Olgária Matos and the criticism of technology

Image: Cátia Matos


The philosopher's work explains the contradictions of late capitalism, dominated by the cultural industry and articulated by technological rationality

Olgária Matos is a philosopher of “living well”, this means that she thinks and publicly inscribes her speech as a symbolic elaboration of the most joyful and free ways and forms of human coexistence. Olgária permanently criticizes the technoscientific society in its ethical-axiological instance. In the company of the Frankfurtians she studied so much – Benjamin, Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse – her work explains the contradictions of late capitalism, dominated by the cultural industry and articulated by instrumental rationality, or more precisely technological rationality, as Marcuse calls it. O live well in the philosopher's work it comes from the improvement of humanist values ​​and the overcoming of the limits that separate us from the path guided by philogenic ideals that transform cosmopolitanism into hospitality. Already in his master's thesis on Rousseau there is the Adornian epigraph that says: “It is not a question of conserving the past, but of realizing its hopes.”

The issue recurrently addressed by Olgária concerns the mismatch between the acceleration of techno-scientific developments and our ability to assimilate them and judge them in relation to the values ​​and purposes of the world. live well in a common shared world. The science inaugurated in modernity conceives reality as a complex calculable by an abstract subject who converts nature into mathematical formulas. In the essay “Ethos and friendship: the abode of man” (Discreet hopes), Olgária resorts to Lukács and his concept of “transcendental expatriation” – in her words, “the loss of home in modernity” – to highlight the hegemony of rootless and uncritical scientism. The guiding principle of the totalizing logic inaugurated with the notion of the autonomous subject (and its corresponding scientific knowledge based on the method) was reconfigured into the total coordination of efficient individuals, an obstacle to emancipation, not only postponed, but excluded from the horizon, now opaque. , minimal, disruptive and oppressive. Scientific methodical functioning, remaining identical to itself, always oriented towards efficiency and optimized results, ceased to coincide with its original purpose – the affirmation of the freedom of the rational individual – when, with the need to develop technical production for beyond the limits of human organic capacity, it became a criterion for itself in coordination on superhuman scales. For example, with the industrialization and standardization of what is experienced (ideologically) as essential and the demand for great logistical coordination and the production of machinery itself (of faster and more precise machines, of machines that produce other machines), with the great increased consumption and distribution of identical products, the principle of work and its structuring (which guides rational conformal action), shifts from individual satisfaction to the maintenance and improvement of the coordinated production system. In short, what changed was the rational principle itself that reality strives to correspond to, going from autonomous to heteronomous.

Olgária writes:

“All this ideology confiscates the dimension of the future due to the confusion between what is possible and what is ‘necessary’: the future is only called upon to justify what is done in the present. Its temporality is that of the ephemeral, the disposable, which dissolves the ethical dimension of the means and ends relationships that characterized the classical and modern concepts of rationality, freedom, happiness, justice and utopia: time becomes a ‘perpetual present’, pure momentary mens lacking in memory.”

Subjectivities digitized under the convergence of telecommunications are deprived of memories and desires[I]. Instantly recordable memories without limits, in their image and informational excess, are stored in 'clouds' connected to devices kept on hand like prostheses. Desires are directed and protocolized within a range of pre-defined and beneficial options for functioning that feeds on our deepest and most internalized agony. There are no expectations, only probabilities; there is no unpredictable outside of oneself, only intrusion and anesthesia. Improved functionality in the bit representation of profiles to develop autonomous decision and life management tools. Subjectivities deprived of past and future, of memory and desire, are left with a void in which only the end is awaited. There is nothing left to dream, there is no idealization or transcendence possible; there is no potency, just instantaneous action. The void is poorly filled with images and ideas reproduced en masse on screens that show individually tailored content for digital mapping identified as a representation of each subject; and, contradictorily to so much precision, all people see basically the same things (arranged in such a way as to affect them instinctively) and repeat the same subjects obsessively until things become words without flesh, any combination of letters or phonemes without sense, an automatic command, an anesthetic saturation.

