War Machines as Difference-Engines Against the State Apparatus

By rhyzom | rhyzom | 31 Jan 2021

“The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?”
― Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari



In "Nomadology" Deleuze and Guattari delinate the two concepts of the State and its diametrically opposing force they call the nomadic War Machine (derived from Pierre Clasters' theory of the role of ritualized - not necessary lethal - warfare among indigenous groups). Alternatively suggested terms for the war machine are also difference-engine and metamorphosis/transformation-machine.


"As for the war machine in itself, it seems to be irreducible to the State apparatus, to be outside its sovereignty and prior to its law: it comes from elsewhere. Indra, the warrior god, is in opposition to Varuna no less than to Mitral He can no more be reduced to one or the other than he can constitute a third of their kind. Rather, he is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, the pack, an irruption of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphosis. He unties the bond just as he betrays the pact. He brings a furor to bear against sovereignty, a celerity against gravity, secrecy against the public, a power (puissance) against sovereignty, a machine against the apparatus. He bears witness to another kind of justice, one of incomprehensible cruelty at times, but at others of unequaled pity as well (because he unties bonds...). He bears witness, above all, to other relations with women, with animals, because he sees all things in relations of becoming, rather than implementing binary distributions between “states”: a veritable becoming-animal of the warrior, a becoming-woman, which lies outside dualities of terms as well as correspondences between relations. In every respect, the war machine is of another species, another nature, another origin than the State apparatus."
--- D&G, Nomadology


The autonomous war-machines (as opposed to the state-captured ones, i.e. military/army/military-industrial complex) are forms of social assemblages whose force is directed against the state and the coalescence of sovereignty by means of exercising diffuse power distribution to undermine and break down concentrated centralized power which characterizes the state. The function of the war machine is mainly to ward off state formation as concentration of power by various mechanisms. It replaces the striated, compartmentalized space of the state with smooth space (which is itself constitutive of the war machine as such).


There's no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons.
--- Deleuze


The incommensurability with the war machine with the state's striated space ends up in a situation of conflict where the goal is the deterritorialization of the rigid statist relational fixities of state space to create space for difference or particular ways of life. War machines are associated with the formation of special types of groups, like bands or packs that constitute multiplicities and operate as dense local clusters of emotionally-charged and intensely charged connections, strongly differentiated from the large "mass" that lack intensity and vertical integration. They are organized as unstable groups avoiding fixed hierarchical organization (or in any case any leaders emerging are subject to rapid succession) and dispersed through space rather than concentrated in particular sites.


Let us take a limited example and compare the war machine and the State apparatus in the context of the theory of games. Let us take chess and Go, from the standpoint of the game pieces, the relations between the pieces and the space involved. Chess is a game of State, or of the court: the emperor of China played it. Chess pieces are coded; they have an internal nature and intrinsic properties from which their movements, situations, and confrontations derive. They have qualities; a knight remains a knight, a pawn a pawn, a bishop a bishop. Each is like a subject of the statement endowed with a relative power, and these relative powers combine in a subject of enunciation, that is, the chess player or the game’s form of interiority. Go pieces, in contrast, are pellets, disks, simple arithmetic units, and have only an anonymous, collective, or third-person function. “It” makes a move. “It” could be a man, a woman, a louse, an elephant. Go pieces are elements of a nonsubjectified machine assemblage with no intrinsic properties, only situational ones. Thus the relations are very different in the two cases.
Within their milieu of interiority, chess pieces entertain biunivocal relations with one another, and with the adversary’s pieces: their functioning is structural. On the other hand, a Go piece has only a milieu of exteriority, or extrinsic relations with nebulas or constellations, according to which it fulfills functions of insertion or situation, such as bordering, encircling, shattering. All by itself, a Go piece can destroy an entire constellation synchronically; a chess piece cannot (or can do so diachronically only). Chess is indeed a war, but an institutionalized, regulated, coded war, with a front, a rear, battles. But what is proper to Go is war without battle lines, with neither confrontation nor retreat, without battles even: pure strategy, whereas chess is a semiology. Finally, the space is not at all the same: in chess, it is a question of arranging a closed space for oneself, thus of going from one point to another, of occupying the maximum number of squares with the minimum number of pieces.
In Go, it is a question of arraying oneself in an open space, of holding space, of maintaining the possibility of springing up at any point: the movement is not from one point to another, but becomes perpetual, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival. The “smooth” space of Go, as against the “striated” space of chess. The nomas of Go against the State of chess, nomas against polis. The difference is that chess codes and decodes space, whereas Go proceeds altogether differently, territorializing or deterritorializing it (make the outside a territory in space; consolidate that territory by the construction of a second, adjacent territory; deterritorialize the enemy by shattering his territory from within; deterritorialize oneself by renouncing, by going elsewhere...). Another justice, another movement, another space-time.


