Data as Currency and the Debt to the Center
Since I’m now going to speak of a debt to the center, one extending from the originary event to the latest Quantitative Easing of the Fed, the question of data as currency can be further clarified. That humanity is constituted in debt to the center is, first of all, a consequential enough thesis to dwell on a bit. The notion of an exchange with the center has been (perhaps an understated) part of GA from the beginning, and the undeniable observation that it is an asymmetrical exchange, with the center first giving and those on the periphery then responding in kind, makes talk of debt unavoidable. Why, for that matter, should we want to avoid it, unless we’re holding on to liberal fantasies, which take an even more devastating hit from the insistence on an originary indebtedness? The debt grows as the interval in which it is issued and then discharged is prolonged, and interest is accrued as we are indebted to all the previous debtors as well. Many features of human life which often become dysfunctional and, indeed, seem to many to be dysfunctional in their “normal” forms, like guilt and unwavering devotion to individuals, principles, causes, communities and projects, become much easier to understand in terms of originary indebtedness. The originary debt can never be paid back, but we can also never leave off paying our regular installments—a genuine compulsion, which is to say, imperative, is in place here. Originary indebtedness also helps us clarify one of Gans’s most important anthropological/historical counters to Girard’s assumption that human sacrifice founds the human—his observation that the earliest humans, those for whom the center is not yet occupied by a human, tend to sacrifice and have as their deities animals, with human sacrifice coming at a much later, imperial state of human development. As we get more and more distant from the center, and the interval between debt issuance and dischargement grows, the debt become overwhelming, even unbearable, to the point where even the sacrifice of the first-born to the God-emperor is not enough, and nothing less than total donation of all one’s property and capabilities to the center will serve even as paying down the minimum. No doubt, not everyone “feels” this debt, and many no doubt are gratified to have, in the modern, i.e., desecrated, world, no formalized debt to any individuals or institutions whatsoever (no doubt many are carefree), but that doesn’t mean the debt doesn’t come due, or get redistributed in some way. Why, in the end, does anyone feel they have to do anything?
Originary indebtedness is a problematic concept. Our egalitarian fantasies, of which democracy and liberalism are probably just recent versions, are primordial, powerful and satisfying. The most common terms of political resentment are predicated upon such fantasies: words like “oppression” and all the other expressions of the concept of “tyranny” only make sense in light of this fantasy. To sustain the fantasy, all that needs to be done is to airbrush out of sight the center, as Eric Gans’s moral and political thinking (since the mid-90s, at least) does. This is a fantasy of instantaneous, mutual, symmetrical, exchange, whether this is conceptualized as a market or spontaneous cooperation. If there never is such an exchange, as I suppose Derrida realized, without being able to do much with it, then we are all “always already” hostages to the center, with the question being only how that is formalized and enforced. From the standpoint of the egalitarian fantasy, originary indebtedness is bleak indeed, but how would any concept of heroism, greatness, ambition or, for that matter, generosity, make sense without us experiencing being held by some obligation from which we can never be free but from which we can give shape to the form of that originary gift, while also helping free others from pettier versions of it so they can confront its true demands.
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We might say, humorously, that singularized succession in perpetuity is debt servicing: the occupation of the center by a human makes exchanges with the center non-instantaneous, and thereby require forms to simulate that instantaneity. This is the programming problem posed by “before will have been the same as after.” The techno-scene, or tenting, is the creation of the circuits through which the instantaneity of the exchange is sensed and measured. We can hypothesize that innovation and invention follow from an imperative to bring one part of the scene into accord with another part, to remedy an unsatisfying claim to simultaneity. All of the wires and wireless connections are materialized imperatives, which must continually be perfected, which in turn requires derivative imperatives as the debt grows and so do the means of repayment. The human at the center can offer debt forgiveness, but doing so can only be reminder of the ongoing debt to the center. It’s easy to see why breaking with human sacrifice, whether in the form of scapegoating sacral kings, offering first-borns to the emperor or god, the sacrifice of war captives, or the more everyday sanctifications of the punishment of deserving victims is so difficult, so revolutionary, and sometimes so perverse in its effects. Originary indebtedness can’t be rationalized, other than on the limited terms of the juridical, which remains the only bulwark against the bloodiest and most uncontrolled means of debt servicing. Nothing can be more important than sharpening our capacity for juridical thinking, than subduing the flows of monetary debt as well as tabernacled technoscene to it—but the sharpening required to do that would create forms of juridical thinking along with figures of arbitrage very different than any we have now. The juridical creates a scene within the scene, an interval within the interval—the problem of time is aligning every beginning with the middle and end it simultaneously is, and a kind of injustice always creeps into such cracks which can only be addressed by juridic-ritual-techno “apparatuses.” The full terms of the injustice must be grasped while producing judgments that can’t completely satisfy either side because they involve renewals of the very nomos or originary distribution upon which the complaints and counter-complaints were predicated.