“The world without experience, produced by the market, automation and science, marks the end of the humanist tradition founded on theoretical culture, free time and the comfort of the spirit. Post-behavioral world, the so-called communication society, associated with the information society and the project society, replaces the search for the meaning of knowledge and “self-improvement” with innovation that creates professions focused on “personal development”, industries of “image of self” with devices coming from cognitive sciences and neurosciences.” (“Dialectics in Suspension: From Mens Momentaneous to the immobility of the moment”, Philosophical palindromes, p. 95)

The fact is that, today, artificial intelligence algorithms move and control a large part of the daily processes of our lives without us even stopping to really think about what has happened and what we are doing. The appeal to big tech by ethical design is in itself meaningless, insofar as regulatory qualitative values ​​are not part of the universe of possibilities of the algorithmic arrangement[ii] of these platforms, that is, the companies' goals are intrinsically irreconcilable with respect and appreciation for life, justice and freedom. They are ‘products’ that work to provoke addiction and improve the ability to cause addiction itself.

Os consumers are consumed in your vital energy, channeled exclusively to consume in a world totalized in commodity form. In our time of progressively converging digital platforms[iii], there is a change in the way people behave and perceive reality, as they are repeatedly trained by the stimuli triggered by applications installed on their devices. All our actions and reactions are computed and stored in permanently and instantly updated data; Algorithms perform neurobehavioral analysis of individuals, diagnose neuroses, compulsions, depression, manias, “know” what most arouses obsessions, simulate advertisements and predict market compatibilities. The improvements to these algorithms they are processed uninterruptedly, with practically no human supervision (which would immensely slow down the entire process or even make it unfeasible). With quantified data and objectives to achieve and optimize consistent results, algorithms 'evolve' in an increasingly opaque way, because humanly unprocessable, present the required results and progressively surpass them, also imposing a rhythm of speed and acceleration given by their logic internal, devoid of meaning and ethical values.

In a lecture entitled “Narration and processes without a subject”, Olgária Matos said that:

“In our world of subjectless processes, we have modernizations for everything. These modernizations take the place of decisions. So, everything that is prudential, which is the place of the decisive moment of choice, of the act of reflection, of the act of courage, of the act of krynein, of crisis, of evaluation, of the ability to examine the issue, is lost in a world without a subject because now we have functions operating in its place. We are guided by the models without knowing how they are assembled. We don't know what the algorithms are, how these algorithms are established to reach certain ends, nor what ends are those that chose us or what they want to demonstrate. " [iv] (my emphasis)

Social networks supposedly connect people, but in fact they atomize us, they guarantee a minimum level of contact (always technologically mediated) that awakens our reward mechanisms, generating satisfaction (via dopamine discharge) that is quickly dissipated and transformed into frustration. and need for repetition (addiction mechanism). Our own way of relating becomes more diluted and superficial, loses its body, loses its record in memory and the experience is not codified and not represented in bits. We become compulsive about checking our main, hegemonic channel of human relationships. Most of these interactions are shown to everyone (or to “friends”) and this observation of everything by everyone completes figures of the other, with whom we do not even need to meet in person, nor even develop the path of relationships with narratives. mutual from oneself to the other and from the other to oneself, between singular beings. We all already know everything, we model others and are modeled by them, following algorithmic guidelines. In this permanent public exposure of what was once private, immediately accessible anywhere in the world, potentially seen by any and all eyes, pathological narcissism and paranoia are reinforced and amplified. Social networks and virtual platforms do not bring distant people together, they change the way we connect with others and the world. Interpersonal interactions generate cross-data to improve models and their results, our mutual relationships are promoted and controlled by (mathematical) models that predict our actions. There is an almost uncontrollable engagement, incited by the acuity of these models, which record all os clicks (the equivalent of action in these media) of each and process this data, with a volume of variables and complexity vastly beyond the physical limits of an individual human mind, to predict reactions and fit actions into a totalized chain of conformation of possibilities to this adequate, closing and increasingly restricting all differences.

Based on this 'general situation', shaped and informed by mathematical models efficient in the absorption of lives, domination and control (which seems to find no objection or opposition capable of, at least, making us stop to think about alternatives), Olgária Matos coined and developed the concept of subjectless processes, which names the movement of hegemonic rationality to swallow us, without a doubt, without error, without hesitation, threatening us with a possible qualitative, restrictive and definitive modification of the possible human horizon, reduced to direct extermination (of the self) or to abuse.

I quote Olgária:

 “Today, due to the development of media, regressive narcissism and the predominance of 'display value', in a world in which 'to be is to be perceived', the new technical means of communication promote the fusional desire of the masses, a universe of immediate identifications . […] Thus, not only the consumption of communicational goods and the economic circulation of things are spread, but simultaneously a new metaphysics of human relations, since everything that personally binds individuals, which makes them have a common story, a relationship that is inscribed in time, a “symbolic debt” – a loyalty to be honored – disappears, replaced by 'virtual reality', in which everything happens 'here and now', in a desertified world of coherence , course and direction.”

