Communist Cybernetics

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I’ve been getting a lot out reading Molecular Red by Mckenzie Wark – I think it’s one of the most useful books I’ve read for my dissertation research (alongside Friction, and A Vast Machine). It’s a good read, but because I’m in the midst of research, teaching, and other work, I’m only plugging away at it slowly. If you’re interested or curious about the book, you can download the “Molecular Red Reader” for free. It has several newly translated essays by Bogdanov and Platonov as well as a few essays by Wark himself and an interview with Kim Stanley Robinson the author of the Mars Trilogy. I’m not far enough along, and I don’t have time right now to post a full review or summary of the book. Instead I’ll just offer a quote that, to me, captures some of the value of the book.

“Tektology as organized labor experiments with the poetic substitution of universal ingression, to propose social and technical forms, from among which history will select. This was the program intended for the Proletkult labs, and it might not be a bad one for twenty-first-century design practice either. It begins with a kind of détournement of existing forms, then experiments with their application in other domains, before testing out prototypes in situations where users select the most useful and discard the least useful

The main question for Bogdanov is: how to build a program of knowledge oriented not only to survival but to growth in organizational capacities in relation to an environment. Particularly problematic here is that one can’t always know in advance where the environment is going to make itself felt. ‘The total stability of a system in relation to its environment is evidently a complex result of the partial stabilities of its various parts in relation to those influences which are directed against them'” (p. 51)

What Wark is describing for Bogdanov is a kind of communist cybernetics. This question of organization is what I’m trying to explore in my research on modeling. I am interested in the ways that constructing models is not simply a way of understanding environmental or other complex systems, but also a way of organizing relationships among people, and also between human and non-human systems. My hope is that my research will encourage modelers and other natural scientists to experiment with different ways of conducting research to not only improve the way we understand the world, but also to change the way we relate to it.

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