Being the continuation of a previous post, this entry aims to explain with a little more detail my work around the notion of techno-diagrammatics and Beer’s Cybernetic Model of Contemporary Capitalism. As I anticipated, I discussed elements of this work in two gatherings. In April, I participated in project Antikythera’s workshop Synthetic Catallaxy in Mexico City, where I briefly presented my conceptual and speculative approach to Beer’s model, which was followed by a series of informal chats with other participants of the workshop. 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 built (see previous post) there, and after a historical contextualization, I demoed the circuit and we had a discussion around it. These conversations proved to be very insightful – I’ll try to unpack part of that below. Before, however, let me give you a still simple explanation of how the model I’m building works, and how that connects to Beer’s original model.
Above, I’m including the image of the first version of the simulated model again. Simply put, the batteries represent what in Beer’s model is presented as money supply and Capital (see second image in previous post). The first group, called Exploiters, is represented here by an array of six blue LEDs. They are attached, for operative purposes, to the first breadboard. As you may notice, once the batteries are connected to the circuit, the blue LEDs – i.e., the Exploiters – are turned on at full intensity. This directness is to represent that they are the ones receiving the money supply straightforwardly, without 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 how capital flows. 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 in-between nuances. Thus, if the flow is allowed to circulate, electricity reaches first the Commodity Production cluster. This is relevant in relation to Beer’s diagram because it states that capital’s primary aim is production. Here, in the subsystem around the lower breadboard, yellow LEDs represent hypothetical goods being produced. The intensity of their brightness – i.e., the level of production – depends on how open or closed the potentiometer above is. It is from this cluster that electricity moves up to the subsystem in the middle: the Exploited Class in Beer’s jargon, or workers more generally. They are represented with red LEDs, and their brightness is also dependent 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 that, conversely, when their brightness is low or null, their connection with Capital is poor or absent. It may be also noticed that while red LEDs are more in number and are arranged in a disorderly manner, the blue LEDs are less in number and follow a, so to speak, more hierarchical arrangement. This is to represent a key argument formulated by Beer: that the spontaneous and somewhat disordered organizational structure of the Exploited Class offers them an inherent potentiality to manage the nature of complex systems – a question that, nonetheless, they aren’t normally aware of, and therefore don’t profit from. Finally, between the Exploiters and Exploited clusters a piezoelectric component has been placed – 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 running 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. Because, 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. – the intensity of the Class War should be then lessened? Like in European social states, one could say? Like in postwar Germany? – paraphrasing 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 Capital in this case. With that in mind, I modeled a second simulation of my techno-diagram (see image blow). I included a logic inverter there, using a transistor and a couple of resistors. In a word, instead of passing the electric signal from the Exploited cluster to the Class War (piezoelectric) directly, it goes first to the inverter component that, 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 without middle states as I originally intended – I need to do more electronics research to make a smoother implementation of this part.
Nonetheless, the sole process of going through the design and production of these two versions of my techno-diagram were very enriching and worth deploying. This is so, first, because the inclusion of the inverter component seemed so arbitrary, that I realized that I was being concerned with the operation of the circuit only, or, in the best case, that I was following very general and probably inaccurate socio-political conceptions. Moreover, the inverter component was not representing anything – either from Beer’s diagram or from the social space – and therefore its presence seemed unjustified. Second, this issued made me think that while in rich social states a somewhat generous flow of Capital may have indeed ameliorated the intensity of the Class War, in some middle income societies – like my own, Chile – the increasing flow of Capital towards the working classes has nevertheless paralleled an increment of the Class War‘s intensity, sometimes leading to quite severe 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 by itself. And this, only with its first layer, which still doesn’t present all the cybernetic complexity Beer actually modeled in that document. Therefore, from my perspective, this endeavor is really promising and may activate rich connections and exchanges, perhaps as a hub, with the field engineering and electronics on one hand, and the social sciences and critical humanities on the other.
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 put it quite right, this is a fundamental element of Marx’s critique and therefore it should be on the diagram; but it isn’t, at least not explicitly. In the essay accompanying the diagram however, Beer mentions briefly this question, positioning it precisely on the area Shintaro pointed out in our conversation; that is, around the C lamp symbol and the Wages vector. Consequently, the diagram must be – as I have been arguing for a while, and as it stated in the previous post – not only implemented but corrected in order to gain all the potential insights its speculative, current state conceals.
PS: You can play with the simulations presented here, manipulating the knob yourselves, 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.