Red Stack

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Excerpted from Tiziana Terranova:

"In a recent intervention, digital media and political theorist Benjamin H. Bratton has argued that we are witnessing the emergence of a new nomos of the earth, where older geopolitical divisions linked to territorial sovereign powers are intersecting the new nomos of the Internet and new forms of sovereignty extending in electronic space. This new heterogenous nomos involves the overlapping of national governments (China, United States, European Union, Brasil, Egypt and such likes), transnational bodies (the IMF, the WTO, the European Banks and NGOs of various types), and corporations such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, etc., producing differentiated patterns of mutual accommodation marked by moments of conflict. Drawing on the organizational structure of computer networks or ‘the OSI network model, upon with the TCP/IP stack and the global internet itself is indirectly based’, Bratton has developed the concept and/or prototype of the ‘stack’ to define the features of ‘a possible new nomos of the earth linking technology, nature and the human.’ The stack supports and modulates a kind of ‘social cybernetics’ able to compose ‘both equilibrium and emergence’. As a ‘megastructure’, the stack implies a ‘confluence of interoperable standards-based complex material-information systems of systems, organized according to a vertical section, topographic model of layers and protocols…composed equally of social, human and “analog” layers (chthonic energy sources, gestures, affects, user-actants, interfaces, cities and streets, rooms and buildings, organic and inorganic envelopes) and informational, non-human computational and “digital” layers (multiplexed fiber optic cables, datacenters, databases, data standards and protocols, urban-scale networks, embedded systems, universal addressing tables)’

Drawing on Bratton’s political prototype, I would like to propose the concept of the ‘Red Stack’—that is, a new nomos for the post-capitalist common. Materializing the ‘red stack’ involves engaging with (at least) three levels of socio-technical innovation: virtual money, social networks, and bio-hypermedia. These three levels, although ‘stacked’, that is, layered, are to be understood at the same time as interacting transversally and nonlinearly. They constitute a possible way to think about an infrastructure of autonomization linking together technology and subjectivation.

The contemporary economy, as Christian Marazzi and others have argued, is founded on a form of money which has been turned into a series of signs, with no fixed referent (such as gold) to anchor them, explicitly dependent on the computational automation of simulational models, screen media with automated displays of data (indexes, graphics etc) and algo-trading (bot-to-bot transactions) as its emerging mode of automation17. As Toni Negri also puts it, ‘money today—as abstract machine—has taken on the peculiar function of supreme measure of the values extracted out of society in the real subsumption of the latter under capital’18.

Since ownership and control of capital-money (different, as Maurizio Lazzarato remind us, from wage-money, in its capacity to be used not only as a means of exchange, but as a means of investment empowering certain futures over others) is crucial to maintaining populations bonded to the current power relation, how can we turn financial money into the money of the common? An experiment such as Bitcoin demonstrates that in a way ‘the taboo on money has been broken’19 and that beyond the limits of this experience, forkings are already developing in different directions. What kind of relationship can be established between the algorithms of money-creation and ‘a constituent practice which affirms other criteria for the measurement of wealth, valorizing new and old collective needs outside the logic of finance’?

Current attempts to develop new kinds of cryptocurrencies must be judged, valued and rethought on the basis of this simple question as posed by Andrea Fumagalli: Is the currency created not limited solely to being a means of exchange, but can it also affect the entire cycle of money creation – from finance to exchange? Does it allow speculation and hoarding, or does it promote investment in post-capitalist projects and facilitate freedom from exploitation, autonomy of organization etc.?

What is becoming increasingly clear is that algorithms are an essential part of the process of creation of the money of the common, but that algorithms also have politics (What are the gendered politics of individual ‘mining’, for example, and of the complex technical knowledge and machinery implied in mining bitcoins?) Furthermore, the drive to completely automate money production in order to escape the fallacies of subjective factors and social relations might cause such relations to come back in the form of speculative trading. In the same way as financial capital is intrinsically linked to a certain kind of subjectivity (the financial predator narrated by Hollywood cinema), so an autonomous form of money needs to be both jacked into and productive of a new kind of subjectivity not limited to the hacking milieu as such, but at the same time oriented not towards monetization and accumulation but towards the empowering of social cooperation. Other questions that the design of the money of the common might involve are: Is it possible to draw on the current financialization of the Internet by corporations such as Google (with its Adsense/Adword programme) to subtract money from the circuit of capitalist accumulation and turn it into a money able to finance new forms of commonfare (education, research, health, environment etc)? What are the lessons to be learned from crowdfunding models and their limits in thinking about new forms of financing autonomous projects of social cooperation? How can we perfect and extend experiments such as that carried out by the Inter-Occupy movement during the Katrina hurricane in turning social networks into crowdfunding networks which can then be used as logistical infrastructure able to move not only information, but also physical goods?"


See the entry on: Algorithms, Capital, and the Automation of the Common