Inventing the World

When the “principle of thought” – and “not by chance” – “invented” the atomic bomb, the line of development traced in Hegel’s passage on the mechanization and distantiation of valor reached a self-contradictory, self-immolating conclusion. The eclipse of the gun as engine of world-history took place as a hyper-extension of the gun: “Little Boy” housed a miniaturized cannon and firing range, with atoms of U-235 as ammunition.

A weapon capable of truly putting an entire nation to death also put war itself as previously conceived to death. The detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki joined the National to the Global phases of world history like punctuation connecting the two clauses of a single compound sentence. Another way of saying the same thing would be that the universal principle of thought invented a weapon that implied the exhaustion of the national, and thus required the global – a world state.

This idea of a world state or world order – or even, as per Kojève, a “universal homogeneous state” – is not the same thing as a world government, though eventually, under a regime of universalization, it may lead to one. Under the principle of thought and the universal, what is good for some must be good for all, as likewise what is bad for all cannot remain good enough for some, but a world state is a much greater enterprise than establishment of governing institutions. A world state cannot function until and except to the extent that its precepts work themselves through and re-form human consciousness, which exists only as the collective product of billions of individual human minds and wills.

Another set of inventions was required. They have emerged, more or less right on schedule, from military research, under auspices of the leading nation-states, working if not against their own interests, then against their own status.

Though even after the events of early August 1945 some Japanese were ready to fight on to the total annihilation of their nation-state, there would have been no nation, no totality, to take up, conserve, and immortalize their sacrifice – and so the last ultra-nationalism, the Imperial Way, surrendered. The phase of history subsequent to the Second World War was characterized by the inability of the victors to fight each other nation versus nation, since the assurance of total destruction was shared. They instead turned to limited wars, using less advanced nations as proxies, describing their own military expeditions as “police action” or “defense of revolution,” in other words in the context of whatever envisioned world state – United Nations, Communist International, New World Order, etc. Though the collapse of Russian Soviet Communism led the partisans of American Democratic Capitalism to declare victory, subsequent events confirm that the land empire merely succumbed first to the political-cultural law of entropy that needed longer to work on the maritime empire, which, like the great empires of the past, is entering the terminal phase of its world-historical mission, emptying itself into the world that it has made in its own refracted image.

The nature of warfare evolved for the advanced countries into action at a comfortable distance, symbolized by the ballistic missile, the high altitude bomber, and, later, the drone strike, platforms from which the soldier can kill with near-impunity. Since the operators never risk death, it is questionable whether they qualify as soldiers at all. Maximally abstracted, observed and conducted as much as possible via video screen, 1st World warfare de-valorizes war, turning the warrior into policeman and social physician (executing “surgical” strikes), a remote or special operator working to eradicate human-shaped cancer cells.

Though the 9/11 attacks temporarily awakened a sense of physical danger in the American populace, allowing for a general revival of the socialized warrior ethos, this nostalgic sensibility dissipated amidst the absence of successful follow-on attacks, and in the wake of the quick conventional victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. The resultant occupations restored the constabulary ethos and its implied reference to a world order, to be supported at manageable cost – rather than to a national life, to be preserved at any cost. The unsought but ineluctable struggle to nurture and protect a slowly, unevenly, and uncertainly emerging world state, and for national survival within it, would continue to be conducted by proxy, by unconventional and non-military or not explicitly military means – especially economics as war by other means.

Except among those sensitive to the larger meaning of disputes over torture, detention, assassination, defense contractors, and so on, it has generally not yet dawned on the citizenry of the advanced nations that this ambiguation of warfare among nominal combatants completes their own conversion into the real combatants under a new configuration of total war. The designation of a battlefield without borders in a war without end turns jet-setting homicidal tourists – adapted to life in the world’s backwaters as well as its great cosmopolitan centers, connoisseurs of all forms of modern transportation, but at home nowhere except the “next world” – into first citizens of the state that a global audience can visit without ever leaving home. The Islamism of the lead perpetrators of terror is shared, if unconsciously or in idealized form, by their most ardent foes, which helps explain why the identical content can appear in both jihadist and anti-jihadist propaganda: Both sides believe with unshakable fanaticism that “God is great,” and for both sides “God,” apart from hallucinated superstitions, corresponds to imaginary immersion in the universal state whose arrival they are preparing and hastening without ever comprehending. Terror on its own terms is thus neither a threat to the global community, nor merely one of its inevitable by-products. Global terror – of individuals, of groups, of nations, of religions, or of the environment itself – is global communion. For this reason, as soon as the danger recedes, it will tend to be augmented again.

