- Out of Control
In each apparatus we have to entangle the lines of the recent past and those of the near future: that which belongs to the archive and that which belongs to the present; that which belongs to history and that which belongs to the process of becoming; that which belongs to the analytic and that which belongs to the diagnostic.—Gilles Deleuze, "What Is a Dispositif?" (1992, 164)
What if we were to allow for the concept of control—the focus of this special issue—as descriptive, one that designates a logic and regime of power that emerges in the wake of, or in tandem with, the entire apparatus of mid-twentieth century research in the computational, psychological, and biological sciences, and then ask, does control describe our moment? Or are we now living through a transition into a new episteme, a new kind of society, with its own economic and technological arrangements? What would such a proposition allow us to see and what forms of action would it both enable and demand?
Everything, everywhere, seems to be out of control.1 We do not need the polar bears, the doomsday preppers, or the global political news to precipitate worry that the collapse, in Jared Diamond's terms, is less cautionary tale than credible assumption. But these things function as signs of crisis nonetheless and help to set the zeitgeist mood of apocalypse and doom that, even if collectively unconscious, has been palpable. The world is always ending, yet something feels different as we enter the third decade of the new millennium. [End Page 163] Globalization has not worked out—this would be the colloquial form of the narrative that seeks to explain the virulent resurgence of nationalist populisms that have manifested in the rise of authoritarian leaders from Victor Orbán to Jair Bolsonaro, with of course the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Brexit vote in between. More precise academic explanations might situate the roots of our malaise and even the seeds of our eventual destruction with both the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, the knock-on effects of which have been so many and various as to appear overwhelmingly incalculable. Regardless, we are left with the felt sense of socio-political disorder, the feeling that no one, or perhaps a shadowy and evil someone, is at the helm, steering us all toward uncertain but surely catastrophic ends—the feeling that institutional foundations are crumbling and the ground is giving way beneath our feet, or perhaps lost to others making a territorial claim.
All of this in a moment when perhaps what feels most to be out of control is the literal ground, the planet. Whole swaths of my town, and part of my university, will most probably be underwater in my lifetime; perhaps yours will be as well or perhaps you will be in a newly formed tundra or moving away from an uninhabitable desert. What lies behind such climactic and geologic transformations of course will be centuries of extractive, destructive, and consumptive human behavior, culminating in the loss of plant and animal species and the pushing of vulnerable populations to the brink of annihilation. Observing the belated turn from circumspection and reticence to outright panic in the language used by climate scientists, David Wallace-Wells concludes with some relief that "It is O.K., finally, to freak out. Even reasonable…[because] we're at a point where alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable" (2019, n.p.). Apprehending the end, as is said, concentrates the mind—and it may be precisely what is needed to mobilize people to take meaningful action to try to stop the runaway train that serves as the all-purpose metaphor for out-of-control environmental processes, financial systems, and political institutions alike. But here the indeterminate ending of Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer (2013) is instructive: even if one can imagine a revolutionary movement to derail the train and liberate the indentured workers who keep it running, what awaits upon your eventual escape to the outside is a probably-hungry polar bear, which means either that...