Jazz Thoughts

Concepts of contemporary authority

If authority is "the power or right to give orders or make decisions," this discussion proposes not so much to name who or what body or set of practices has authority, but rather to interrogate the conceptual basis for that (functional) authority. Moreover, this is not to be a retrospective interrogation, although it will be partially that, but an exploration of possibilities for authority in the contemporary moment. So whereas Basic Mechanics could emphasize looking backward, or at least concerned a bounded topic, as framed by the heading "modernity studies," the present discussion looks forward toward possibilities: The investigation is therefore necessarily preliminary, as it seeks to trace the arc of authority in the present moment. Its concepts will not be systematic [1], but will involve many — yet by no means all — perspectives & contexts. The situation is changing rapidly, and so the particular moment captured here (if it's actually captured in any real sense) might already be in the past. It's therefore unknown whether this particular sketch will prove to be helpful at all, but considering that "loss of authority" is one means [2] of characterizing the 20th century crisis that transformed the modern era — and that the further crises of today can be summarized by such terms as postcolony & climate change — questions of authority become critical to proceeding politically in the contemporary (postmodern [3]) moment (or conjuncture). What concepts of authority continue to function? According to what mechanics might such (theoretical) concepts be instrumentalized? Various notions of authority will be gathered here & elaborated (somewhat).

The scope (or palette or aroma...) of this topic is vast: What convinces people to act as they do; what would convince them to act otherwise? (Answers might come via the conscious or unconscious or a combination, etc.) This attempt at navigation will be narrow & twisty, a balancing act [4]: Theoretical production posits its own authority! That is a fundamental problem for such an endeavor, and so one must dig beneath one's own self-implication, implication arising from an act of production alone (if not more explicitly): Is it even possible to answer the question of authority with any confidence? (Perhaps only after the fact, i.e. as already "functioning?") Questions of authority have animated this entire project [5], though, and indeed its attempt to express outside of any specific discipline places it (at least according to a powerful theme) outside of authority per se. In that sense, there is no authority here, because this writing — beyond its trappings of style, which are considerable — does not base itself in any specific authority. (In that sense, one can also perceive the basic disinhibition that might be entailed by authority.) One might infer that this project arises from knowledge, or produces knowledge, and that knowledge closely intertwines authority [6], yet any such nexus requires interrogation: What sort of knowledge? What sort of authority? (One might also infer that this project is baseless gibberish, but that prospect leaves nothing more to say.) Knowledge is a debate ground for authority, and indeed the modern era enabled & then prioritized the ascendence of scientific knowledge production as a specific seat of authority. Did the "science" concept peak in the 20th century, though? Another shift in authority practically defining the modern era is that from aristocratic & priestly classes to the merchant or bourgeois class. Such a shift continues apace — at least in many ways [7] — such that the contemporary era is increasingly dominated by neoliberal fundamentalism, the notion that calculable wealth is the only real (or significant) value. Even if wealth is the "master" value of the contemporary moment, other themes continue to operate, however, whether to sustain wealth or toward its instrumentalization & ramification.

As the bourgeois class has absorbed the state, i.e as the state has aligned its monopoly on violence with the creation of private wealth, its old dual (at least in Europe) religion, was "supposed" to be replaced by science, i.e. by rationalization of knowledge in accord with rationalization of (economic) production. However, whereas the state continues to deploy (supposedly) legitimate violence — i.e. policing in its various forms — and so retains its prior role, even as it responds to different concepts of authority, science has never been suited to the cultivation of values per se. One might place the origin of neoliberal fundamentalism precisely there then, in the collapse of a formerly dual system of values onto a single axis, around the ascending economic elite, and amid disrupting or displacing values-based (per se) institutions. Intensifying such a collapse is the instrumental character of science itself, i.e. its (potential) use for generating wealth. Many writers then, particularly around Marxism, which has traditionally rejected religion as not being a proper part of its "progress" narrative, have sought another institution (i.e. authority) to reestablish a power-limiting dual, and thereby to blunt state-supported capitalist oppression. (The so-called "return to religion" thus emerges at this point.) Without positing an institution per se, this discussion will therefore consider other concepts of authority, and in particular shifting authority: What is ascending? Are there thresholds? What does or might underpin and/or disrupt neoliberal financial capitalism's presumptive global monopoly on authority? Given the context here, one theme to be emphasized, perhaps out of all proportion to its actual potential, is "art-as-work," creative action as (disinhibiting) authority. Indeed, this project is to be approached specifically as "a work" [8] — and so also as contingent & ongoing.

  1. Considering that system & typology are themselves concepts of authority, such a discussion must be wary of all categories & types, as well as how these might crystallize in support or opposition. Yet it must pass through these & other important domains. Hopefully, a sharp focus on the topic will enable the discussion to proceed without falling into the bog of authoritative presentation per se.

  2. The notion of modern loss of authority derives from Hannah Arendt's 20th century analysis — and also suggests loss of meaning & distinction (as broached already in [PL6]).

  3. I don't want to emphasize the term "postmodern" per se, but considering that I've already posited an end to the modern era (at least in a historical sense), the label is straightforward.

  4. Admittedly, this sort of "walk on water" approach is highly dubious: The contingent ordering & interrogations here should themselves be interrogated further, and from other perspectives. All I can say in my defense is that I'm speaking without authority, which is itself something of an absurd claim — due to the nature of expression per se, and in particular, the actual topic. So I won't look down from the tightrope... much.

  5. Using the same abbreviations as Further notes on fascist aesthetics, already itself about authoritarian hierarchy, some relevant introductory self-citations:

  6. One motivation for the specific priorities & shape of the present discussion is Bernard Stiegler's Automatic Society series, and in particular his stated intent to write a volume (which has not yet appeared, as far as I know) on the future of knowledge. Here I start instead from a closely related question regarding the future of authority.

  7. Although economic activity, profit-seeking in general, has certainly not diminished in status or authority, the "class" quality of the bourgeoisie has shifted: Its strata are increasingly regimented according to inherited wealth (with the occasional, spectacular exception). To what extent does the new capitalist class behave like the old aristocracy? (Recall, of course, that in many parts of the world, there was never a real distinction between the two.)

