“Self-management and The Stack” in Making & Breaking No. 1

People in the tech industry frequently talk about autonomy, self-organization, and autopoiesis. But the problem is, these ideas related to self-government are commonly taken at face value, used only formally. These concepts get appropriated to advertise developments in technology that can also hypocritically reinforce existing social and economic structures, together with their inherent inequalities. Critics of cybernetics have long lamented the appropriation of socialist concepts (like autonomy) by members of an elite control sector, which exists foremost for the sake of the “need to control control.” Yet, at the same time, the depth of transformation brought on by computation’s expansion into everyday life through technological development is often miscalculated, resulting in political responses from critics of cybernetics that sometimes exhibit ethical dissonance. Rapid system change would, for example, have infrastructural implications affecting users above all, particularly people who experience a competitive disadvantage because of their identity or special needs. Total system failure almost surely means survival of the fittest. Feminist artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles wrote, in 1969, “The sourball of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” This turn of phrase can be extended to today’s computational infrastructures: After the centralized networks have been shut down, who will take charge of delivering food, medical services, and other necessities to people in the sudden absence of logistics and communications infrastructures?

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