that is, around the C-lamp symbol and the Wages vector. Consequently, as I have been arguing for some time, and as I noted in the previous post, the diagram needs to be not only implemented, but corrected in order to gain all the potential insights that its speculative, current state conceals.

PS: You can play with the simulations presented here, manipulating the knob yourself, by visiting this link for the first version, and this one for the second version including the inverter (click the Simulate button there).

Berlin-Mitte, June 2023.