  8. Practical listening might be said to instantiate the "work" notion here. So, some more self-quoting by way of orientation: "The modern was largely forged by a shift in European concepts of authority." "The contemporary situation suggests another seismic shift in authority." "In this, it becomes not about the what of knowledge, but the who or how." [PL6, all from note 32]

1. Disarticulating influence

According to at least some conceptions, authority is itself a specific "principle of influence," the others being (in one case [1]) reciprocity, consistency-commitment, social proof, liking & scarcity. (Such a conception also enfolds a "pre-principle" of "contrast," which would seem to suggest interrogation & mediation by the arts.) Whereas reciprocity involves responding directly (i.e. reacting) to someone else's action, and consistency involves commitment to one's own prior thoughts or actions, and whereas social proof involves consistency with others "like us," liking & authority both involve acting upon impressions of people who might not be like us & might not do anything (concrete) for us. These impressions might all be unconscious, but whereas liking involves a general (& likely immanent) positive sense of someone (and so not necessarily a sense of difference, such that liking does revel in reciprocity), authority is a more specific appeal to something external [2]: It basically says that something about someone is already aligned to influence us, and so suggests a transcendent position according to which we should defer to that someone or something.[3] Authority is thus not reciprocal: It is other-directed & asymmetric. (Scarcity can be manipulated similarly via information asymmetry — as well as via external production choices.) In that sense, at least in this conception, authority (which was demonstrated in the studies by such things as wearing a lab coat! — i.e. "trappings") is something of a null category invented to contain external or preexisting dispositions. (The cultural contingency of clothing per se should be obvious, for instance.) Given the demise of functional reciprocity in our increasingly unfair & automated economy, principles such as social proof & liking become more powerful — which one can observe in the growth of strong populist movements. Consistency is then refigured as a sort of loyalty, and so increasingly dictated by external authority as well.[4]

These principles of influence were researched & articulated in the 20th century, and whereas some have been tested under modest cross-cultural circumstances, they retain a strong orientation toward the liberal subject. In other words, modern hierarchy forged its own characteristic mechanisms of influence, and so its own authority. (Hierarchy is a straightforward concept of authority.) Moreover, subject position itself becomes a locus of authority. So how might one disarticulate influence & authority across subject positions? The dual concepts of territory & sovereignty might be useful for this purpose: Territory is the domain of sovereignty, the locus over which its authority is effective. So the forgoing principles apply where late liberalism has been the dominant sculptor of subject position. What of other territories? One might consider, for instance, the lessons of structural anthropology, e.g. regarding how particular authority can be folded or inflected across borders: Indeed, borders seem especially productive for a continuing investigation. (Borders might also thwart fascist demands for legibility, as authority refracts through them, or simply fails to pass.) Sovereignty then invokes the "master" authority of a territory, e.g. wealth under neoliberal globalism, the freedom to choose or even to say what exists.[5] (How do different territories of authority impinge upon each other? The contemporary subject itself is one locus of such impingement.) Law is then the textual embodiment of sovereign authority over a territory [6] — particularly if, as above, one thinks of a state as canonically sovereign over a territory. (One might even problematize a state as the nexus of its own laws.) Regimes of law might yet overlap, however, such as in state & religious courts, or in criminal & civil law today.[7] So although sovereignty suggests a singular authority, authority is multiple, both animating & exceeding sovereignty per se — while forging, or being forged by, its own overlapping territories. Impinging contemporary territories can be particularly fraught, even chaotic, such that a creative or artistic approach is sometimes needed to navigate them. (Indeed, art-as-work increasingly must navigate multi-dimensional contemporary territories: The artist works to trace the territory in practice, perhaps reimagining its authority from a different perspective or in a new situation.)

  1. This specific conception & list comes from Robert Cialdini, based on extensive clinical studies of human behavior. (Authority is his fifth principle, i.e. not nearly the strongest, ahead of only scarcity.) I introduced Cialdini's (rather mainstream) work, and discussed it most extensively, in Hierarchy as rupture.

  2. I had already suggested that "liking & authority are collapsing into one principle," though. [PL6]

  3. Appeals to authority might thus be conceived as moves away from personal consistency, in effect as outcomes of not trusting oneself. [MA]

  4. For instance, one's own aesthetic choices can assume authority over oneself via the influence of consistency. (This is why we are constantly being fed the same pseudo-artistic material by the mass media. Consistency must be reinvoked often.) Hierarchy itself also reflects & enforces a kind of consistency, amid its melancholic familiarity. [WF]

  5. Matters of ontology thus come to the fore in global politics, which reflects & intertwines different conceptions of existence. Moreover, sovereignty itself is a basic requirement for "grass roots" politics (to paraphrase Dunbar-Ortiz): If one is not merely to confirm top-down political pronouncements, then, one must embrace a variety of sovereigns arising across a variety of territories & out of a variety of authority concepts. (Note that such a variety need not consist exclusively of a separable geographic patchwork. It's more fluid than that.) One might then insist that there is an alternative, despite persistent contemporary claims to the contrary.

  6. Law is often figured as transcendent, whether it's state law, religious law, scientific law, etc. At its most distant & brittle, it thus becomes stripped of its own authority, as simply a nebulous (& moralizing [MA]) textual body clinging precariously to a (perhaps formerly immanent) territory.

  7. Stiegler (for one) wants to emphasize the theoretical & conceptual distinction between law & fact, such that new facts can (again?) engender new laws: There is always a lag in this process, however, even when it's functioning at its best, and so as we generate new technological "facts" at ever-increasing speeds, law lags that much farther behind (or "above," per the previous note).

2. Themes of power

Although it can feel as though notions of authority are contracting around fundamentalist priorities, especially greed, there are actually too many functional themes to enumerate here. (And it's fair to believe that some remain utterly invisible to this project as well.) If a theme resonates with people, if it can cohere enough to forge a territory, and perhaps even if it can't, it can function as a concept of authority: Indeed, returning to Latour's modes — and note that his sense of mode always already suggests modernity — three (politics, religion, law) have been named explicitly above, and more will appear below. The territories forged or implied by (at least most of [1]) these modes come with their own characteristic senses of authority: One might even note that they usually involve speaking a language, itself an explicit marker of territory, and one that suggests particular authority conditions. Such an urge toward modality strongly overlaps that toward disciplinarity, whether in an academic or broader sense, as disciplines (e.g. psychology, engineering, fiction) also have their own characteristic, yet interlocking [2], concepts of authority: Latour traced the authority conditions of modern science, for instance, around such concepts (or modes) as reference & network. To learn a discipline is thus to learn its concepts of authority, its language, its specific territory [3] — if only implicitly. Such an articulation into modes or themes, then, as well as articulating into territories of authority, serves to problematize universality. One might go on interrogate concepts of Western logic & mathematics around their presumption of universal authority: What is their actual territory? How does it impinge on others? (Universality has been perhaps the most basic theme of modern power: That it folds into fundamentalism should not be a surprise.) What of a concept such as repeatability more generally? How does it articulate to habit & familiarity? Moreover, one might trace (universalist) notions of "progress" according to authority concepts & territories as well.[4]

Interrogation proceeds according to its own concept of authority [5], particularly as it's articulated by genre: Narrative & exposition come with their own concepts of authority, for instance, but also underpin or react to other concepts & genres: Themes cross & penetrate each other, such that e.g. literary genres (such as utopian or realist) not only have their own concepts of language (or characteristic "tones") but interrogate or bolster authority in particular ways. (The scope of the topic is such that interrogating a single literary work could well be extended to greater length than this very brief survey as a whole, as can be observed readily enough in the critical literature.) History — as a genre — has been especially effective at forging or reinforcing concepts of authority, particularly during the modern era, given the latter's sense of discovery & therefore archive. Modern concepts of history continue to haunt the contemporary era, particularly since notions of origin retain such a powerful authority.[6] Moreover, the modern telos per se retains much of its narrative authority — having already forged so much of this world, itself a residual (crystallized) form of authority — even as its historical moment passes. Climate change has since emerged to trouble modern progress narratives further, though, imposing its own authority (in part by evoking scarcity), and so impinging in turn on territories of basic human necessity: Food, water, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. form interlocking territories, themselves traversed by various other concepts of authority. (One might consider, for instance, intersections with Latour's modes, or with mathematical formulas.) The basic immanence of climate change has even troubled the traditional, transcendent authority of religion: Yet the transcendental move does continue to reflect human limitations.[7] One thus turns to interrogating a different sort of authority beyond the human: Does climate motivate a new theology then? (Many authorities obviously reject such a move.)