The self-leveraging of the Global Age further required actual occupation and colonization of the Archimedean point in outer space – the virtual location from which global humanity could see, act upon, and know itself as a unity. German ultra-nationalism again provided the initial mechanical impetus, and it again took internationalized nationalism, American Democratic Capitalism and Russian Soviet Communism, to reveal the invention’s self-subversive essence. The “wonder-weapons” that arrived too late to affect the course of the world war, except by diverting resources that might have extended it, were joined to the atomic bomb, putting the world under mortal threat – the former sufficient threat to Imperial Way Japan, now globalized by the ICBM – ending the mortal danger to the world in pressing that same danger to its limits. American Democratic Capitalism and Russian Soviet Communism were compelled to uphold and raise themselves into the transnational order, since the only other option would be to extinguish it along with each other. The global view became mandatory even and especially for the most ardent nationalists. Meanwhile, the same technology, joined to IT, put to “peaceful uses” but driven by sublimated competition, enabled the global view from orbit and beyond, and at the same time its global transmission, via a network of satellites needed for the transitional accelerated internetting of worldwide communications. Pinpointing delivery of people and goods, as well as munitions, to any spot on the surface of the planet, orbital satellites and complementary mundane and atmospheric systems position us not just anywhere, but everywhere at once.

Finally, to extend the globalized terror/security system and facilitate transnational economic re-organization, the Global Age required more efficient, rapid, and complex, feedback-capable intercommunication – an objectified and therefore mechanically extensible, interactive, self-correcting, boundary-erasing intelligence.

In a dialectical rehearsal, the German “Enigma” device summoned its own deconstruction, and an antagonistic union of German and British engineering and mathematics gave birth to the computer. Twenty-some years later the inevitable next self-exponentiating step in information technology was taken under military research by the successor empire, and “universalization” of the “principle of thought” was objectified in the first computer network. At roughly the same moment, amidst a parallel but informal “internetting” of global financial nodes, the total informationalization of economic transactions was completed by floating the world’s reserve currency (the U.S. Dollar).

Though information technology now pervades both the most advanced “military estate” via the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs,” as well as every sphere of political and cultural life, it maintains within itself the same original principles of self-sabotage and self-superannuation. Decentralized incitement to and facilitation of political violence, transnational information piracy and the exposure of state secrets, ongoing and potential cyber-warfare, the self-exploded “tech bubble” of the ’90s amidst declining rates of profit and structural unemployment, the hyper-informationalization of money and real estate via “derivatives,” border-eroding transnational cultures, the simultaneous aesthetic and economic crises of 20th Century American neo-imperial culture (news media, movies, TV, music industry) – all these and other threats to us, to our shared identity, have one thing in common: This thing, our shared identity, our mode of communion – the last and most typical self-subverting invention of the imperial nation-state – under the principle of thought, universal, and inexorable.

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

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13 comments on “Inventing the World

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  1. That’s a very Burnhamian view, for those like my brother in the Stans, I assure you it’s not remote, or many in that same circumstance, similarly those a Firebase Chapman, but you’re saying total war, the kind that was almost seen in Times Square, is the norm.

  2. Most of this war, is very gritty, re Restrepo, for one example, and not at all antiseptic, as the argument was about the First Gulf War. ‘Strangelove’ is premised on the notion, that our military leadership,
    General Ripper is loosely based on the caricature of Lemay, was insane.

    But if your saying that Gibson seem to have presaged this in Neuromancer, I somewhat tend to agree

  3. @ miguel cervantes:
    Police work in a big U.S. city can also be “very gritty.” There are places in the world where people are still fighting with swords and spears. There’s even a sense that remote, de-centralized warfare becomes intimate all over again, even super-intimate – since distance is an illusion, it all takes place “inside” our brains. But all that Afghan grit is being accumulated 15,000 miles out of sight and out of mind, and is of increasingly doubtful significance.