Directly opposing the anti-genealogical drive of the fully managed society of technoscience, Olgária problematizes the “promiscuity between man and machine”. The machine became the criterion (and the value) of the social process as a whole, a situation today “materialized” in the algorithms of machine learning controlling, deciding and manipulating everything from socio-political-economic macro-possibilities to the deep and unconscious drives of individuals – under the criteria of profit, optimization and standardization. Nature is treated as pure matter to be decoded and dominated, without its own substance, without resistance, without intrinsic limits inaccessible to techno-scientific reason and, at the same time, it is progressively intertwined with the 'subject of observation', itself calculable matter in interaction subatomic, fused with the (formerly) 'observed object', having its observation, its knowing act, measured and 'proven' via mechanical, technological mediation, supposedly neutral and universal, free from secondary qualities and particular ends. I quote Olgária in the Arcana of the entirely other: “The ratio reverts to irrationality because, in its necessary progression, it ignores the fact that the disappearance of its substrate is its own product.” MATOS, Olgária. The arcana of the entirely other, P. 319.

The machine process is an external, heteronomous force, which conforms a type of human existence (elevated to a model of objective rationality) to patterns of mechanical behavior and norms of competitive efficiency. Human beings embody the coerciveness of calculated repetition as a free choice and forget (ideologically) the myriad of possibilities that make up the idea of ​​emancipation. This process of collective ‘repressive desublimation’ offers, at the “highest efficacy, convenience and efficiency”, apparently enough satisfaction for protest and the struggle for liberation to be discarded. beforehand as not only harmless but also irrational. Submission becomes reasonable and the dominant order becomes an unshakable law[v]. I quote Olgária, in the Arcana of the Entirely Other: “The only reality is that of domination, because the perversion of reason in all social institutions and the liquidation of the individual are contemporary.”[vi] Technological rationality takes the form of “scientific management” and efficient autocracy. The laws of improved maintenance of functioning are reinforced in the development of diffuse and ubiquitous mechanisms and are justified by vast and self-reported probability calculations[vii]. As Adorno and Horkheimer write in the Dialectic of Enlightenment: “The factual has the last word, knowledge is restricted to its repetition, thought becomes mere tautology. The more the machinery of thought subjugates what exists, the more blindly it is content with this reproduction.” [viii]

In the XNUMXst century, despite the neoliberalism of standardized and competitive individuality, in which well-being is measured in bank figures despite the total destruction of the balance and physical conditions of the planet, the pulverization of the social fabric, injustices and violence treated as maintenance of the established order, of brutality against minorities and those who diverge, that is, when the notion of “well-being” is absolutely separated from that of life common in common, of public good, guarantor and protector of life, health, education, dignity of all, even so, the ideological propaganda of the cultural industry is at its full potential. O constructo of the free world offering opportunities to those who “deserve” them[ix], despite having lost much of its materially effective reach, appears unshakable.

In “Science: from disenchanted nature to the re-enchantment of the world” (in Discreet Hopes – Philosophical reflections on the contemporary world, pp. 98-99.), Olgária notes:

“Criticism of the reason of the Enlightenment is the best service that Reason can provide to the reason that has alienated itself from all spiritual significance in its procedures and conquest of nature. Adorno and Horkheimer, Marcuse and Benjamin consider that there is only scientific progress if its developments correspond to human improvement, reconciling epistemology and ethics, politics and good living, art and life, since science and war, predatory economy of nature and multitudes considered superfluous are installed in the void of the ethical-aesthetic values ​​of modernity – which engenders 'bourgeois coldness' and the resentment of those who are offended and humiliated. Since there is a ‘permanent state of exception’ in contemporary times – derealizing technological wars – it is because there is a ‘state of exception within souls’ – in a state of war with ‘enemies’ to be eliminated. The enemy is always the pejorative Other, the non-identical, the dissimilar, the scapegoat for civilization's malaise. The one and sedentary identity is the impossibility of reciprocal recognition of identities and differences.”

The very process of intensification and improvement of technological rationality and its respective means and apparatus has operated a kind of erasure of the inner subjective dimension as singular and producer of the “power of negative thinking”, of the “critical power of Reason”. Under such a process of scientific management and organization, subjectivity immediately identifies itself and mimics the logic of the system, merging with it and losing its own limits, expressing a Reason submissive “to the facts of life and the dynamic capacity to produce more and greatest facts of the same kind of life.”