How does one learn & interact, particularly across territories?[8] If "religion" is not only social binding, but also a locus of received ideas — whatever those ideas, as broadly received, might be — then dynamics around religious authority might be applied to transverse movements more generally. How does one "discover" values then, beyond the received? It seems impossible to begin (at least) to learn without territory, i.e. without discipline or situation: In other words, one needs a territory by which to ground authority (& so knowledge, per the next section). Such a territory can emerge from ritual (a crossing of habit & glory, one might say) [9], and so can invoke a sense of transcendent distance. (Conversely, it can also emerge from very immanent necessity.) Indeed, distance per se often conveys authority [10]: This is the power of transcendental thought, of placing authority above one's (earthly) reach. Naming & representation invoke a related sense of mastery: In such a situation, one is (presumptively) above the fray, able to declare (with authority) what is what. Particularly since ecology remains (at least partially) trapped in aesthetics (i.e. segregated from direct political action according to techniques of imperial apology, and so problematized by naming per se), art continues to be a significant (semiotic) battleground for contemporary authority: New genres trace new concepts, perhaps forge new weapons for authorities to use in battle: Creation itself thus returns as a scene of authority.[11] If aesthetics is the proper territory for confronting & accepting dissonance in sensation & values, how might it trace or even reconfigure other concepts of contemporary authority in turn? What values are there or might there be? The latter is a pressing contemporary question, as is that of their relation & relative effectiveness. Yet modern notions of system must also be resisted, such that effectiveness remains qualitative. Indeed, notions of measurement must be resisted in general — hence prioritizing the aesthetic domain & so the immeasurable. What can function (thematically) as a concept of authority, then, but also how does such a concept function & relate? Where are its thresholds & transitions? Such questions must be approached from within the contemporary conjuncture, rather than via external forms or as impositions. By what authority might one conjure a new theme?

After that last flurry of (likely unsatisfying) questions, arising from passing through so many themes so quickly [12], onward to discussing a few prominent, contemporary themes or concepts in a little more detail....

  1. One can presumably construct a territory for any of these modes relative to Latour's "felicity conditions" & the authority that they trace or circumscribe.

  2. Once again, although conceived in a modernist guise, one might employ the concepts of structural anthropology in order to articulate transformations of authority across discipline boundaries. Whereas concepts of authority for various academic disciplines are often sought in the same underlying regime (of "truth" etc.), they articulate differently in practice.

  3. Once acquired, disciplinary authority thus becomes a mechanism for territorialization [HR]: One might even speak of imperializing disciplines — particularly around modernity itself.

  4. Territories of progress are geographically inflected, for instance. (In other words, while quality of life often improved in the interior, it often declined elsewhere.) This is a specifically modern legacy that continues to animate globalism.

  5. One should probably undertake interrogation according to a specific concept of authority.... Declining to do so (as here) injects an element of uncertainty & baselessness — from which concepts might nonetheless emerge.

  6. One might note, for instance, the relatively vicious battles between creationism & evolution: These are origin stories with no practical stakes. (Rather, the practical stakes of evolution are found in microbiology laboratories that creationists never enter, while the stakes of creation are found in moralizing. In other words, these are different territories.)

  7. That there is something greater & more significant than the human per se would seem to be a much-needed contemporary sentiment — dependent on what other concepts such a sentiment invokes, at least. (Authority can thus become a "middle term," i.e. in support of one theme while being conditioned by another. If it both supports & is erected by a single theme, one might call it reflexive authority.)

  8. Crossing territories, transverse movement, is one of the pressing themes of the contemporary era — encompassing resistance to such crossings by fundamentalist (and other) concerns. Simply, despite the continued fascination exerted by its telos, transgressing the categories of modernity is a prominent theme of the contemporary conjuncture — again implying a backlash. (One might interrogate this tension according to the territory of the postcolony.)

  9. For instance, schools — including for the sciences — have usually been packed with — even animated by — rituals. This situation does not appear to be changing, even if the specific rituals sometimes change.

  10. I should also note the (intertwined with distance) power of first impressions: Anecdotally, I've encountered a variety of people in a variety of contexts. Whereas some people are simply interested in what I have to say, many want to invoke an external sense of authority. Trivially, if they do a web search & find my writing, they're much more likely to accept me as "an authority" than if we're already in a conversation, and I reference my work. In other words, people will find a "distant" source to have more authority than the same person in their presence, willing to engage with their specific questions. Authorities should be aloof! This has been a strong message at various points in my life, stretching back decades. It can be eerie to experience.

  11. The contemporary conjuncture has largely resisted the authority of labor per se, at least absent some artistic genre. (Hence art-as-work in this increasingly automated age.) Somehow (well, as conditioned by mechanization), labor per se is not regarded as creation.

  12. Despite modern demands for legibility, such a dizzying array of themes supports (and has supported) power in its inscrutability. I have done little to unravel that here, but again, a close examination of any of these crossings could fill a book by itself. What is the point of such brevity then? We shall see if I manage to illuminate some critical strands....

A. Knowledge

Does knowledge yield authority (according to the saw "knowledge is power") or does authority yield the ability (the sovereignty) to decide truth, and thus what constitutes knowledge? This is a basic (reflexive, per a note above) tension intertwining authority & knowledge [1], and encompassing such themes as relevance (i.e. the value of not knowing [2]). Perhaps more to the point, how does one prove or demonstrate knowledge? The institution of science has its methods, specifically around review & repeatability, but proving knowledge can be much more direct & mundane: E.g. knowing where to get something to eat is proven by the eating. Moreover, it can be proven to others by feeding them, and assuming they wanted to be fed, such proof yields authority: Such authority arises in the demonstration, not in the knowledge. How does one evaluate claims about knowledge that one does not possess, then? That sort of "proof" is often secondary (i.e. isn't actually about being fed), and so involves the trappings of authority: The public evaluates scientific claims to knowledge both according to its (presumed) secondary effects (i.e. the automobile "demonstrates" a knowledge of physics & engineering) & according to personal or institutional reputation. (Fellow scientists might be satisfied with the latter as well.) So we come to have entire regimes of people who wield (presumptive) knowledge-based authority, from scientists to intellectuals more generally, to professionals & expert witnesses, etc. Such "reputation" becomes circular: One is in a particular (academic, perhaps) position because one has authority, and one has authority because one is in a particular position. There is a further presumption that a personal trait such as intelligence bolsters knowledge, and so underlies authority, but such a trait can still only be scrutinized in its instrumental form. (Per the previous section, articulated knowledge, at least in some territories, must also obey e.g. the demands of logic: Such demands are often deemed to provide a framework for proof, yet lack a direct practical, i.e. instrumental, component.[3] Rather, they are textual, i.e. related to law.) Further regarding relevance, one might ask: Knowledge of what? Knowledge of where to eat is crucial to survival, but what of various other arcane knowledges? Do they yield authority? (It depends on the territory.) What of knowledge that cannot be demonstrated or even communicated? At least in this world, such knowledge yields no authority — or perhaps (only) a latent sort of authority, awaiting some prospective scene of demonstration.[4]

