How do we design the social, political and media institutions that will allow the conditions for emergence to thrive? Our reflexivity will not allow these conditions to emerge spontaneously.
Prem, thanks for your exquisite recap of emergence, or really, of the social conditions for an emergent democracy, connected directly to life experience and practice. I recall all that, and much better after your summary. It really was a "principle of hope," the very one that supplied the desire and energy for social media as we know it today.
I think you would be quite interested in a book called The Automatic Society, by philosopher Bernard Stiegler. I got curious about it after your post, and set about reading it to go deeper into the issue you raise - namely, the question why the networked media system did not deliver on the promise of emergent democracy. Although Stiegler doesn't focus on emergence as such, he does offer a very detailed and far-ranging account of the way people create social/cultural resources of care for environments that they continually alter. These environments or "milieus" include first of all their own productions, which are increasingly machines. Stiegler thinks that society continually responds to the shocks created by its power to introduce new technologies. He believes that we are presently *stupefied* by the shock of computerized communications and big-data analytics, which he sees as the culmination of a series of previously ill-assimilated shocks going back to the steam engine. His particular concern is the specific forms of exteriorized memory - writing machines, and all technologies of registration - which, in his view, exert a fundamental influence over our capacity to respond to technological innovation. The possibility of generating such responses depends inherently on the configuration and use of these memory machines (the ones that record traces of social interaction, for example). Therefore, like yourself, Stiegler thinks they have to be redesigned and transformed. The book is not a one-to-one correspondence with the theory of "necessary conditions for emergence" that you propose, but still it does deal with exactly the problems that interest you.
Back when emergence really was the Prinzip Hoffnung of people like myself, we were quite aware that networks of communication were both far more controllable and far less generative than embodied communities of practice. We tried explicitly (as I still do) to create and maintain those communities of practice, in tandem with and as part of the development of the Internet (conceived both as a technical object and as a locus of culture). We knew there had to be more intimate spaces where the explosion of knowledges and expressive possibilities brought by the network could be translated into a consistent and sharable reflexivity, including affective reflexivity. The whole point was a fresh exploration of what life's about and how to emerge from the previous phase of society, dominated by television and mass marketing. We hoped this would spread like a contagion, a wildfire of emergence, reworking mainstream norms on an ever-broader scale. However, exactly when targeted advertising crystallized as the Internet business model, and big data analytics as the key to its profitability, the enthusiasm for creating those spaces, and also for pursuing the technical development of the Internet itself, both dried up. The conditions of democratic emergence were preempted by the corporate state, culminating in the truly nightmarish situation that has been apparent to many since 2005, and has now become evident to all since the leaks and reporting about Facebook. The redesign of interaction systems is now an existential urgency. Without better uses of communication, no democracy. Without democracy, no response to climate change. Anthropocene Socialism must be democratic, as the failure of previous non-democratic attempts has shown. It must be open to both critique and new desires, or divergent needs. Therefore it is inseparable from the redesign of communicational systems.
However, design itself is a social activity, indeed an enterprise, which requires resources. It takes on an automatic character when people are treated as manipulable objects for the accomplishment of an existing program. Under the norms of the corporate capitalist state, such a program is either about making profit or about imposing direct behavioral control. The design then evolves rapidly toward a homogeneous set of procedures that stifle desire and rebuild social interaction spaces in the form of a trap. We have seen the speed, scope and power with which such attempts at total makeover can be brought to fruition, this time within the intimate arena of emergence. I do not see any way to respond by looking for some kind of *outside*, such as "the popular" or "the poor" or "the excluded" or "the unconscious" or "sexuality" or "the affects" or "social relations" - or even "emergence" itself, considered as a natural reservoir of authentic humanness. The aim is redesigning the mainstream systems that have captured and neutralized those sources of difference within society. The desired outcome is a situation where we can talk about, and act upon, the major threats of inequality and climate change. For that, we have to face the big powers.
The fact is, so far at least, every investment of social desire on an *outside* results in the immediate incorporation of that outside as an object for the mainstream techniques of social control. So why not desire an *inside*? Why not consider the core systems of contemporary society as the best arena in which to act? Why not go where the design power is? Why not desire taking over the state itself? Basically we have one last chance. Despite the continuing stupefaction under which global societies are haplessly laboring, a new surge of collective investment will eventually come. What gets built will be decisive. Socialism or barbarism, indeed.
Prem, I am not sure whether we disagree or if there is something further missing from this conversation. After the mid-2000s, some said that emergence was a deterministic scientific concept that had been unjustly extracted from its initial theoretical context (DARPA?) and repurposed as a mystifying veil over the reality of surveillant simulation. I think that key elements of the contemporary concept of emergence can effectively be traced back to the theory of entropy (and of heat engines) back in the early nineteenth century, as Stengers and Prigogine do in a great book, Order out of Chaos. But I also think, like Stiegler, that interaction design is a pharmakon, a poison which can be used as its own cure. Maybe you are part of some such attempt? Maybe you are involved in some experiment or initiative that you could describe?
all the best, Brian