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Anarchist Intelligence

Anarchist Intelligence

‘Anarchist Intelligence’ is a lecture which was presented by Adrian Notz as part of KCC’s annual international conference Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam IV (2022), held in May 2022.

In the talks I have been giving about AI + Art in the last month in Bangladesh and India, and also in Europe, I liked to travel back to a small lake in Switzerland, the lake of Bienne which is also part of the Jura region. In this Jura region not only Absinthe is produced by locals and not only a great part of swiss watchmaking comes from’ but it is also the place where one of the first international Anarchist organisations was formed – the Jura Federation. Of Jura Federations even Mikhail Bakunin, one of the great-grandfathers of Anarchism, was a member and found a safe space.

I imagined that it could be nice, to think of AI not only meaning Artificial Intelligence but also Anarchist Intelligence. With this it is not about total chaos and vandalism, as a common misunderstanding of anarchism implies, even if chaos is necessary to create a new better order, like in deep self-learning neural networks, eg. The anarchism I want to refer to is formed by anarchist, activist and anthropologist David Graeber, who died last year. For him ‘Anarchism’ is about Mutual Aid, Voluntary Association and Self-Organization. Basically, an order that anthropologists find in many indigenous, native communities, and that also inspired Rousseau to talk about equality, freedom and brotherhood in the romantic times.

The only non anarchist move would be, that there should still be a “ruler”, given that that ruler is the human in the loop. Especially when we look at biases in AI systems.

Since we are engaged in a dialogue here, I thought it might be interesting to take dialogue itself as theme. A lot of anarchist practice – at least the kind I think of as quintessentially anarchist – revolves around a certain principle of dialogue; there’s a lot of attention paid to learning how to make pragmatic, cooperative decisions with people who have fundamentally different understandings of the world, without actually trying to convert them to your particular point of view.

They were struck by the fact that in their ancient world, whether in India, China, or Greece, philosophy was written almost exclusively in the form of dialogue (even if it is often the kind of dialogue where one guy does 95% of the talking, basically a monologue). Thought, self-reflective consciousness, that which we tend to see as making us truly human – is assumed to be collective (political) or dyadic, but something that almost by definition can’t be done all by oneself. Or rather, solitary reflection is usually the ultimate goal. The aim of philosophy of our ancestors was, to cultivate oneself to the point where individual self-consciousness might be possible.1 In all different philosophical schools from Buddhism to stoicism we can experience that they tend to employ different forms of meditation, diet, spiritual exercises as a means of ultimately attaining the status of a sage who really could be a self-conscious individual. But it is only by starting with dialogue that we have any chance of getting there.2 We need to understood as clearly as anyway possible that dialogue is the only point of departure that can be taken, because we need to understand, that Christian thought has moved us away from dialogue.3 The French philosopher, mathematician and scientist Descartes, a human being unnaturally driven by logic and rationality three centuries ago, had completely turned things around by starting with the self-conscious individual, and only then asking how that individual can have any kind of communicative relation with anyone else.4 This glaring error is the basis of all subsequent European philosophy.5 Today we can see how absurd this glaring error is, because even neuroscience shows that the ancients were right: real thought is almost entirely dialogic.6 The cognitive scientists usually don’t say it explicitly, because for some reason they too have a strange mental block on conversation, but they do make it clear, that what’s called the window of consciousness – that time during which most of us actually are full self-aware, self-reflective beings – is rare and brief; it averages around maybe seven seconds. Otherwise, we are generally operating on auto-pilot.7 We can learn in an orgiastic symposium of dialogues with each other, but also with our ancestors that the window of consciousness can be expanded eternally, if we are talking to someone else. Of course, we can have conversations on autopilot too, but if we are really interested and engaged with someone else we can maintain it for hours. The implications of this are profound, even though one rarely seems to acknowledge it: most self-aware thought takes place at exactly the moment when the boundaries of the self are least clear.8