Modernity posits that knowledge is a matter for discovery, i.e. that truth already exists "out there" in nature, and so must be discovered. Empirical science thereby absorbed much of the authority of traditional religion, which had (or has) relied on both received authority & (e.g. creation) narrative. Yet, as already discussed, we rely on education (religious or otherwise) to at least "seed" our sense of knowledge and therefore empirical discovery.[5] Moreover, whether one believes in "discovery" or not, some knowledge is surely created: One might think of some new device, or even a tune. They are created before they can be known, and they are known (first) via their creation: This is art-as-work, knowing by doing. One knows the machine from having built the machine (assuming that such creation goes beyond mere "button pushing" according to someone else's script, anyway). One knows the painting from having painted it, from having become intimate with its paint & surface. Moreover, art-as-work associates feelings — perhaps as aesthetic judgments [6] — with (claims of) knowledge (and hence, authority). Such knowledge might be demonstrable physically, yet outside the territories of language-based authority. What mood does such doing invoke or express? Does it require or trouble external validation, i.e. does it intertwine other themes of power beyond the doing itself? Art-as-work might very well intertwine with a variety of concepts, might even consist in the intertwining of concepts, but produces its own spark of practical authority — creation per se. To what extent does this describe institutional knowledge regimes, contemporary professionals & experts, etc.? (Again, it depends on the territory.)

When it comes to knowledge today, a monopoly on authority starts to present itself: Such monopoly does not arise from "the scientific method," or anything so abstract, at least not directly, but rather from the results of internet search. Internet search presents a clear paradigm of discovery, absent any creation by the person conducting (if one can even call it that, given the "anticipatory" orientation of contemporary technology) the search [7]: It enforces a hermeneutic regime, i.e. querying a "black box." (And increasingly, the box speaks unprompted: It comes to exceed an oracle!) Is the result one receives actually true? By whose authority — and can another authority possibly overcome internet popularity per se? Searching online has become the ultimate proof, backed by what seems to be perceived as unassailable authority. (One is often left only to interpret such authority, a far cry from actual engagement — i.e. creation itself.) Yet search results are often contradictory or incorrect.[8] Moreover, internet search subtly channels scientific repeatability: The search is repeatable, so it must be true! (If one wants to critique "correlationism," this would be a great place to start.) Internet authority (the ultimate mechanical regime) has thus come to declare what is true, and so to determine knowledge per se (per the question opening this section). It is universalizing — reflecting its modernist origins — as well as (paradoxically) territorial in its (increasingly) personalized results. (So different people can still believe that different things are universally true.) Further themes of knowledge-based authority, such as information theory [9] & game theory [10], develop accordingly: Information asymmetry forges an increasingly steep gradient for authority, as relatively fewer people have direct access to data, internet-based or otherwise. (Such asymmetry is further entrenched or inflected by so-called "transaction costs" of knowledge, the effort it requires to know more than already presented by an authority. In science, such costs might derive from conducting an experiment, say.) Secrecy thus forges or reinforces authority — the authority of distance, per the previous section — and induces a further hermeneutic stance. The result is that, even beyond the machinic impositions of modernity (e.g. the assembly line), contemporary knowledge & authority are increasingly divorced from any creativity: Knowledge itself becomes literally machinic, and empiricism on the part of the "user" is reduced to comparing internet sites, if that. In other words, functionally, the internet consists of competing religious authorities — but (in quite an understatement) with little or no exhortation (or incentive) to treat anyone with love or respect.

  1. I refer the reader, once again, to "Knowing the words," an extensive discussion that intersects many territories from many angles, while evoking a wide variety of tangential thoughts. [WF] (It's probably more eccentric than the present article, and certainly more theoretical, but does irrupt from a clearly defined context.)

  2. Pace willful acts of ignorance, innocence is another concept of authority: Whereas its direct relevance might be limited, innocence suggests a lack of contamination by knowledge, knowledge that is either distracting or irrelevant. (Hence we want our juries to be "innocent," in the sense of not knowing the people or the alleged crime.) So innocence can provide, perhaps, a privileged perspective in particular instances. However, such instances are greatly exaggerated by (increasingly common) political rhetoric suggesting that people who are "too close" to a problem are somehow less qualified to solve it. (Such rhetoric is especially exasperating when closeness arises from qualification per se.) This is an ongoing component of the broad, contemporary theme of glorifying ignorance — itself a bizarre enfolding of imperial modern hierarchy, and in tension with legibility.

  3. One thing to admit about modernity is that it cannot be faulted for failing to demonstrate an ability to subdue & colonize much of the world. (Whereas this outcome is said to be proof for a variety of other claims, it is at least proof of a capacity to dominate.) It suffers from no such deficit of instrumental results.

  4. That "impractical" knowledge might someday be practical is not absurd. Circumstances do change. (Scientists often speak of having explored a topic out of interest, only to find an application later for what they learned. Of course, they likely say nothing about the times when an application never emerges.)

  5. One can "unlearn" what one has already learned only via a circular, iterative process: What one "knows" (i.e. believes) always already conditions one's further inquiries. This cycle is inescapable.

  6. E.g. Ngai has interrogated various aesthetic judgments extensively, and thereby traces a nexus between feeling & knowledge. (Reductively, one can at least know feelings, so even a rationalist can perceive such a nexus, if only in one direction.)

  7. That someone would use the internet as a consumer, while also creating "content" online, was a commonplace of the early internet, when so many people mutually participated in both. However, these activities are increasingly segmented, i.e. territorialized, such that "consumer creation" often gets relegated to comments sections — which are left to fester, presumably so as to "prove" that consumers shouldn't be creating.

  8. Let me give an actual recent (May 2017), albeit largely trivial, example: A friend & I were sitting side by side at a local bar, and wondered (a long story) what the sales tax rate was. We both have Android (i.e. Google) phones, and both asked "What is the sales tax in Mountain View, CA?" My phone told me 9%, and his told him 9.25%. (Such inconsistency was surprising, but receiving answers that are simply incorrect is no surprise at all. No one really monitors these things, since they're supposed to be automatic, trolling "the web" for answers, largely based on popularity or other superficial qualities.)

  9. Whereas I haven't noticed Stiegler using the technical term "information theory" — the mathematics of which is analogous to that of entropy relations in thermodynamics — he does contrast semiosis & entropy, i.e. tendencies to cohere (via knowledge) or disperse. According to Stiegler's contrast, then, semiotic knowledge is necessary for a living thing to interact (productively) with its environment, and that interaction is in turn semiotic or entropic. (Semiosis encompasses sensation in this conception.)