As Marcuse writes in the essay “The problem of social change in technological society”: “Technological rationality makes the transcendent dimension unreal or unrealistic, or translates its contents into an operational context. They are incorporated into the rationality of what is and can be within the given reality. Technological society is, in this sense, a one-dimensional universe, from which qualitative difference, negation, is excluded.”[X]

The problem with a time of critical failure, precisely because it is a time of erasure of definitions, differences, limits, is that the very notions of relevance, priority, common existence in common while different, disappear and are reconfigured into statistical formulas and complex projections, calculated and verified by modalized and micro-tuned algorithms in a vast number of simultaneously and quantitatively identified patterns, which decide rationally what can and cannot be done, who lives and who dies. When we accept such cold and disembodied criteria as the culmination of the achievement of rationality, as the final victory of human reason over the unforeseen and misfortunes of existence, we give up humanity, freedom, truly living life. That is why, despite the overwhelming force of total coordination, which every day, at every moment, shows us that nothing more can be done, that we have lost the measure and the chance to transform the world into a better place, more fair and loving for all, we cannot give up trying; even if the very meaning of life has been reduced to this attempt predicted in advance to fail.

I end with Olgária’s words in the essay “Clastres: o mal radical e a terra sem mal” (Philosophical palindromes):

“To the risk of evil, democratic society must always counter an affirmation, an affirmation that is ‘no’ to that which transforms equality and freedom into servitude, politics into strength and power. And the speech of the prophets, which says the immanence of evil, by a paradox offers “the profound agreement between the Indians and the prophets who told them: it is necessary to change the world.”

Renata Marinho is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Philosophy at the University of São Paulo.


[I] According to Bernard Stiegler (in The Age of Disruption – Technology and Madness in Computational Capitalism), digitalized subjectivities, that is, under the convergence of telecommunications, are deprived of both retention (memories) as much as protection (desires, expectations).

[ii] The question of whether artificial intelligence could ever be ethics, was recently discussed at the University of Oxford, by humans and an AI, called Megatron Transformer, “trained” with a data package known among computer developers. machine learning as the pile, which includes the entire Wikipedia, tens of gigabytes of Reddit text, and tens of millions of articles. When provoked to answer whether an AI could be ethical, Megatron responded: “AI will never be ethical. It is a tool and, as such, it can be used for good and for evil”, in accordance with the widely spread and ideologically reinforced conception that technology would be neutral and that good and bad are the men who use it. The response continued: “Ultimately, I believe the only way to avoid an AI-driven arms race is to end all AIs. This would be the best defense against artificial intelligence.” < https://www.iflscience.com/technology/an-advanced-ai-gave-an-unsettling-answer-during-a-debate-with-humans-about-ethics/> (2021)

[iii] Convergence, currently in the construction and dissemination stage of a metaverse (term taken from the novel Blizzard, by Neal Stephenson, relating to a parallel universe created digitally by converging technologies). Cf. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/28/technology/facebook-meta-name-change.html

[iv] Olgária Matos, in a conference at SAF PUC-Rio, July 20, 2020. Video available at https://youtu.be/FcpNiUvp0FY

[v] “Marcuse also shows how the administration and methodical mobilization of human instincts make explosive and antisocial elements of the unconscious socially durable and usable: 'This mobilization of the libido may be responsible for much of voluntary submission, of the pre-established harmony between need and socially necessary desires, purposes, and aspirations’.” MATOS, Olgária. The arcana of the entirely other, P. 171.

[vi] MATOS, Olgária. The Arcana of the Entirely Other, p. 171.

[vii] This idea of ​​“scientific management” is already very close to that of verwaltete Gesellschaft, a concept that Marcuse takes up and incorporates into One-Dimensional Man.

[viii] (ADORNO & HORKHEIMER. “The concept of Enlightenment”, in Dialectic of Enlightenment, P. 34.

[ix] According to hegemonic Orwellian logic, merit means, at different levels, inequality, privilege, favoritism, adequacy, adulation, mediocrity,... in short, everything contrary to the very idea of ​​merit, which could only be a concrete reality in a free and transformed society, where and when, such an idea would probably have little relevance, since it would no longer be based on competitiveness (made obsolete) and the new transformed values would support a loving coexistence for all.

[X] MARCUSE. “The Problem of Social Change in the Technological Society”, p. 54.

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