Saturday, October 05, 2013


"If the "revolution of the government" is to start at each single individual, then this also requires a media technical infrastructure that anticipates, with the means of 1970, what is in great demand again today, from e-government to talent competitions. The interplay of people, television, and government opens what [Stafford] Beer himself called "psycho cybernetics." And here, too, we are dealing with time and communication. On the one hand, the traditional proceedings of parliamentary representation, of bureaucracy and terms of office are much too slow for the cybernetic era; on the other hand, classical mass media like newspapers, radio, and TV do not have a back channel for a feedback signal. Sluggishness and "false dialogue" threaten the balance of the state and lead to agitation, violence, and revolt. Beer's proposal, which might refer to Brecht (but actually originates in the public opinion research of Paul Lazarsfeld), turns responsibility into answering in real time. While still at home, following the parliamentary debates on their TV sets, people can already turn a satisfaction switch (labeled "happy"/"unhappy"). The voltages are transferred via the telephone network, averaged, and immediately inserted as bar charts in the speaker's monitor. This starts a circulation: the political knows that the people know that he knows... Good politics is giving the people a good feeling - a feeling of giving it a green light, if it already has color TVs. Governing and "instant market research" simply coincide in this new public. The happy population is a happy customer. Such a structure, Beer concludes, would organize entirely new relations of the individual and the whole, of personal and collective decision, of freedom and functioning.

"The real time of electronic media that marks this new field of the psycho-cybernetic government lets something like 'statehood' become fragile. It causes a limit loss of the political - an extensive, wavy registration of the person opposite, and a will to know that leaves nothing out and knows no end of interest. The "occasional" (Carl Schmitt) becomes the center of the political. Needless to stress that the charts of happiness were to be broadcasted live to the Opsroom, and that similar feedback loops were to be installed in factories, in order for the workers to be able to observe themselves, the bosses to observe the workers, the workers to observe the bosses, and the bosses to observe the bosses. For the eudaemonist Beer, this mirror maze of observation, this uninterrupted relationship controlling, which elsehwere (though at the same time) has been called "societies of control" (Deleuze), was a promise of happiness. Freedom, according to Beer, is not a normative question, but a "computable function of effectiveness [...] the science of effective organisation, which we call cybernetics, joins hands with the pursuit of elective freedom, which we call politics" (Beer).

"Although Allende was in fact able to inaugurate the Opsroom, the 'uncertainty of history' is known to have come to an end that was not free, but bloodstained; not autopoietic, but military; not cybernetic, but hierarchic. Stafford Beer renounced all material possessions in 1974, and lived for a decade as a hermit in a stone hut in Mid-Wales."

- Claus Pias on Stafford Beer, who assisted Allende ...

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