  4. Hold on. I want to read this again and then comment. One thing that comes to mind immediately is that there’s a difference between what Ken Wilber refers to as “world view” and what you describe. “World view” is high level consciousness. It happens when someone works from a global perspective in respect to what’s good for people. It transcends a national view, which transcends a community view, which transcends a personal view. But the transcendence would happen through the advancement of consciousness. What you’re describing has been forced on us. Now we all either rise to the level of world view through spontaneous Grace or get crushed by the weight of world state disorder.

  5. Scott Miller wrote:

    Now we all either rise to the level of world view through spontaneous Grace or get crushed by the weight of world state disorder.

    Or consider that they approach each other asymptotically as you dissolve the spiritual/material dualism. We can imagine the “world view,” but that doesn’t mean we have attained it. We can perhaps say that we attain it as we realize it, and vice versa. Or we can say that its possibility precedes us, and our activity alters that possibility.

    Would a universal view be higher than a world view? I think there might be a difference. It would be theological or cosmological, and complete the circle, returning us to the level of phenomenology on the way to the question of consciousness, just as quantum physics and astrophysics seek the same math at the furthest reaches of macro and micro in both time and space, and at “beginning” and “ending,” at the very highest levels of abstraction and yet throughout our concrete experience at its most banal.

  6. @ CK MacLeod:
    “Cool” is a banal response, but that’s what I’m going with. Cool. Then, this…meant to be said in a Slingblade voice…”I like the way you write, boy.”

  7. @ bob:
    “Shared identity” is defined contextually in the piece, and doesn’t refer to biologically determined mental capacities, but rather to a mass social construction.

    Good image. I liked the NYTE image because it isolates one set of global synapses geographically, but referring to them metaphorically as synapses doesn’t yet make them the same as synapses. The internet grows organically in part because it serves organisms, but also because that’s how growth grows.

    “Was it ever anything else?” is a question that embeds several other questions, but appears to lack a moral-ethical dimension.

  8. @ CK MacLeod:

    Mass social construction is a biologically determined capacity. How can it not be? What is new is the degree and perhaps, therefore, the kind.

    Growth grows and consciousness is information. At what point does information become consiousness, I don’t know. As you point out, war was a significant condition for past IT growth. Now IT growth is not the result of war needs, but defines them.

    The moral/ethical dimension of the question resides in how we think about our cyborged selves. What is enhanced? Only the quantity of information we can process, or our being, our global/universal view?

  9. bob wrote:

    Mass social construction is a biologically determined capacity. How can it not be?

    I would say biologically co-conditioned, not “determined,” and actually the same is true for individual consciousness (nature vs. nurture), though the differences between how an individual may “process” information and how a society does are, to say the least, non-trivial.

    The moral/ethical dimension of the question resides in how we think about our cyborged selves.

    I disagree. The moral/ethical dimension – eventually the religious or spiritual dimension – must be realized, actualized, not merely thought. Morality and ethics are methodologically indifferent to the internal subjective states of individuals. What matters to morality and ethics is what we do, not how we “really” thought about it. It knows our thoughts only to the extent we externalize (socialize) them. “Men look into each other’s eyes, but only God looks into their hearts.” But even on this level, and in a sense all the more on this level, what the individual does with what’s in his heart is what signifies, what matters, even in the way that thinking is an action, not his description or reflection upon what he’s done or is.

  10. @ bob:
    Now this gets into an interesting question that I’ve often thought we’d end up discussing, but which, apparently, we needed to work our way to.

    Yes, in terms of the inseparability of action and subjectivity. I think we get this one in the same way. State of mind and action will in some way determine each other, and in special instances state of mind can matter to the law, but state of mind itself isn’t the object or ground of ethics and morality – except possibly where they border on religion.

    We’re still merely human regardless of how flexibly internetted or otherwise augmented our capacities may have become as long as each “I” is constructed in relation to other “I”‘s, and suffers, cares, lives, and dies as a one. But I will have to think further on how to present this.

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