  10. I discussed "allocation games" already in Morality as aporia. (Game theory also privileges combinatoric knowledge, i.e. the arrangement of predetermined "solid" or machinic elements. [WF])

B. Wealth

One can likewise ponder whether authority yields wealth, or wealth yields authority: The latter summarizes one of the animating values of liberalism in general, which has in turn entrenched (accumulated) wealth as the "master" value of the contemporary moment, i.e. (as already noted) according to neoliberal fundamentalism. That modern economic commensurability allows the quantification of wealth, i.e. collapsing a variety of resources into a numeric value, has also buoyed wealth (as well as the discipline of economics itself) as an authority: It is quite legible & can be compared readily. (Its function as a general measure of value, that is "merit," was also motivated by Calvinist sentiments. So this notion spans much of the modern era.) However, the former (inverse) phrase, i.e. that authority yields wealth — whether via monopoly power, political graft, etc. — is also increasingly accepted today, and in turn hinges on merit: Our authorities merit diverting flows of wealth into their own pockets? That the resulting wealth becomes proof of merit makes for tighter reflexivity around wealth than around knowledge — which is not so quantifiable, and may yet exist on several messy (incommensurable) axes. Moreover, as already suggested, wealth is its own proof: Whereas, in the past, demonstrating wealth may have involved extravagant expenditures (e.g. banquets), now it can be done by numbers (e.g. bank balances) alone.[1] (Such a further emphasis on numbers, i.e. on abstracted wealth, fits a debt regime in which what one is owed, according to some mechanical system, is more important than what one does for people.[2] The latter might actually exhaust wealth, which would in turn lower one's future merit. Hence, the contemporary moment emphasizes accumulation.) The nexus between wealth & authority can also be interrogated according to the theme of ownership: Wealth is owned — hence ultimately bolstered by legal (i.e. state, in our society) authority — and ownership yields authority in turn: One might own not only "property" per se, but the monetary resources to hire labor — and "ownership" posits the authority to use them. Money (& wealth more generally) thus becomes a proxy for work, therefore an economic lubricant required for (nearly) all basic necessities today [3], and (sometimes, partially, still) distributed according to notions of labor: As labor creates value, wealth is said to stand behind it, inducing value, so to speak — at least according to the theme of ownership.[4] (The obvious fact that labor has been necessary for creating wealth seems largely ignored today, thus granting it little authority.) Indeed, the contemporary moment of automation threatens to create wealth mechanically, i.e. without (human) labor, or rather one might say, using only stored residues of previous labor (which receives no further compensation), thus enabling wealth to create more wealth directly (and not merely numbers in banks). One might analogize the situation to that of the mechanical reproduction of art, also consummated in the 20th century, and so further trace art-as-work: (To reiterate the obvious, then) a basic tension intensifies in the contemporary moment between accumulating & working, a tension that's typically "resolved" by insisting that accumulated quantity trumps momentary or ongoing creation & process more generally — i.e. that the former offers hard evidence of previous creation, and so is always already superior. Wealth thus continues to invoke origins & the prior, as well as a particular equilibrium (forged by accumulation & inheritance), despite its supposed orientation toward future production under capitalism.

  1. One might even say that wealth proves knowledge — at least knowledge of how to become wealthy, which is increasingly regarded as the highest (best) knowledge. (Inheritance thus also appears to be figured as a sort of knowledge by the contemporary moment.) Moreover, knowledge can often be used toward accumulating wealth, such that these authority concepts come to intertwine.

  2. The debt regime plays on such themes as origin & duty. [RF]

  3. Note that many basic necessities (e.g. food) are actively consumed in the process of use, or don't last long, and so are not especially suited for accumulating (or hoarding) per se: Rather they might better facilitate accumulation via the capture of related (secondary) flows. (However, such an observation should not be overstated, as e.g. hoarding grain — & especially therefore beer — provoked an epochal social revolution.) As far as "free" necessities go, for example, we are not yet paying, directly anyway, for air to breathe.

  4. Per Stiegler, Marx thus posits work as meta-law: Work precedes & animates modern ownership, which is consummated in law. Marxism thus problematizes law per se. (Stiegler asks in turn, how do or can new facts engender new laws? I might also ask, what is or can be the changing nature of ownership today?)

C. Violence

Despite claims regarding the significance of knowledge & especially wealth in the contemporary moment, violence continues apace. In straightforward fashion, if people refuse the demands of the wealthy, the latter can & do hire the violent.[1] (Is this the basic functional authority of wealth?) Such authority of imposition differs from other influences or inducements, although the extent to which the latter are truly voluntary remains in question. (Further, if one complies for fear of actual or potential violence, might that be figured as voluntary too?) Such authority of imposition is also often state authority, monopolized by the wealthy as "the bourgeois class has absorbed the state" (per above). Modernity was marked by violent imposition, first by individual "discoverers," and then together with their capitalist & state allies: Whereas the imperial moment per se has passed, neoimperial violence surges, as the characteristic violence of modernity, as well as its resistance, folds ever more powerfully into the contemporary moment. Imperial violence sought to appropriate work, and not only the labor of the moment, but the stored labor (i.e. the wealth created by previous labor) of other societies. (Imperial violence sought to appropriate "natural" resources from the territories of other societies too.) Indeed, imperialism further figures authority in general as always already imperative [PL6]: "Do as I say or else" directly articulates both authority & empire (with the "else" always ultimately implying violence). Is war (still) the "real" authority then? The many violent conflicts around the world might suggest as much, but such violence is animated by other authority concepts as well, especially wealth. And if one is speaking in these terms, shouldn't peace be the real authority?[2] Peace, like knowledge or wealth, is presumably what people actually want, not war. (So one might arrive on a violent scene with the overwhelming power of peace?) So war & therefore violence derive from loss of (other) authority then? (How does such a notion trace the history of child-rearing & patriarchy, for instance?) Moreover, violence intertwines claims to universality — and haunts failed claims.[3] What of violence online? Lack of (physical) presence in the online world suggests a lack of intimacy — intimacy having animated violence (together with the modern urge toward legibility [4]) — thus producing a demand for new (imposed or interrogated) intimacy?[5] Identity confusion (or at least indirectness) online brings a renewed yearning for legibility, then, as ultimately mediated by violence: The internet becomes a paradigm for constant (permeating) background violence, due to or because of its lack of physical proximity, and so one might speak of "violent" language not only in terms of tone, but genre: Toward whom is comedic violence directed, say, particularly as humor-derived forms (e.g. sarcasm) come to dominate so much interaction? Does comedic violence breach or sustain authority?[6] (Of course, it might do either, depending on the territory & how it's applied.) If violence produces legibility, it can also be said to yield knowledge. (Might violence even be said to prove knowledge?) Violence can even be — increasingly is? — figured as artistic. It can certainly be work (per the hiring trope above). To what extent is art-as-work(-as-knowledge) intertwined with violence then? Is the artist violating the materials? (Is the eater violating the food? Is the scientist violating nature?) Who decides? (This becomes a question for ecology.)

  1. So-called "random violence," i.e. that unconnected to another major theme of power, is (mostly) outside my emphasis here: "Randomly" violent individuals might gain some small-scale authority, but are as likely to suffer reprisals in turn, at least if their actions are opposed by other authorities. However, random violence also provides authority for the claims of hierarchy, i.e. that the powerful are the solution to violence. There is thus only a partial incentive to suppress (or actually remediate) random violence, while violence in the service of wealth & hierarchy escalates.

