The obsolescence of politics: Rereading Günther Anders’s critique of cybernetic governance and integral power in the digital age

Thesis Eleven 153 (1):75-93 (2019)

Abstract

Following media-theoretical studies that have characterized digitization as a process of all-encompassing cybernetization, this paper will examine the timely and critical potential of Günther Anders’s oeuvre vis-à-vis the ever-increasing power of cybernetic devices and networks. Anders has witnessed and negotiated the process of cybernetization from its very beginning, having criticized its tendency to automate and expand, as well as its circular logic and ‘integral power’, including disruptive consequences for the constitution of the political and the social. In this vein, Anders’s works, particularly his magnum opus Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen [The Obsolescence of Man], sheds new light on the technologically organized milieus of the contemporary digital regime and also highlights a new form of cybernetic ‘conformism’. The goal of the essay is therefore, not only to emphasize the contemporary nature of Anders’s thought but also to use it to frame a critique of current neo-technocratic and, ultimately, post-political concepts, such as ‘algorithmic regulation’, ‘smart states’, ‘direct technocracy’, and ‘government as platform’. This essay argues that cybernetic capitalism is causing what Anders terms ‘ Unfestgelegtheit’ to disappear; that is, we are losing the originary possibility of technologically structuring our world in alternative ways, particularly given the determinist character of current technologies.

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Anna-Verena Nosthoff
Goethe University Frankfurt

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