Note — Sep 13, 2020

Lawful Neutral

One way of writing, of explaining a theory, which I’ve noted a few times and that keeps bugging me, is when the author presents neoliberal thinking and its overtaking of much of the world almost as a plan, as a grand scheme. It’s not the goal of Sam Popowich here but, to me, he frames it too much as a concerted way to atomize human lives into manageable pieces. I consider the resulting social conditions as the partially inadvertent outcome of some basic principles, applied decade after decade, not a grand plan across time and countries.

That being said, his essay makes a fascinating parallel between the way Artificial Intelligence and machine learning separates code from data and systematizes processes, decisions; with the way neoliberalism separates the rule of law and lived experience. In this view, the algorithm and the law are conceived for a neutral—in theory but definitely not in practice—system of decision, abstracted from data and from individuals’ diversity and uniqueness. With AI, surveillance and the digitization of everything, neoliberalism finds the perfect tool to grind down and erase the “important differences that make human life rich and meaningful.”

For Turing, a machine’s operation is always completely described in a set of rules, whereas no such rule set could be devised to govern human beings. “It is not possible,” he writes, “to produce a set of rules purporting to describe what a man should do in every conceivable set of circumstances.” […]

The development of computerization, the expansion and refinement of worker time-and-motion studies, the roboticization of factories, and the expansion of individualized consumer demand have led to the algorithmic financialization, globalization, and automation of neoliberal capitalism. […]

Every attempt to strike the “right” balance between competing theories of justice or equality, or between the individual and the collective, or between universalism and particularity, or between tech optimism and tech pessimism, is doomed to fail precisely because they are conceived under the aspect of the capitalist state. If we reject this aspect, many of those political problems fall away.