Karl Deutsch on Cybernetic Democracy

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Anna-Verena Nosthoff and Felix Maschewski:

"Although Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Communication had no explicit political connotation, Karl Deutsch’s subsequent The Nerves of Government, which explicitly drew on Shannon’s information theory, was exclusively focused on the state. In what appears like an almost logical political conclusion drawn from Shannon’s reductive focus on information, Deutsch was convinced that the level of democratisation is directly related to the intensity of measured communication. For him it was equally irrelevant which contents run through the channels of communication, whether the information flow concerns the banality of consumption or a political movement, as long as autopoietic mechanisms of self-learning automatically lead to a new balance (homeostasis); a new controllable order. Nevertheless, for both classically cybernetic and neo-cybernetic politics, a certain level of anarchic contingency, even resistance and, thus, disorder, has always been vital. They keep the system in motion which, through additional information, offers the possibility of its optimization, expansion and regulation – to continually establish newly ordered wholes. Seen from the meta-perspective of cybernetic regulation, what is important is not what and how one communicates but rather that one communicates, that the information flow is continually kept alive and that it follows a foreseeable, anticipatable direction. The information flow must not be suppressed or restricted but, instead, reinforced and encouraged.

The problem of representation and the divergence between the rulers and the ruled, including the classic political-theoretical problem of how to overcome or mediate this divide, has – according to the cybernetic conception of government – become partially obsolete. In fact, it is thought to be resolved by a conception of politics that can continually establish orders through a real-time regulation of crowds, masses and affects. The political task par excellence becomes the (direct or indirect) creation of order(s) from noise, whereby the state’s goal is reduced to its mere systematic survival, what Habermas termed – in a more critical vein – equivalent to ‘the biological base of survival at any cost, that is, Ultrastability.’ "


More information

  • Deutsch, Karl, The Nerves of Government, New York: The Free Press, 1963