Conference Report from ‘Renewable Futures' Eindhoven, The Netherlands

19th May 2017, Stephanie Polsky

Renewable Futures - project website

From April 28-30 2017 I was a participant and presenter at the second 'Renewable Futures' conference in Eindhoven. The conference took place in concert with the 'Economia' festival organised by Baltan Laboratories in NatLab, the former physics lab of Philips. The conference aim was to push the boundaries of our thinking concerning the economy over the course of three days, where participants from both events could convene collectively to explore new ideas. This happened in a kind of laboratory setting, which allowed theory and praxis to co-mingle and for presenters such as myself to step beyond existing frameworks to invent new critical and conceptual strategies. Breaking with traditional approaches to economics allowed participants a wide scope from which to make fresh observations about our current economic system, its relationship to the way we conceived our societies, and how this can be intervened upon in unconventional, experimental and radical ways.

The papers and artworks that were presented were the product of current thinking by academic researchers, designers, artists, scientists, students, creative and social entrepreneurs. Papers were curated to converge on five core themes: Economy as evolution, Economy as a game, Economy as a fiction, Economy as a market and Economy as magic.

There were cutting edge keynotes by Evgeny Morozov who addressed the themes of Economy as an evolution, a fiction and as a market. His talk centred on digital technology as something that, like the economy, was not the law of nature but rather a man-made construction, and implored us that as such we still have the power to change its systems.

Along similar thematic lines, Pankaj Mishra's keynote on the ‘Age of Anger' focused attention on the dubious democratic construct of individual well-being as a necessity for economic growth. He argued that almost everything that has happened since the end of the eighties suggests that the market-oriented democratic state has begun to falter. This has precipitated a "universal crisis" caused by social, economic and political disfranchisement. He argued that huge numbers of people are now being marginalised by the ruthless search for profit of a global capitalism largely freed from the constraints of state regulation. Mishra asserted that a radical change of attitude would be needed by way of defining success economic and personal to preserve our freedom, prosperity and stability.

Echoing the concerns of these keynotes, my presentation ‘Dare to Lose,' was situated within the theme of Economy as game, and strove to engage with the neoliberal concept of a ‘mandated capability.' This concept falls within a greater scope of positive normativity now proper to the algorithmic estate in which we all dwell.

Presently we reside passively within a reality increasingly preoccupied with systemic control and management, and yet we continue to imagine our actions as those that express our individual freedom. If things are allowed to continue in this way, this affective domain will continue to expand and become ever more sophisticated in its capture and quantification of our desire for appreciation and likeness. My paper asked, what might it mean to willfully degrade such a reality, which seeks to profit from the exploitation of our interpersonal relationships and enforce a hierarchy of winners and losers within an assembly of pervasive and invasive frameworks casually referred to as ‘networks'?

My paper argued that we must seek to adopt a radical subject position by withholding sufficiency within the wider domain of social networks and online platforms. In line with what Alexander R. Galloway argues, this ‘is the strategy required to combat empire, to combat patriarchy, to combat fascism, both micro and macro' that have emerged, for example, as recent features of both the Brexit vote and the political rise of Donald Trump.

In order to win this game, we must seek out ways that reinforce a kind of density and obfuscation when confronting a reality that demands that we constantly add value to it, expand its domain, adhere to its desire for high resolution, observation and description, without recourse to understanding as such.

As Rob Horning observes, in a contemporary sense the most important piece of immaterial property that we possess is our ‘reputational capital.' This asset is composed of the sum total of connections and actions produced within the social space online. It promotes within itself a 'self' that ‘subsists on positive affirmation and metrics, one that is preoccupied with establishing the visibility of its activities online, and one that is all too willing to accede ‘to be measured and ranked'. Through such actions, this self-reinforces its own perpetual insecurity as a digital entity prompted solely into being by the platforms that affirm its revelatory inclusion in the constant midst of other revelatory selves.

Instability still very much resides in this domain, constantly undoing the representational structure that sustains it. Whilst much of contemporary data collection operates through a logic of augmentation, it is still possible to make operational a logic of subtraction within its relentless differentiation. The Internet's aesthetic of social differences remains antagonistic and divisive, even as the technocratic elite seeks to erase the violence they generate along the way to extracting information as a fungible source of capital. Amplifying the aggression masked within this neoliberal world ordering, while at the same time withholding the desire for our own recognition within it, becomes the stuff of contemporary daring. If the digital is fundamentally about distinction, and as Alexander R. Galloway observes, ‘the internet is, in fact, the most highly controlled mass media hitherto ever known,' then the way to lose is to break with its relational fundamentalism and to stubbornly click back to our unrecoverable losses.

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