They did not only find a way of how to collectively apart turn over the false nationalistic and romantic ideas of Enlightenment that another guy three centuries ago had created in Switzerland’s separatist Jura daydreaming in a small rowing boat in the middle of Lake Biel. Rousseau had there discovered the subject and the self in a state of reverie. In the dawn of modernity his finding gave rise to Romanticism, thus contributing to the formation of the societies in which modern man lives.
Because he could not keep his humble discovery to himself, he created the romantic idea of the genius and creative human beings, but a century later would be the all dominating imperative and dispositive in most of the liberal world. It is not by introspection as the two romantic rationalists wanted humans to believe, that we reach the end point of every possible revolt against the tyranny of the real. The fleeting, complete relief from worry, stress and reality, is not gained by pure subjectivity that shines subversively and irresistibly from within ourselves, so we can become an exemplary good-for-nothing, unworldly and unusable – more happy animal than superhuman, more dreamer than character, more emigrant than do-gooder, more vacationer than entrepreneur. The entry into a state of exquisite uselessness in which, we detach ourselves from our mundane, panicked identities, in which the freedom of unbridled imagination prevails, and in which we move far away from panic, is succeeded in the conquest of carelessness in dialogue with others going beyond ourselves.9

From the societies of the Kakiutl we can learn that times of seasonal congregation are also ritual season, almost entirely given over to dances, rites and dramas. Sometime these can involve creating temporary kings or even a ritual police with real coercive powers, though often, peculiarly, these ritual police double as clowns. In other cases, they involved dissolving norms of hierarchy and propriety, as in the Inuit midwinter orgies. We can observe this dichotomy in festive life almost everywhere and at any time.10

In the crazy carnivals in which everyone plays at turning the world upside down, we can ignite the old spark of political self-consciousness. With a carnival we can imagine that other arrangements are feasible, even for society as a whole, since it is always possible to fantasize about carnival bursting its seams and becoming the new reality. Like in Babylon, where we can hear the popular story of Semiramis. The eponymous servant girl convinced the Assyrian king to let her be Queen for a Day during some annual festival. She promptly had him arrested, declared herself empress and lead her new armies to conquer the world. We can also learn, that May Day came to be chosen as the date for the international workers’ holiday largely because many British peasant revolts had begun on that riotous festival. It seems that Villagers who played turning the world upside down periodically decide that they actually preferred the world upside down and took measure to keep it that way.

When travelling to the Middle Ages, we can see, that peasants often find it much easier than intellectuals to imagine a society of equals. We might start to begin to understand why. For the last thousand years of our own human history, carnivals played the role in fostering political self-consciousness, and as laboratories of social possibilities. The first kings may have been play kings. Then they became real kings. Today most existing kings and queens are reduced once again to play kings, mainly performing ceremonial functions and no longer wield real power. But we also know today, that even if all monarchies, including ceremonial monarchies, are to disappear, some people will still play at being kings. And, even in the European Middle Ages, in places where monarchy was unquestioned as a mode of government without freedom, equality and fraternite, Abbots of Unreason, Yuletide Kings and the like tended to be chosen either by election or by sortition (lottery), the very form of collective decision making, aka as democracy, that resurfaced apparently out of nowhere, in the Enlightenment. For a great many societies, the festive year can be read as a veritable encyclopedia of possible political forms. And thus, the carnival of turning the world upside down can be our society of Mutual Aid, Voluntary Association and Self-Organization.11


[1] David Graeber, Anarchy – In a Manner of Speaking, Conversations with Mhedi Belhaj Kacem, Nika Dubrovsky, and Assia Turquier-Zaubermann, Diaphanes Zurich-Paris-Berlin 2020, p. 8-9

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] See Peter Sloterdijk, Stress und Freiheit, Berlin 2011; Carlos Amorales, The Happy Uselessness of the Artist, 2020

[10] David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything – A New History of Humanity, Great Britain, 2021, p. 115 – 118

[11] ibid.

Feature Image: Adrian Baer/NZZ;

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