  2. I hesitate to mention the sort of neo-Hobbesian dynamic that appears to be developing.... (So many people seem to want to pay dearly for "security" at the moment. That the contemporary situation resembles the early modern moment is also suggested by parallel labor chaos arising from globalization.)

  3. Contemporary wars are often over competing, supposedly universal, values — i.e. are between fundamentalists. Universality might itself be figured as inherently violent, as wanting to crush all competing concepts. Resistance to universalizing then brings violence in turn, all the more so if another universal impulse arises to punish the first.

  4. One might suggest that an activity such as hazing is about legibility, for instance: Are you, or aren't you, one of us? Moreover, sports stages violent non-intimacy, so to speak, involving a ritual of intimate contact (particularly male) becoming competitive instead, i.e. becoming legible: Quantified & systematized, such competition further infuses contemporary society (audiences) with sublimated — and so irrupting elsewhere — violence.

  5. One might further interrogate the tension between automation & intimacy from the perspective of e.g. robots being developed to have feelings (i.e "to be more human"). Many such contemporary concerns are also articulated around the theme of privacy.

  6. According to Hegel, comedy is about the failure of representation per se. (Per Zupancic, laughter is thus always based in ideology, i.e. our larger sense of "who.") Hence comedy might trouble even the "first violence" — or first authority? — of naming. (Per Roy Wagner, one might thus emphasize its equivocal, or even equivocating, character.)

D. Sex & reproduction

The basic biologism of modernity reconfigured reproduction, strengthening patriarchy in the process, and although contemporary ideological movements have problematized some aspects of contemporary hierarchy, e.g. as more people gain (at least) the (nominal) rights of straight white men, reproduction remains largely colonized — as reflected in such contemporary notions as (rampant!) social Darwinism, power over & deriving from one's own family, as well as the more general power to say what traits should be propagated by society. (Indeed, eugenics continues to haunt the contemporary moment.) Pace the saturating propaganda (& advertising more generally) regarding what or whom to choose sexually, then, how does one interrogate the authority of sexuality & sexual choice per se? Family becomes a territory of authority, proven by reproduction: Children thus not only provide a territory over which to have authority, but prove both knowledge (of sex, and there has long been talk of "knowing" someone in this sense) & prior authority (to procure sex, in crass terms). Whereas violence continues to figure, at least to some extent, sexual selection — including via e.g. the contemporary comedy-sex-sports nexus [PL6] — there is authority in choice, and also authority in (or behind such concepts as) beauty [1]: Does beauty (of a person) merely figure the "liking" of section 1? Is it always reproductive? Not literally, since non-reproductive sex is frequently enjoyed. (Beauty is what one wants more of, and thus to reproduce? Such an observation can be made rather generally — including outside of biological reproduction per se.) To what extent is liking per se about liking sex? And to what extent is liking sex about beauty? The latter conforms to social hierarchy, and so sex with the beautiful is about proving one's authority (or prestige), rather than about the quality of sex per se — although notions of the latter are likewise mediated by social proof, at least as much as by tangible sensation. (External authority also seeks to dictate with whom one can have sex. Such authority is sometimes called "moral.") Is sex about winning, then, and hence about authority, even beyond reproductive sex being about "winning" the next generation?[2] (Of course, sexual selection is highly mediated by wealth in our society as well, but that is not a new feature of the contemporary moment, nor of modernity.) Beyond sports & comedy, even beyond reproduction, sex brings the authority of creating, of itself as work — although it isn't usually figured that way.[3] Moreover, art is frequently sexy, further intertwining sex with art-as-work. (Knowledge or intelligence can be sexy as well.) Work per se can even be sexy, via the authority of doing itself. Yet what of art that replicates itself? What of beauty that replicates itself? Are we so far away from mechanically reproducing people — while sexual activity itself is increasingly technically mediated, especially over the internet, so as to forge a ghastly mechanical dual? Modernity reconfigured biological reproduction, and the contemporary moment appears to be doing so again. That such reproduction is so closely intertwined with broad strands of authority is not always appreciated — hence the many questions here by way of interrogation [4] — but must be confronted: Whereas sex does tend to concentrate & accumulate like knowledge & wealth, with the rich becoming richer so to speak, sex (unlike violence) need not invoke hierarchy. Its authority can be far more fluid & reciprocal — that is, to the extent that it's not already conditioned by (external, reproductive or otherwise) hierarchy or violence.

  1. Beauty intensifies the basic tension of selection versus hierarchical imposition: The beautiful are more sought, and so might have more authority to choose (more options), but can also be at more risk, e.g. for violent capture. Their (potential) status as a symbol or trophy, then, can become especially fraught — unless they are also able to invoke other concepts of authority. (Moreover, note how notions of beauty become universalized, particularly via mass media. Without the universalization of beauty, such tension would not exist, at least not beyond an individual context.) Beauty is thus an especially fragile kind of authority, including in its actual physical dimension. (From another perspective though, per Wagner, real beauty is lethal: To whom?) So, once again, does sex yield authority or does authority yield sex?

  2. Queer sex has thus often lacked traditional authority. (In some territories, it is therefore ignored, or treated according to different relations of authority, whereas in others — such as that of modernity — it is vigorously proscribed.) Such authority might be further figured via the filial-affine dual. [PL7]

  3. Although for some people, sex is very literally work. (Alternately, it might simply be a matter of routine. [WF])

  4. One need not watch much advertising in order to observe that sex continues to be a powerful means of influence & control. Its ubiquity is numbing in some ways, particularly as regards satisfaction per se (and withholding satisfaction is an integral aspect of the manipulation), but its authority remains strong overall.

3. So, identity & charisma...

The lettered sections have largely involved personal traits [1], and implicitly a sort of exceptionalism: One might conclude that the more knowledge, wealth etc. one possesses, the more authority one has. Whereas that might be true, at least for certain ranges & within some territories, what are the consequences (for authority) of an emphasis on personal traits? The notion of charisma is one means of interrogating personally-derived authority — and yes, one can even be charismatically violent — and in terms of section 1, basically points us back to the regime of "liking." Charisma is also the domain of celebrity [2]; charisma is sexy, beautiful.... Further traits such as intelligence [3] often underpin knowledge, which can in turn yield charisma, buoying its authority: Charisma is itself reflexive, both a theme of power (i.e. a source of authority) & an outcome of (otherwise) perceived authority. Moreover, personal traits such as charisma — including via "celebrity" per se — invoke identity, ideology & so identity politics: In short, one might "become" one's traits, the locus of how one is defined.[4] Such identity does tend to be reductive [5], and so one must wonder whether — at least after their contours are exposed — personal traits actually produce authority, or are themselves subjects of (external) authority.

