Eyal asks this question, “Can we think of a world without numbers?”
In response to Eyal’s blog Homo numeralous: Decimal literacy and modern everyday digit normalcy .
I argue that in the capitalist block, whilst we can have agency and resist the dominant narratives that use numbers to entice us to continuously labour for wages, to be exploited and to consume, we can only do this within the limits of our historical block ( to use Kordela’s expression in ‘Being, Time and Bios, 2014), which are set by a Cartesian ‘certainty’ at one pole and ‘radical uncertainty’ at the other. Not ‘knowing’, is not an option, even with the best ‘will to truth’ in the world, surplus knowledge is desired, and there is no meta-desire state.
Eyal suggests that, thinking :
…. about numbers through technological determinism, as a technology, a device, that has come to shape more than science or math, that organises knowledge/sense in the broadest sense. That we don’t only use numbers to think, but that we think numbers, or think numerally, period. That to think is to number/enumerate and the other way around.
…. the hypothesis that this ‘numbercy’ is not meaningless, but that numbers literacy in particular brought an epochal global order, or a shared language ….
I agree that the ‘numbercy’ is not ‘meaningless’, and that numbers literacy helped to bring about a global epochal order.
But I think numbercy as technological determinism requires other additional forms of consciousness and social structures. I think that Descartes’ cogito, ensured a sense of a human subject that has an independent mind (or consciousness), free to choose his own destiny, and that this kind of ‘thinking freedom’ ruled the market place where the labourer is free to sell his labour to his legally equal partner in this exchange, the buying capitalist. Both money as the universal equivalent, and the exploitation of waged labour, have led to the desire for surplus value, and it is this desire and the search for satisfaction that provides jouissance and ‘meaning’ for our lives, and this is dependent upon ‘numbercy’.
The capitalist epoch produces and depends upon surplus value through exchange, and this is only possible through numerical calculability (and forms of money), all other thought and representations become increasingly exploited as commodities and in the process are enumerated. And this includes things like affect, happiness, mental health, risk of future disease, and so on.
As Lacan suggested, once jouissance becomes calculable ‘this is where the accumulation of capital begins’.
The digital ‘byte’ infinitesimally divides and multiplies, and can (through computerised algorithmic machines), transform the body itself through degradation and re-constitution, into a numerical signifier of, say future risk of biological disease, it is abstract, and as digital, infinitely malleable, as a kind of zero-institutitional-form that enables the inauguration of the digitalised symbolic exchange of ‘risk’ for technology consumption.
I am interested in how ‘risk’ is digitalised as a malleable industrial commodity, ‘shape-changing’ to ensure sufficient desire is induced by those ‘paying’, or ‘paying-on-behalf-of’ others.
I am interested in how ‘evidence’ on cost-effectiveness uses QALY data, where the QALY is the necessary but impossible zero-institutional-form for symbolic (semantic and economic) exchange in the market and science fora.
I am interested in how neoliberal governmentality ‘speaks’ discourse that pushes any limits on expenditure ‘out of language’, so that there shall be no threshold to the sacrifice of cost and effectiveness, to ensure continued production of surplus (value, semantic and economic).
The numbers we voraciously consume speak to a chain of sliding signifiers, where each signifier, in turn, provides an ‘enjoyable’ sense of anticipation in its implicit promise of satisfaction through (numerical) knowledge, but doomed to fail of course so that, without pause, we move onto the next signifier.
In capitalism we cannot think outside numbers, the calculable, all value is calculable. The number exchange is the vehicle for the search for what we desire.