ŠUM#15 / Maks Valenčič: EDITORIAL

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Whenever we are talking about planning, we are talking about infrastructure as critique. What we have in mind here was best encapsulated in a diagram[1] Pierce Myers posted on Instagram. In it, he swapped the left vs right axis with emergent distributional communism vs planned hyper-capitalism—in other words, he combined various supposedly contradictory elements and made a convincing case for how the battle between communism and capitalism will take place in the 21st century. On the one hand, Myers switched the emphasis from Soviet-led central planning to a decentralised cybernetic version of it, and on the other, shifted from neoliberal consensus of market efficiency and equilibrium to mechanism design and the new role of economist-as-engineer. What this diagram does best, then, is that it decodes the idea of what communism and capitalism as two different models actually are, and thereby challenges the various preconceptions of what is efficient and necessary in the current system.

This enables us to think differently about ideology as well. As Mckenzie Wark wrote in Molecular Red: Theory for the Antropocene: “Ideologies are not so much ‘false consciousness’ as the ‘true’ limited consciousness of particular modes of organization.”[2] The same can be said in relation to planning or infrastructure as critique. We can put forth a different measurement of ideology, where ideology is measured as the ability of a group or a collective to pursue and implement different societal mechanisms that increase the degree of societal complexity and the ability of self-determination. If this sounds abstract, let us give a further example from RadicalxChange founder Glen Weyl. In a rather Marxist-Spinozist way, Weyl points out various internal inconsistencies[3] between capitalism and its own theory: what he suggests is to critique capitalism at its very roots, through the parameters capitalist economists take for granted, but which don’t actually lead to the benefits supposedly characteristic of a capitalist society.

What all of this tells us is that planning (or infrastructure as critique) is not primarily about planning at all, since it can, for example, mean less planning. It’s not about the management of X-risk, systemic surveillance or even better resource allocation, but about exposing alternative narratives and capabilities (meaning: inter-systemic speculations) that were intentionally or unintentionally not pursued or left behind. Planning has this primordial excess, as it always includes a completely different view of the world and expresses the changing relationship between matter and society or between ideas and the physical world. Simply put, planning is in fashion again, but for different reasons as it has been in the past. Every time we plan, we make visible what was previously hidden. We mine the history of ideas and denaturalise various assumptions and conclusions, which could not have been addressed without the new emphasis on infrastructure as critique. Planning is therefore a toolkit for realising new (and already present) futures, just as the film screen is a canvas for alternative histories, such as the first Moon landing by a Russian and not American astronaut, or the existence of multi-world fascism on a cosmic level.

There is, of course, a difference between a descriptive or prescriptive take on planning, and also between infrastructure as critique within and outside the system. Because planning has this speculative dimension in both of these forms, it can challenge the status quo of a given society, even if it’s embroiled in all the dirty mechanisms as well. The best example of this is the crypto world: despite its absolutely capitalist way of planning, it radically challenges the neoliberal consensus and produces an opening in its stead. Jaya Klara Brekke formulated this predicament in a very clear and insightful manner: “This suggests that even the metallist monetary ideas that Golumbia traces to anti-central bank right wing ideology (2016), is to some extent motivated by an ambition to resolve political economic questions through infrastructure … Rather than an entrenched affiliation to neoliberal economics, the economies and economics of Bitcoin, blockchain, DLT and cryptoeconomics are better understood as efforts towards engineering particular kinds of network behaviours, and achieving specific information security properties.”[4]

We could therefore say that planning is, in its essence, post-critical. To quote Weyl: “The key point is that if you want to undermine a system, the most powerful way to do it is using its own internal logic.” To criticize a system in a way that, through accelerating its underlying foundations, leads to a logically consistent conclusions that subvert the existing model from within. In this sense, each system has its own Black Hole image that acts traumatically and a Copernicus that looks at the stars. And it’s safe to say that something similar is happening in the post-covid-19 world, where the sedatives from the capitalist realism era are slowly wearing off and the new paradigmatic shift in knowledge production is taking place. As Reza Negarestani said, “consciousness is hard work” and maybe, just maybe, this unexpected pandemic hit will prepare us for the truly distributed problems and challenges we will face as a society when hyperobjects start to bomb the Earth. But when this happens, we will, thanks to the emphasis on infrastructure as critique, already have our values set differently, optimize for something else, set our parameters more holistically, know the necessity of governance futurism and embrace the need for smart visual culture.

This editorial is published in Šum#15: Infrastructure as Critique.

[1] See: https://www.instagram.com/p/B8ZalfkFbx_/.

[2] Verso, 2016, p. 46.

[3] “The Political Philosophy Of RadicalxChange”, RadicalxChange, 19/12/2019, https://blog.radicalxchange.org/blog/posts/2019-12-30-gqx4th/.

[4] “Hacker-engineers and Their Economies: The Political Economy of Decentralised Networks and ‘Cryptoeconomics’”, in: New Political Economy, 12/8/2020, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/10.1080/13563467.2020.1806223.