If one's personal traits — one's embodied traits — are a locus of (personal) influence, then, i.e. are involved in both how one influences & is influenced, how might one modulate or inflect influencing versus being influenced? (To what extent are these equivocal?) Does external authority — with its facts, say — act upon one, or does one exert authority elsewhere instead? Or (as is likely) do both happen at once? These are questions of network, i.e. of how the contemporary subject relates to others. Personal issues of tone & voice thus fade into the domain of attention economy [PL], where the nature of "possession" (as invoked to open this section) is problematized: Does one even "possess" a real face among a crowd of billions seeking attention, let alone distinct traits?[6] Might dissolving (traditional) ideologies, increasing chaos & indeterminacy, dissolve personal identity & in turn the (modern) subject per se, or at least its authority? Whose authority is that of the liberal subject, though? Surely, any answer must encompass liberalism & governmentality per se. Indeed, the subject has always been contingent & something of an illusion, a fraught synthesis: It's always already divided & segmented according to machinic drives, attachments, and a variety of inter- & infra-subjective relations. How do & have such relations changed, then? What is the status of a contemporary subject, if one (or many) can be said to exist? What is its authority & to what does it grant authority? I continue to investigate these questions around the notion of art-as-work — forging a subject via forging its relations, i.e. art as relation.[7] (After all, authority must follow or forge paths of relation.) So again, what are those contemporary relations, and how are they changing?

  1. One might also consider applying such traits to society or societies as a whole, particularly as different territories impinge. However, note that even if one grants the relevance of general social traits (i.e. of summarizing entire societies so succinctly), they relate to "the same" individual traits only in nonlinear fashion, i.e. are not simple aggregates. (Even individual wealth or knowledge might be oppositional, or at least blocked from acting externally.) Moreover, such traits would then suggest external descriptions of societies (e.g. in collision), and not necessarily characteristic traces for internal relation.

  2. The culture of celebrity actually makes some sense in terms of principles of influence, since imitating others — particularly people who are "liked" — has been shown to increase how much one is liked in turn. (It's not only that such imitation produces known-desirable traits, but because of the positive subconscious effect of perceived imitation per se.)

  3. I was already motivated to mention intelligence, which has long been one of the "personal traits" by which people are evaluated in our society — if only vaguely or indirectly. One can ponder various others, from the classic character attributes of Dungeons & Dragons (if I may), to the currently researched reflexivity (i.e. that others evaluate according to such traits in turn) of Big Five. Although many of these traits concern one's interactions, they are all subject centered.

  4. Indeed, the notion of consistency, as already suggested in section 1 around aesthetic choice, can wield a power of enforcement or enclosure, such that one's "identity" comes to be held fixed. (See "Difference into definition" for more. [WF])

  5. Despite (or maybe because of) proliferation of available social identities, they become rather reductive, at least in their symbolic components: A single, common color might figure someone's identity, for instance — or a straightforward pattern. Indeed, single colors or simple patterns have long represented particular political stances, sports affiliations, kinship relations, etc. Especially with regard to sporting fandom (which extends back to the Roman era & beyond), one can observe that color & icon continue to fascinate. This is politically significant: For instance, I've come to believe that assimilating US Republican Party identity to the color red — which occurred in the Reagan era, via television graphics — has allowed it to gain a populist aura.

  6. The specific diagnosis of a contemporary "epidemic of facelessness" comes from Cohen & Colebrook. (They further suggest that face had always been "unreadable" — which makes sense if I add an explicitly global context: Once again, under globalism, formerly distant issues come to penetrate the local.) Further, what are (changing) contemporary forms of possession? Who or what does anyone possess, particularly outside of the (legal) regime of wealth per se?

  7. That work forges a particular relation should be obvious. What might be less obvious are the ways that art can & does interrogate relation. (See also "Music as political" as already referenced above. [WF])

4. Network — Access

If contemporary authority is less about one's personal traits, and more about their relation to others in an increasingly dense network, then how might those traits or themes facilitate or modulate network access? What traits actually do facilitate or modulate network access (versus "traditional" gauges of authority)? Whereas hierarchy continues to place an individual (physically or virtually) at a dais or pulpit, in front of a crowd, as both a reflection & projection of authority, such a singular (pyramidal) image becomes increasingly muddled in a world of internet media. (One might even speak of such an image itself circulating as a modulator of authority, competing for attention with other images.) Basic nonlinearity of the network, and of bundles of relation more generally, suggests that no a priori formula produces contemporary authority, although such authority can be gauged a posteriori via attention: Even then, "raw" attention, what one might call the celebrity mode, might e.g. yield more ridicule than obedience. Yet one will have influenced many — again, perhaps, in a nonlinear manner. (That influence can come from strange angles, so to speak, is motivation for such concepts as hegemony.) One might believe (or hope) that "truth" — presumably based in knowledge — would facilitate or produce ongoing authority, at least if one wants to solve real problems, but increasingly, networks (i.e. abstract authority relations) produce truth instead of receiving or transporting it. If knowledge is not the primary trait involved in capturing attention [1], one barely needs to ask if other traits provide or produce "proof" of knowledge, since such proof becomes largely irrelevant. What provides access then? First of all, (sufficient) wealth: One can buy one's way into media exposure in very straightforward fashion (even if the ensuing influence is less easy to reckon [2]). Sex appeal, figured by celebrity, is another way. One might combine knowledge & violence, say, to produce "hacking" & so another (perhaps fragile) means of access. Violent seizure is still directly effective in many territories, and might yet be in others. Wealth might also invoke violence, but wealth (in our world) has the specific advantage of being a legally recognized authority: Wealth itself has the authority to modulate knowledge (e.g. by commissioning studies), violence & sex (both via both hiring & charisma). Money & image thus circulate together, and often with no reference to any regime of truth or "meaning." Yet in spite of globalizing tendencies, differing territories of authority do collide: As wealth & violence modulate (differential) access across (permeable) borders, networks impinge in increasingly complex ways.[3] One might attempt to extract (or even quantify) "pure authority" based on such tangled outcomes, but that would (again) yield only a posteriori assessment. How is network authority actually established, or how might it be, whether for a person (risking egomania), or perhaps more importantly, for a thematic truth?

