Akrasis

by rsbakker

Akrasis (or, social akrasis) refers to the technologically driven socio-economic process, already underway at the beginning of the 20th century, which would eventually lead to Choir.

Where critics in the early 21st century continued to decry the myriad cruelties of the capitalist system, they failed to grasp the greater peril hidden in the way capitalism panders to human yens. Quick to exploit the discoveries arising out of cognitive science, market economies spontaneously retooled to ever more effectively cue and service consumer demand, eventually reconfiguring the relation between buyer and seller into subpersonal circuits (triggering the notorious shift to ‘whim marketing,’ the data tracking of ‘desires’ independent of the individuals hosting them). The ecological nature of human cognition all but assured the mass manipulative character of this transformation. The human dependency on proximal information to cue what amount to ancestral guesses regarding the nature of their social and natural environments provided sellers with countless ways to game human decision making. The global economy was gradually reorganized to optimize what amounted to human cognitive shortcomings. We became our own parasite.

Just as technological transformation (in particular, the scaling of AI) began crashing the utility of our heuristic modes of meaning making, it began to provide virtual surrogates, ways to enable the exercise of otherwise unreliable cognitive capacities. In other words, even as the world became ever more inhuman, our environments became ever more anthropomorphic, ever more ‘smart’ and ‘immersive.’ Thus ‘akrasis,’ the ancient term referring to the state of acting against one’s judgment, which here describes a society acting against the human capacity to judge altogether, a society bent upon the systematic substitution of actual autonomy for simulated autonomy.

Humans, after all, have evolved to leverage the signal of select upstream interventions, assuming it a reliable component of their environments. Once we developed the capacity to hack these latter signals, the world effectively became a drug.

Akrasis has a long history, as long as life itself, according to certain theories. Before the 21st century, the process appeared ‘enlightening,’ but only because the limitations of the technologies involved (painting, literacy, etc.) rendered the resulting transformations manageable. But the rate of transformation continued to accelerate, while the human capacity to adapt remained constant. The outcome was inevitable. As the bandwidth of our interventions approached then surpassed the bandwidth of our central nervous systems, the simulation of meaning became the measure of meaning. Our very frame of reference had been engulfed. For billions, the only obvious direction of success—the direction of ‘cognitive comfort’—lay away from the world and into technology. So they defected in their billions, embracing signals, environments, manufactured entirely from predatory code. Culture became indistinguishable from cheat space—as did, for those embracing virtual fitness indicators, experience itself.

By 2050, we had become an advanced akratic civilization, a species whose ancestral modes of meaning-making had been utterly compromised. Art was an early casualty, though decades would be required to recognize as much. Fantasy, after all, was encouraged in all forms, especially those, like art or religion, laying claim to obsolete authority gradients. To believe in art was to display market vulnerabilities, or to be so poor as to be insignificant. No different than believing in God.

Social akrasis is now generally regarded as a thermodynamic process intrinsic to life, the mechanical outcome of biology falling within the behavioural purview of biology. Numerous simulations have demonstrated that ‘outcome convergent’ or ‘optimizing’ systems, once provided the base capacity required to extract excess capacity from their environments, will simply bootstrap until they reach a point where the system detaches from its environment altogether, begins converging upon the signal of some environmental outcome, rather than any actual environmental outcome.

Thus the famous ‘Junkie Solution’ to Fermi’s Paradox (as recently confirmed by the Gala Semantic Supercomputer at MIT).

And thus Choir.