Symbolic Virtualization

We come to a branch in our arborescent analysis of machinic virtualization, wherein systems and machines require disambiguation. We will treat systems as representation networks that continuously reproduce their identity. The long-run resilience of the system emerges from continuous experimentation. The particles, objects, signs, or components have continuous irreducibility. We will treat machines as fetishized systems incapable of reproduction. By fetishism, we mean that an assigned identity introduces a narrative feedback loop for the machine. Thus, the fetishism of the idol Baal meant something different than the fetishism of the bull on Wall Street, despite the symbol referencing a similar system (an aesthetic generalization of the strong, masculine, virile bovine male). In each case, the name provides more meaning to the system of reference than the physical system itself. For Moses, the bull was a return to the worship of the god of his people’s oppression, while the bull of Wall Street represents capitalistic optimism toward financial expansion.

This distinction is not trivial. The moment we name a system we enclose within it an identity. While that identity remains extrinsic, the system remains a machine. Humans have undergone a lengthy process of evolution that we now enforce quickly on children in a matter of a few years. First the child is a system, then a named machine, then the named identity begins to question and direct its own narrative, and finally some sense of ownership over its own symbolic machine and representational system gains strategic focus. This gradation is the basis of every system of inequality that has standardized subjective morality into logically arborescent ethics. Throughout philosophy, we find shaky groundwork for the justification in treating some nominally significant systems like mechanizations, others as machinations, and only a special few praiseworthy as “civilized Men”; meanwhile, the lesser statuses assigned embeds itself in language, distinguishing prejudicially between events based on ethical privileges, as Foucault shows in our selective us of words – murder, slaughter, butcher, death, casualty, killing, etc.

More generally, if a system is an assemblage that gains higher value in its arrangement than it would as a sum of its components, then a machine has its reproduction and identity extrinsically controlled. Again, the historic significance lies in our justification of excusing “machines” in their lack of moral capacity while indicting “humans” and providing some humans more privilege than others. Enslavement and domestication occur through domination and violence, then solidify in a system of inequalities. Slaves, children, and livestock are not free to follow their intrinsic values of sexuality, so philosophical treatises written out of fear for societal collapse select arbitrary gradations in the rights and responsibilities of machines. As Bertrand Russell artfully reveals through A History of Western Philosophy, this has always been due to the tension and oscillation of individualism and collectivism, while classical liberalism hopes for a stabilized harmony of the two. Russell focuses on the ongoing role of the philosopher in mitigating the grey area between science and religion; in which the dogmatic assertions that ascribe hegemonic truth, the reality of political context, and the current body of knowledge proven through experimentation deserve analysis for consistency, coherence, and balance.

If we trace the concept of the machine, we can see the echo of the evolution of technology and its role in morality. We The identification of the dominated in society, whether women, children, slaves, or animals, has consistently pointed to a lack of “self-control” and an emphasis on the machine-like predictability of their need for extrinsic maintenance. Yet, this is a feedback loop from generation to generation, in which the “self-controlled” systems engineer externally controlled machines. War, colonialism, sexism, oppression, carnism, and terrorism each anchor their justification in the line drawn between man and machine; those with subjected self-control, leaving all others for objectification. Our analysis here will be selective, but tracing the rhizomes has merit even without a full analysis.

Every machine, even if autonomous, relies on another system for its reproduction. Thus, if we imagine an automated factory, full of robotics and artificial superintelligence, that builds its own reproduction, including minor errors and experiments, this series of machines will form a system. Already our primate intelligence scratches its head, searching for the desire, intention, and designer of such a series of self-similarly reproductive machines!

Therein lies the distinction that we must elucidate. Each machine is an assemblage of objects concatenated according to rules, the purpose of which remains outside the assemblage. In contrast, each system is an assemblage of objects concatenated according rules, but we attribute teleonomic purpose within the assemblage. The machine begs the question of an inventor, an actor, inventor, builder, user, and machinists that patch its decay. The system begs the question of its intrinsic intentions, patterns, and teleonomic interactions. While this may seem arbitrary, this distinction has defined the course of Western morality and history for millennia, because modern science and technological innovation shaped each subsequent revolution of thought.

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