In the past few decades (i.e. since the end of the modern era), particularly with the internet, the circulation of images has increased by orders of magnitude: "Screens" & loudspeakers are almost everywhere, broadcasting every day, day & night. Much of it is very repetitive, the same propaganda & marketing over & over again. The intent is obviously to capture & hoard attention [4], with attention itself figured as the locus (or domain per se) of authority. (In such a saturated media landscape, competition for scarce attention is inherent & unavoidable.) Whereas the internet promised, and only very partially delivered, a regime of multiway communication, such media saturation reinvokes the (hierarchical) image of the podium: Whereas reciprocity is a general feature of network relations, it is thus actively suppressed by volume (if not by control of channels). One is almost forced into an on-off relation (producing binary thinking) with so-called "content" — just as with one's electronic device (which, one learns, cannot be turned off). One might further figure such inundation as semiotic violence, as producing an inability to learn (to learn "truth" anyway), via speed & abstraction per se: If naming is already the first violence, the media regime proceeds according to increasingly dense layers of representation, i.e. abstraction, at ever-increasing speed. Indeed, the contemporary moment emphasizes speed (& therefore abstraction), thus feeding the automation regime: Not only is the authority of labor destroyed, but the authority of art (via saturation or "aestheticization") has been too.[5] What is a useful contemporary politics of speed, then, i.e. what can oppose increasingly fast logistic automation? (The latter's logic is clear: It seeks ever-faster accumulation of wealth for the shrinking few.) Slowness per se does not necessarily (or even likely) engage attention. Further, automation & speed drive an ongoing "divide & conquer" approach, such that marketing & propaganda become increasingly personalized, such that one person might not even know what lies another is told: At that point, media saturation is pure media — its authority is severed from (hypothetical) larger regimes of truth or meaning.[6] To what extent is media itself becoming automated then? Is it or might it soon be self-replicating, self-creating? (Spamming robots already suggest as much.) If art-as-work brings the authority of doing, who did this? And who will do this? Moreover, what is "media art" in the context of network & automation? (Is it or will it be defined as hacking? Since hacking is already illegal, will the term come to define anything that troubles media authorities? That media & technology merge almost goes without saying....) How does one bring a sense of action & doing to constant media interactions from which one cannot abstain? How can the audience become the artist (again)? What is the contemporary moment of performance per se? Circulation of images (& their ongoing hierarchical abstraction via, say, fandom) comes to blur any particular moment of creation. All these images... all this speed... haunt one's sense of time itself. (Everything is faster, and so everyone has less time.) Paradoxically, one is bored, i.e. perceives little activity in the absence of a moment of actual (perceived) performance.[7]

So, wealth, perhaps including doses of sex and/or violence, allows for navigating the nonlinear complexity of contemporary network access — basically allows for opening or hiring a channel. Knowledge does not grant access via its own authority per se, i.e. is rarely prioritized via acclaim (unless mediated by other authority). Nonetheless, knowledge (as art-as-work) can sometimes seize access directly, the latter thus proving knowledge. Still, this is easier said than done, even with wealth. (Even as wealth controls the media, it can jostle uncomfortably against itself, as it's buoyed in turn by other themes.) Nonlinear process — emergent form, chaos — consequently ramifies authority, not only relating authority across networks, but projecting authority into the smallest spaces — where it can overwhelm or be overwhelmed (via limits of diffusion). Indeed, whereas wealth demands calm equilibrium (per section B) for the purposes of (guaranteed! [RF]) accumulation, the ramifications of neoliberal globalization & media increasingly yield chaos. One might even parse the "eyeballs" & rumors, the celebrity & trolling of the contemporary attention economy according to ecology: Does it even have a "top," or another clear place to begin? Whereas wealth proceeds according to ownership, as defined by law [8], and so according to orderly (hierarchical) authority, media networks increasingly lack the legibility required for such order. (They become very unmodern: Chaotic networks thus enact loss of modern authority.) So if one opposes legibility [PL7], does one glorify contemporary media-network chaos in turn? (There is surely an opportunity here — which is one reason that contemporary propaganda becomes so constant & deafening.) If loss of authority is to be intentional, and again surely it is at times, at least in the postcolonial mode [IP], what arises instead? To what extent can one instrumentalize differing authority within the media network? (Again, what concepts are in ascendence, are plateauing, or in decline? Where are the thresholds, per the opening above, of a nonlinear network?) If there is to be order, what new laws might bring justice to the contemporary situation? (Laws that are actually wealth-neutral would be a good start.) What laws animate network & access now, and what will or might in the future? If one is to continue thinking ecologically, what is a fully contemporary political-ecological theory of voice — not individual (celebrity) voice, but collective (thematic) voice? By what tone does it invoke authority, say? The contemporary situation is not so much about knowing what needs to be done, but about how (politically) to do it: Is this a matter of authority, or simply of doing, of art-as-work per se? Perhaps the associated "concepts" are themselves a distraction. Perhaps one must ask who or what is situated so as to act more directly & authentically, whether via network or otherwise [9], and then welcome that (other) authority — provided that it can...?

  1. One can ask an elementary school teacher if knowledge is the main trait capturing attention.... One might also consider academic networks & hierarchy more generally: Academic "position" has traditionally instantiated one's (knowledge based) authority. However, whereas hierarchy remains strong (& overt) in academia, academic authority in general has been plummeting in the face of contemporary media campaigns. (Returning to that school teacher, one might compare the resources involved: Glitzy campaigns, market research etc. compete for attention with outdated facilities & paltry or partially functioning equipment. Students thus learn what society actually values, i.e. to what it dedicates resources.) Indeed, universities increasingly use their wealth to purchase access in the same manner as any corporate body.

  2. I don't want to overstate the uncertainty involved: For those with sufficient resources to hire others, studies on media effectiveness can be & are conducted regularly. Many messages can be projected with confidence, based on careful study of the audience. (Such confidence can even be quantified & handled statistically, etc.)

  3. A network could be said to describe the relations of a potentially diffuse territory — and many territories (of authority) do become more diffuse under globalization: Note, for instance, how much less likely it has become for one's neighbor to share one's religion, whether stated or de facto. (It's still not unlikely, of course.)

  4. I've already discussed the notion of "attention economy" extensively. One might also figure it according to distraction, attunement, etc. [PL] (I should probably also note the similarity to Latour's "attachment" mode.) One might further consider the constant, rationalizing babble of neoliberalism per se. [PL6]

  5. I should probably also say something about "useless" art: This was a particular, historical notion motivated by mechanical reproduction & industrial productivity. In other words, it was (in some uses) a critique of modern (economic) productivity, and in that sense, always suggested that being useless isn't useless. In my opinion, the time for that particular critique has largely passed, and so I'm more concerned with tracing relations forged by art & practice. (Relation becomes a "use" in itself. What then do relations do?) Moreover, art-as-work reprises the basic, original sense of "art" as any sort of craft or creation: One might consider it to be a new interrogation of uselessness, or perhaps more generally, a broader (active) critique of use per se.

  6. Is the medium still the message? To what extent do today's channels condition "content" per se? At what level (medium or content, say) is "liking" invoked? Perhaps more importantly, to what extent have formerly distinct media merged? One might observe that particular hybrids then derive from particular propaganda needs, i.e. in order to hold already specified content, rather than as producers of messages themselves. The message is always the same anyway: NEOLIBERAL CAPITALISM IS THE ONLY WAY! So, we come to have one (composite) medium, with one message.

  7. One is forced into something of a "micro-performance" in every moment by the attention economy. Hence, there is a resulting lack of event (of performance). This lack induces the characteristic postmodern malaise.

  8. One might even characterize wealth as legal "insulation" for one's misdeeds. Wealth is what can make everything OK according to our legal system: Simply pay a fine, or not even that. (The Western legal system is thus complicit with neoliberalism; after all, it evolved from similar roots. Can it be redeemed?)

  9. If one figures (contemporary) moral aporia [MA] according to network, such aporia might be resolved along different (networked) relations. In other words, sometimes one must defer to others — and precisely because one's authority is exhausted.

Further orientation

Please see Basic mechanics of modernity for an introduction to this sub-project. This is the (previously planned) companion article to that historically motivated discussion. (Bibliographic references are also to be found there.) As already noted, the articulation here is brief & remains preliminary.

Two supplements have also appeared in subsequent years:

Todd M. McComb
9 June 2017