Society is being virtualised in two different ways.
Firstly, in the literal sense, as in how more and more of our experience is being digitised. The continuous is continuously being made discrete. What is digitised and discrete can be codified, flattened, and managed into “computer says no/go” rules which allow us to (at least pretend to) “govern” the ungovernable though increasingly sophisticated, increasingly automated bureaucracies.
Secondly, in the more figurative sense, we have become virtualised in the sense of becoming untethered from reality as we deny objective truth (or even the possibility thereof) in favour of the unfalsifiable subjective lived experience of (un)reality.
These two trends are not, as it may first appear, in conflict, rather they represent a feedback loop – whereby reality is denied and deconstructed and then progressively replaced by a new set of rules that serve as an enforced proxy of a new “consensus reality” defined by binary bits and bytes.
To see how this plays out in the political sphere, to both manufacture and secure power, as Arlyn Culwick writes:
“*virtualisation* is Western bureaucracy’s principal means to gain power — and to bring ruination upon the whole society. Virtualisation in this context is —
Step 1: commodify mere possibilities (i.e. risks) instead of just actualities.
Step 2: identify more risks and market them to the population. Expand power.
Step 3: the market economy (i.e. Polanyi’s concept) becomes oriented around unrealities — mere possibilities. Its terminus is thus unreal.“
In other words, in a virtualised society, there is no limit to the loophole opened up by John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle, that is that the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals.
After all, if harm can be redefined as risk – there can be virtually no illegitimate limits to power employed in the pursuit of risk mitigation. What possible legitimate limit could be applied to power employed in the war against death, the war against terror, the war against poverty, etc, etc…
And, more importantly, if harm can be defined in terms of subjective claims (such as psychological rather than physical) safety, rather than objective truths – or indeed, if subjective claims can be codified into discrete claims using the visualise – de-virtualise sleight of hand trick… Well, claims to “legitimate” power can be manufactured at will.
Power becomes as infinitely elastic as the war on death and harm…