lundi 4 juillet 2011

Viral Perspective.

Pieter Brueghel, The Triumph of Death, 1562.
In the non-protological arenas, progressive political change is generated through struggle, through the active transfer of power from one party to another. For example, the institution of the forty-hour workweek was the result of a specific shift in power from capital to labor. To take another example, women's liberation is the result of specific transfers of power in the areas of law (suffrage, abortion, birth control), in the expectations surrounding domestic labor, biological and social ideas about gender, and so on. 

Yet within protological networks, political acts generally happen not by shifting power from one place to another but by exploiting power differentials already existing in the system. 

This is due mainly to the fundamentally informatic nature of networks. Informatic networks are largely immaterial. But immaterial does not mean vacillating or inconsistent. They operate through the brutal limitations of abstract logic (if/then, true or false).

Protological struggles do not center around changing existent technologies but instead involve discovering holes in existent technologies and projecting potential change through those holes. Hackers call these holes "exploits".

Thinking in these terms is the difference between thinking socially and thinking informatically, or the difference between thinking in terms of probability and thinking in terms of possibility. Informatic spaces do not bow to political pressure or influence, as social spaces do. But informatic spaces do have bugs and holes, a by-product of high levels of technical complexity, which make them as vulnerable to penetration and change as would a social actor at the hands of more traditional political agitation.

Let us reiterate that we are referring only to protological resistance and in no way whatsoever suggest that non-protological practice should abandon successful techniques for effecting change such as organizing, striking, speaking out, or demonstrating. What we suggest here is a supplement to existent practice, not a replacement of it. 

The goal for political resistance in life networks, then, should be the discovery of exploits - or rather, the reverse heuristic is better: look for traces of exploits, and you will find political practices.

Let's flesh out this idea using examples from actual practices, from specific scenarios. The first is an instance of the protological masquerading as biological: the computer virus. Deleuze mentions computer viruses in his 1990 interview with Negri:

It's true that, even before control societies are fully in place, forms of delinquency or resistance (two different things) are also appearing. Computer piracy and viruses, for example, will replace strikes and what the nineteenth century called "sabotage" ("clogging" the machinery).

Computer viruses have a spotted history; they often involve innovative programming techniques that have been used in other areas of computer science, but they are also often tagged as being part of delinquent or criminal activities. Should computer viruses be included in the "history" of computers? How much have viruses and antivirus programs contributed to the development of "official" computer science and programming? The majority of the early instances of computer viruses have ties to either the university or the corporation: the "Darwin" game (AT&T/Bell Labs, early 1960s), "Cookie Monster" (MIT, mid 1960's), "Creeper" and "Reaper" (BBN, early 1970s), "Tapeworm" (XeroxPARC, early 1970's), and so on. Like early hacking activities, their intent was mostly exploratory. Unlike hacking, however, the language of biology quickly became a provocative tool for describing these encapsulations of code. Science fiction classics such as John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider popularized the vitalisme of computer viruses, and by the early 1980's, researchers such as Fred Cohen published articles on "computer viruses" in academic journals such as Computers and Security.


Computer viruses thrive in environments that have low levels of diversity.

Whenever a technology has a monopoly, you will find viruses. They take advantage of technical standardization to propagate through the network. (This is why Microsoft products are disproportionately infected by viruses: Microsoft eclipses the marketplace and restructures it under a single standard). Viruses and worms exploit holes and in this sense are a good index for oppositional network practices. They propagate through weaknesses in the logical structure of computer code. When an exploit is discovered, the broad homogeneity of computer networks allows the virus to resonate far and wide with relative ease. Networks are, in this sense, a type of massive amplifier of action. Something small can turn into something very big very easily.


Viruses such as the polymorphic computer viruses are defined by their ability to replicate their difference. They exploit the network. 

That is, they are able to change themselves at the same time that they replicate and distribute themselves. In this case, computer viruses are defined by their ability to change their signature and yet maintain a continuity of operations (e.g., overwriting code, infiltrating as fake programs, etc.). Viruses are never quite the same. This is, of course, one of the central and most disturbing aspects of biological viruses - their ability to continually and rapidly mutate their genetic codes.

This ability not only enables a virus to exploit new host organisms previously unavailable to it but also enables a virus to cross species boundaries effortlessly, often via an intermediary host organism. There is, in a way, an "animality" specific to the biological virus, for it acts as a connector between living forms, traversing species, genus, phylum, and kingdom. In the late twentieth century and the early twenty-first, public health organizations such as the WHO and the CDC began to see a new class of diseases emerging, ones that were caused by rapidly mutating microbes and were able to spread across the globe in a matter of days.

These "emerging infectious diseases" are composed of assemblages of living forms: microbe-flea-monkey-human, microbe-chicken-human, microbe-cow-human, or human-microbe-human. In a sens, this is true of all epidemics: in the mid-fourteenth century, the Black Death was an assemblage of bacillus-flea-rat-human, a network of contagion spread in part by merchant ships along trade routes.

Biological viruses are connectors that transgress the classification systems and nomenclatures that we define as the natural world or the life sciences. The effects of this network are, of course, far from desirable. But it would be misleading to attribute maliciousness and intent to a strand of RNA and a protein coating, even though we humans endlessly anthropomorphize the nonhumans we interact with. What, then, os the viral perspective? Perhaps contemporary microbiology can give us a clue, for the study of viruses in the era of the double helix has become almost indistinguishable from information science. This viral perspective has nothing to do with nature, or animals, or humans; it is solely concerned with operations on a code (in this case, a single-strand RNA sequence) that has two effects - the copying of that code within a host organism, and the mutation of that code to gain entry to a host cell. 

Replication and cryptography are thus the two activities that define the virus. What counts is not that the host is a "bactirium", an "animal", or a "human". What counts is the code - the number of the animal, or better, the numerology of the animal.

We stress that the viral perspective works through replication and cryptography, a conjunction of two procedures. Sticking to our examples of computer and biological viruses, the kind of cryptography involved is predicated on mutation and morphology, on recombining and recalculating as a way of never-being-the-same. The viral perspective is "cryptographic" because it replicates this difference, this paradoxical status of never-being-the-same. Again and again, it is never the same. What astounds us is not that the virus is somehow "transgressive", crossing species borders (in the case of biological viruses) or different platforms (in the case of computer viruses). The viral perspective, if indeed we are to comprehend its unhuman quality, is not some rebellious or rogue piece of data infiltrating "the system". What astounds us is that the viral perspective presents the animal being and the creaturely life in an illegible and incalculable manner, a matter of chthonic calculations and occult replications. This is the strange numerology of the animal that makes species boundaries irrelevant.

Given this, it is no surprise that the language and concept of the virus have made their way into computer science, hacking, and information-security discourse. Computer viruses "infect" computer files or programs, they use the files or programs to make more copies of themselves, and in the process they may also employ several methods for evading detection by the user or antivirus programs. This last tactic is noteworthy, for the same thing has both intrigued and frustrated virologists for years. A virus mutates its code faster than vaccines can be developed for it; a game of cloak-and-dagger ensues, and the virus vanishes by the time it is sequenced, having already mutated into another virus. Computer viruses are, of course, written by humans, but the effort to employ techniques from artifical life to "evolve" computer viruses may be another case altogether. The fith generation polymorphic viruses are able to mutate their code (thereby eluding the virus signature used by antivirus programs) as they replicate, thus never being quite the same virus.

Alexander R. Galloway & Eugene Thacker, The Exploit, A Theory of Networks, Electronic Mediations Vol.21, University of Minnesota Press, 2007, p.81-87.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire