Value – Anthropocene + Neganthropocene

What we have chosen to embark on this semester is a text analysis of the work of Bernard Stiegler, a French thinker who wielded conceptual tools from the entire history of Western thought in order to re-think humanity in such a way as to be able to invert the destructive tendencies of the current global economic system. He is revolutionary in philosophy due to his placement of technics at the center of human life. In the history of Western philosophy, technical knowledge, that is, knowledge of how to make and use tools, was made secondary to the more essential rational knowledge. For Stiegler, though, technics is the mainspring of humanity, the way we externalize our internal experience in material artifacts of memory, such as writing, tools, machinery, and technologies of all kinds, artifacts without which there would be no consciousness or rational knowledge, no society, no history, no future, no humanity. These technical objects can be used to foster social relations of care, knowledge, art, and politics, or they can be used to destroy human relations, destroy knowledge, destroy art, and even destroy the biosphere itself. The problems of the modern global economic system must be thought of in terms of the powers of calculation and automation granted to capitalism by digitalization, and digital technology must be inscribed within this theory and history of technics. Thus, digital technology is not something to be denounced or renounced, but rather is a pharmakon that must be cared for, and it is imperative that we invent new ways of relating to the digital pharmakon, before it is too late. It was the opinion of Bernard and the Internation Collective, a group of academics, students, artists, activists, and business people dedicated to bringing about systemic transformation, that the scientific and philosophical communities have not seized upon the authentic possibilities of digitalization, instead letting these possibilities be appropriated by the economic sector to ransack the world. They designate the name “Anthropocene” to refer to this epoch in history in which technics, knowledge, political will, desire, and value have all been submitted to the capitalist market, and they use the neologism “Neganthropocene” to refer to the epoch that must follow if there is any hope for a future for humans or other lifeforms.

Our team believes one way in which philosophy could do the work of seizing these potentials that could contribute to a thought capable of bringing about the Neganthropocene is through text analysis, the processing of large amounts of textual data with quantitive computing to assist in reading and writing. For Stiegler, innovations in technics have the potential to change the way we think. When decision-making is left to calculation alone, the results can be disastrous. However, new calculative possibilities can change the conditions of thinking, opening up new paths that can be productive so long as the hermeneutic work is cared for. This is how we situate the practice of text analysis. The kind of text analysis we worked on this semester is one called word embedding. With a word embedding model, an algorithm turns each unique word in a text corpus into a vector containing the relationship that each word bears to every other word in the corpus. The algorithm can calculate semantic similarity between words by determining which words are used in similar contexts. For example, “Garbage” and “Trash” could be assumed to have semantic resonance because they would probably be used around similar words. Something that word embedding allows us to do is create new vectors and perform calculations on them. One can take the vector for king, subtract the vector for man, and add the vector for woman, and reliably end up with the vector for queen. We wanted to perform this kind of query for value in the Neganthropocene. Stiegler taught us that value in the Anthropocene has been reduced to exchange value, the profitability of something, which is also to say the extent to which it is calculable, so he was adamant that value must be refounded in the Neganthropocene. Thus, what we wanted to do, and what we did do, was train the word2vec word embedding model on one of Stiegler’s texts (and then 4 other texts by him and other members of the Internation Collective), take the vector for value, subtract the vector for Anthropocene from it, and add the vector for Neganthropocene. We then queried which words in the corpus were most similar to this new vector with the hopes that these results would provoke interesting thought on how this new concept of value must be theorized.