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Postscript on the Societies of Control (1990) (theanarchistlibrary.org)
72 points by fogus 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

This essay had a tremendous impact on me when I first read it. Deleuze died in 1995, and so didn't really get to see the rise of the web, but I've always wondered what he'd write about it...

This video on Deleuze and control societies feels particularly relevant https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hu4Cq_-bLlY&ab_channel=Plast...

Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's probably more conceptually accessible for hn's audience too.

The one piece that had the most impact on me on the topic of control societies is Nick Land's Meltdown, and a lot of his CCRU stuff from his academic days explicitly deals with Deleuze after all.


It's incredible to me that this was published in 1995 rereading it today.

Man, I have a hard enough time reading Deleuze, but Nick Land can be totally incomprehensible. At times it seems he takes schizoanalysis a bit too literally - I expect any philosopher I read to have made up at least a dozen words or phrases by the end of a work, but with Land every sentence contains a new concept that remains totally undefined.

And then there's "cooking lobsters with jake and dinos" from fanged noumena.

My impression is that rather than decoding his works rationally, you're supposed to kind of soak in the vibe and the high-level concepts, but I don't know if that's due my incomprehension or if it's the intended way to read him.

No I think that's fair. This particular one I think was originally a spoken word performance over jungle music or something and it's more like cyberpunk fiction than a philosophical text.

And when you get to his later work and he goes into numerology it gets really weird. It takes a while to get used to but there's some truly insightful stuff in his earlier, more coherent work in particular. And he had an underrated influence on a lot of British cultural figures all across the spectrum.

I'm... more familiar with Land's more recent works, but in my understanding that is a more recent turn, and the CCRU stuff I'd find more agreeable, but I haven't gotten around to it. I'll read this later, thank you.

To me, I saw it as "Bentham's panopticon reified" and the rest was flourish. I'd be interested in someones view of the hidden depth of it. What grabbed you about it at the time?

"Bentham's panopticon reified" is more characteristic of Foucault's concept of disciplinary societies, which defined the 20th century. Deleuze's project here is to extend it into the 21st century, where the disciplinary society changes into "societies of control". While both disciplinary and control societies rely on surveillance, disciplinary societies create compliance through the threat (if not the execution) of punishment, while control societies create compliance through nudges and dark patterns. Disciplinary societies have centralized locations of power (the factory, the school, and the barracks), while in control societies, power is decentralized -- both everywhere and nowhere at once (algorithms, workplace encouraged education and health initiatives, etc).

Furthermore, while disciplinary power creates classes of individuals to control and marginalize (based on race, class, etc.), under neoliberal control societies, all individuals are prima facie accepted. This is not because the control society is less coercive, but because control is exerted at the sub-individual level -- think how advertising algorithms assign each person a constellation of tags which are used to structure their online experience.

I mean, in one sense, a significant amount of philosophy is "some other person's work but with a twist." "All of Western philosophy is but a footnote to Plato." and all that.

But sure, Bentham is a huge influence here; Deleuze is moving forward Foucault's "disciplinary society" concept into the "control society" concept presented here, and Foucault's use of the panopticon is such a meme that even folks who aren't particularly into this stuff often know that it exists.

My sibling commentor has it exactly right:

> disciplinary societies create compliance through the threat (if not the execution) of punishment, while control societies create compliance through nudges and dark patterns.

There's like, a thousand different reasons that this essay meant something to me at the time, but one of them was that I happened to come across this at the time that the industry was getting really into gamification.

To continue to piggyback off of nomadpenguin:

> in control societies, power is decentralized -- both everywhere and nowhere at once (algorithms, workplace encouraged education and health initiatives, etc).

I didn't really appreciate the increasing amount (in both number and degree) of algorithmic control over our lives until reading this essay. I mean, on some level I saw it happening, but I really, truly started seeing it after this.

Very interesting! I didn't separate those two, as I think the discipline/control dichotomy presumed an unspoken framework I wasn't quite onside with. I'm interpreting that the control society is very similar to Arendt's totalitarianism, where the discipline society could be on the spectrum of mere open fascism or republican freedoms based on simplistic rules.

I'm somewhat relieved readers of Deluze have these critical tools as well, as I hope it will click at some point that we're dealing with something much greater than our respective outgroups.

This is fantastic. I must quote from the conclusion:

"Can we already grasp the rough outlines of these coming forms, capable of threatening the joys of marketing? Many young people strangely boast of being 'motivated'; they re-request apprenticeships and permanent training. It's up to them to discover what they're being made to serve…"

edit: I was wrong, see below.

- - - -

I have since misplaced it, but there's a book on the history of the computer wherein a conversation with Babbage was quoted. He was asked something like, "So the engine is the perfection of the executive?", and he agreed. That phrase, "the perfection of the executive", has stayed with me.

The "executive" in this sense means the "part of government that enforces law, and has responsibility for the governance of a state." ~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_(government) In other words control. Babbage and his interlocutor saw the computer as the perfection of control in the political sense, and I think we're seeing that unfold today before our eyes.

He was -- or rather his correspondent was--speaking of mathematics:


In 1840 I received from my friend M. Plana a letter pressing me strongly to visit Turin at the then approaching meeting of Italian philosophers. In that letter M. Plana stated that he had inquired anxiously of many of my countrymen about the power and mechanism of the Analytical Engine. He remarked that from all the information he could collect the case seemed to stand thus:—

“Hitherto the legislative department of our analysis has been all powerful—the executive all feeble.

“Your engine seems to give us the same control over the executive which we have hitherto only possessed over the legislative department.”


Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/57532/57532-0.txt)

Ah! Thank you for clearing that up. Cheers!

That extra historical context provides some fascinating depth to setting of The Difference Engine (1990).

The rhizome will set you free.


Added. Thanks!

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