Now, try thinking of yourself less like a “soul” and more like a derivative, a collection of assets that can be exchanged at some point in the future as if they were being exchanged now. One could self-dismantle, assess all of one’s possessions and capabilities, imagine their possible uses in such ways as that making them available, honing and enhancing them, and having them commandeered now might enable the extraction of some expected future earnings. This would involve representing oneself as an inscription and archive, but according to means of listing and recording not given in advance—what counts as an “ability,” other than some future imagined employment of it? The image is grotesque if we think of it in sheer financial terms, like some company bought through a hostile takeover, broken down into its components and then sold off. But confronting that scenario with the sentimentalism of some nostalgic vision of a holistic human does no one any good. That would simply restore the egalitarian fantasy of instantaneous exchange. But parceling yourself out is no different than instituting any other nomos, and there are venerable traditions of itemizing one’s daily activities and returning them, via circulation, to their original owner—some writing now, which also requires some reading and time designated for thinking; conversations and gift exchanges with friends and family, which also, when thought about, are “practices” that can be “maximized”; there’s a part of you set aside for contributions to the local community, etc. Thinking purposefully about such self-“nomosing” in terms of ceremonies of singularized succession is simply the obverse of financialization, an attempt to introduce rigor into what financialization does sloppily now.
This rigor involves forming, assembling, oneself as sample, to be entered as data into the central intelligence. This simply translates all previous forms of knowledge and practice, back to ancient ritual and myth, into the currency of the current driving the technoscene. Trying to evade, escape, opt out, withdraw from that technoscene itself just provides more data. But we prepare our data in cultivating and assembling ourselves as samples. This is where the hardest and most important thinking of today belongs, I think: in theorizing the conversion of assets into data and the exchange of data as currency to settle our debts—to the center, eventually, but only through circulation. Money itself is just data—how much money you have, in what form, with what degree of liquidity, etc., conveys to others how much of the technoscene (which switches) you command and can make available to others. So, if we are to imagine replacing money with data, in all its various and continually reformatted forms, we’d have to imagine exchanges that can communicate more directly one’s command of the technoscene. Everything “withdrawn” from the monetary system needs to be replaced by teams, in a way transcending by far any gift economy, so that it’s possible for one team to tell another team that due to team A’s ongoing coordination with several others teams, any one of which could be replaced with a determinate time frame if some kind of failure requires it, team A will be able to provide agreed upon services for team D which is in turn an essential component of team B’s team of teams, from which team A in turn needs something to complete some task on time. We’d have to start talking about the blockchain here, about commitments made publicly, about evidence of one team’s ability to fulfill those commitments, which in turn would reach out into networks of similar evidence regarding other teams like abilities. All inscription, primary, secondary and tertiary, would be mobilized and open sourced, and the questions of what distinguishes “the human” from automations of actions and thoughts will be answered by the new community’s ability to sustain this model, which will mean to keep building the requisite juridico-succession-technoscenic apparatuses. The questions are already being asked, albeit in primarily in resentful and victimary terms: how much is your unique genetic make-up worth? Such questions have always been asked, even if crudely and indirectly, for example, through mating selection practices. You will have a team curating and putting your data into circulation as part of a mode of exchange which will entail your having data you need as well (like, for example, knowledge of medical interventions that might neutralize some genetic abnormality). This seems like a scientific question, but I will continue to insist that without a juridical element to it, without the possibility of a “hearing,” the worst monstrosities will result. But, as I mentioned above, that juridical element will not be one our presently constituted courts could handle. New literatures will have to be developed to make such courts possible.
We can present ourselves as both samples and samplers. A sample is always marked by the contingencies of its collection and treatment, both an in itself and as a sample which could have been any one of a number of other samples. Anything we say or do is said or done against a background of all the other things we might have said or done—that is the difference that makes it meaningful to say that this is the same (sample). The more possibilities we distinguish ourselves against the richer the sample, but that will only make sense in terms of the technoscene within the sample will be preserved, studied and, of course discarded as waste—now, don’t be maudlin or dystopian, waste is part of life and we discard parts of ourselves all the time, physically and otherwise. Anyone can let others pay off their debt to the center, but those who take on the added burden also have the added obligation of ensuring that the debt is indeed paid which means grounding team-making power in higher levels of debt servicing. Don’t forget, in appropriating the formula “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” that the able have needs of their own, in many ways more urgent and consuming of resources than those of the merely needy. The whole problem lies in supplanting money with articulations across the entire social order of networks of teams, that see to their own continuance and therefore succession. This new “content” can only be built within the old form, by “recoding” money and debt with liabilities of another sort, extending imperatives into the future by making them resilient, inescapable, and with imperative gaps that can command the building of juridico-succession-technocenic apparatuses. It must be said, though, that we’d need the lineaments of such teams now in order to properly think this.
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