There is a kind of science, or treatment of science, that seems very difficult to classify, whose history is even difficult to follow. What we are referring to are not “technologies” in the usual sense of the term. But neither are they “sciences” in the royal or legal sense established by history. According to a recent book by Michel Serres, both the atomic physics of Democritus and Lucretius and the geometry of Archimedes are marked by it. The characteristics of this kind of eccentric science would seem to be the following;
1. First of all, it uses a hydraulic model, rather than being a theory of solids treating fluids as a special case; ancient atomism is inseparable from flows, and flux is reality itself, or consistency.
2. The model in question is one of becoming and heterogeneity, as opposed to the stable, the eternal, the identical, the constant. It is a “paradox” to make becoming itself a model, and no longer a secondary characteristic, a copy; in the Timaeus, Plato raises this possibility, but only in order to exclude it and conjure it away in the name of royal science. By contrast, in atomism, just such a model of heterogeneity, and of passage or becoming in the heterogeneous, is furnished by the famed declination of the atom. The clinamen, as the minimum angle, has meaning only between a straight line and a curve, the curve and its tangent, and constitutes the original curvature of the movement of the atom. The clinamen is the smallest angle by which an atom deviates from a straight path. It is a passage to the limit, an exhaustion, a paradoxical “exhaustive” model. The same applies to Archimedean geometry, in which the straight line, defined as “the shortest path between two points,” is just a way of defining the length of a curve in a predifferential calculus.
3. One no longer goes from the straight line to its parallels, in a lamellar or laminar flow,* but from a curvilinear declination to the formation of spirals and vortices on an inclined plane: the greatest slope for the smallest angle. From turha to turbo: in other words, from bands or packs of atoms to the great vortical organizations. The model is a vortical one; it operates in an open space throughout which things-flows are distributed, rather than plotting out a closed space for linear and solid things. It is the difference between a smooth (vectorial, projective, or topological) space and a striated (metric) space: in the first case “space is occupied without being counted,” and in the second case “space is counted in order to be occupied.”
4. Finally, the model is problematic, rather than theorematic: figures are considered only from the viewpoint of the affections that befall them- sections, ablations, adjunctions, projections. One does not go by specific differences from a genus to its species, or by deduction from a stable essence to the properties deriving from it, but rather from a problem to the accidents that condition and resolve it. This involves all kinds of deformations, transmutations, passages to the limit, operations in which each figure designates an “event” much more than an essence; the square no longer exists independently of a quadrature, the cube of a cubature the straight line of a rectification. Whereas the theorem belongs to the rational order, the problem is affective and is inseparable from the metamorphoses, generations, and creations within science itself. Despite what Gabriel Marcel may say, the problem is not an “obstacle”; it is the surpassing of the obstacle, a projection, in other words, a war machine. All of this movement is what royal science is striving to limit when it reduces as much as possible the range of the “problem-element” and subordinates it to the “theorem-element.”


"It is not at all surprising that the philosopher has become a public professor or State functionary." 


"The necessity of not having control over language, of being a foreigner in one’s own tongue, in order to draw speech to oneself and “bring something incomprehensible into the world.” Such is the form of exteriority, the relation between brother and sister, the becoming-woman of the thinker, the becoming-thought of the woman: the Gemtit that refuses to be controlled, that forms a war machine. A thought grappling with exterior forces instead of being gathered up in an interior form, operating by relays instead of forming an image; an event-thought, a haecceity, instead of a subject-thought, a problem-thought instead of an essence- thought or theorem."



  • Noologically, the state represents an image of thought where an universal has everything else related to it, subject-predicate constructions tied to impied fixed essence and stasis via the verb "to be", etc.
  • Cyberspace as smooth space and the possibilities for constituting difference/war-machines within it? Such that elude state capture by operating exterior to it and its jurisdiction, by using of back alleys, loopholes and re-routing flows and connections outside the striated space or enclosure and top-down imposed order of the state. Cyberspace, being decentralized by its nature and having the capacity for constituting smooth spaces constitutes a kind of jurisdiction of its own and within its own domain, beyond and above the reach of the authority of the state's Leviathan (more or less).
  • I keep on thinking about Holochain's model, geared towards social apps and collective sense-making, collective-synthetic intelligence, human-sensor networks weaving micro-narratives, and basically being a framework for building composable distributed, collectively run apps.... Scuttlebutt is similar in design — DHTs as the public space, and hashchains as the private one, agent-centric, no monolithic blockchains involved.... each app having its own DHT and implicit rules that define it, expressing currencies as flows ("current-sees") of social value with money-like properties, designed with various different purposes and goals in mind (and not universally interchangeable, for example: you can't sell your reputation....) - and all these apps altogether mapping a massive DAG, cos of their capacity to interoperate and translate one into another (and complex systems are modeled as DAGs or directed acyclic graphs of events and their chains of relationships).
  • Since 21th century is all about the capacity to introduce successfully reforms — in that department china has been the world leader in history.... whether we're talking good reforms or not, it is another story, point is their capacity to implement them, while most everybody else is in a deadlock where nobody wants to give up their position of whatever privilege.... So, that said, are we talking crypto as parallel attractors or as state-appropriated bureaucratic/institutional technology, or something in between?

  • Cyberspace being what it is — extra-jurisdictional, far as the state goes, decentralized smooth space, providing the conditions for assembling war machines (difference-engines) that operate to undermine concentration of centralized power by diffusion of power distribution and flexibility of regimes of organization.... The implementation of things like dynamic liquid democracy based on the needs of the circumstances at present and the expertise they require, for as long as it is required, etc. and, very importantly, the gathering of validated, high-quality data for purposes of statistical analyses in better comprehending the direction of where things are headed (given state-provided stats, at least where i come from, cannot really be trusted at all...) But to quote Lenin: "those above don't want to and those below cannot".

  • Blockchains, on the other hand, being rigid, much less flexible, immutable and with the strata of their record-keeping as if written in stone can be thought of as Schelling points or Schelling fences of something constant and reliably always there the way it stands. Bitcoin as the primitive coinage economy of the Internet, outsourcing the above layers of financial instruments and products that derive from it on other chains, etc.Pillars and beacons of structurally stable simplicity amidst dynamic complexity, in other words (since complexity both builds upwards and falls downwards in layers from simpler to more complex and from the too complexly entangled weighting and falling down the simpler levels of previous reliability).



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Ad hoc heuristics for approaching complex systems and the "unknown unknowns". Techne & episteme. Verum ipsum factum. In the words of Archimedes: "Give me a lever and a place to rest it... or I shall kill a hostage every hour." Rants, share-worthy pieces and occasional insights and revelations.

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