In the chapter titled “Counsel,” Ulmer discusses several shifts. He discusses these shifts in multiple ways, and often what seem like separate, discreet parts of his argument overlap and fold back on themselves. His discussion of using narrative as a heuristic for understanding human ethos and perspective frames this chapter, as it is both a methodology that he proposes, and one that he uses within the chapter to make other arguments about flash reasoning, fatal strategy, and the importance of incorporating pleasure/pain (attraction/repulsion in the physical sense) into our decision-making process. 

Chapter OverviewEdit

Including Byproducts and Obscenarios-

At the beginning of this chapter, Ulmer mentions Aristotle’s 4 causes, which include the questions: What is it made from? What is its form? What produced it?  And for what purpose was it produced? (p.213). It is not until near the end of the chapter that he concisely lays out his proposed update to this set of questions (however this notion is embedded in the entire chapter). He proposes an “electric update of cause,” which includes 5 questions as opposed to 4. Although the first four questions are relatively similar to Aristotle’s, Ulmer phrases them differently and much of his emphasis is placed on the addition of the 5th. These 5 aspects to cause are: the material (out of what materials it becomes), the formal (out of what formula it becomes), the efficient (the origin of movement or rest from which it becomes), the final (the end, aim, or purpose for which it becomes), and the gift (the byproducts or unintended consequences of it), (p.233). Ulmer argues that we should—as a goal— attempt to use the fifth aspect in our calculations of public policy (p.234).

            Ulmer lists another goal earlier on, which comes in different terms but is very similar to the goal of including byproducts and consequences into our assessments of things. This other goal is to “do for the obscene what scenario did for scene: obscenario,” (p.223). He defines obscenario as the product + the byproduct, “Pandora + box” (p.231).

This takes on a slightly different meaning when paired with another suggestion of his. He poses that instead of searching to explain the action, we should be allowing the action to explain us, (p.224). In looking to the byproducts of things, we can learn about ourselves as a social species. This ties in well with his proposal for using narrative as a heuristic;

“The legibility of collective decision as ethos in policy and cinema suggests a heuristic device: to use popular narratives as probes to locate fundamental assumptions (the common scenarios, the fantasies) organizing decision in individual and collective scenarios,” (p.216, emphasis added).

Ulmer discusses this popular narrative heuristic as a use of flash reason. He argues that the relevance of flash reason in this case is not so much in matching films with strategies, but in “locating the ethos (limit, character)—but we could also say “fantasy”—guiding the screenplay/policy,” (p.216). He takes a very strong stance in favor of narrative “the common sense of our habitas” that transcends the public and the private, the “personal and political,” (p.219). After all, decision, he says, “has a history” (p.229). He points out several ways that we are not making the most intellectual use of our “stories.”

            One of these is our tendency to focus on the scenario. He describes scenarios as “formulations of deliberative reason” (p.219), and argues that in flash reason we will need to look to the obscenarios as well, which means looking past deliberative reason. ((transition to fatal strategy))

Including Others-

            Another shift that Ulmer argues will increase our understanding of electracy is that of the individual to the group. He states that in electracy, agency calls to groups, not individuals and “Avatar mediates between ‘I’ and ‘we’,” (p.217). He points out that in isolation actually separates us from experiences of agency, which seems to contradict the fact that our narratives often pose individual agency as the solution, (p.228).

As we have all noticed by now, one way that Ulmer likes to introduce or suggest implementation of cognitive shifts is through the use of different terms, many that he comes up with himself. In attempt to employ terms more compatible with his argument for group counsel, he proposes the word “egent” as a person who is member of a counsel instead of an individual agent, (p.241). This means we would have egency, as an electric, multiple version of agency. He also proposes use of the word “element” instead of “substance.” His explanation of this left me a little uncertain, but the sense I made of it was that the term element allows us to look at more long term effects (we can see how elements disburse and come together long after the original “substance” has gone, which would be helpful in looking at environmental byproducts), but also because we can discuss elements both as parts of a whole and also as wholes themselves with their own properties. The term element may be more productive a symbol that implies both a collective and individual experience.

Including the Pleasure-Pain Axis (Fatal Strategy)-

Ulmer describes fatal strategy as recognizing “what is self-evident in the accident,” (p.224). This means recognizing what is “formless,” but Ulmer specifies that this formlessness does not translate to “chaos but region, vortex… it is felt beyond thought” (p.225, emphasis added). More specifically, he argues for recognizing how our bodies tell us to respond. He does this by introducing different axes from which to consider decision-making. His introduction of new axes is not meant to criticize or devalue the existing axes we  often use to categorize things. He states that “category pollution,” or information sprawl in the mass amount that we experience it today requires “new modalities of classification” (p.225). Introducing new axes allows him to add to the existing modalities of classification and allow them to grow in complexity to handle the shifts that the digital world has catalyzed.

In contrast to how we often theorize today:

“Two predominant ways of saying being in our practices: as evidence (true and false; the axis of science) and as story (right and wrong; the axis of morality institutionalized in religion). In fatal strategy, both modes are subordinated to a third kind: figure (the axis of pleasure-pain),” (p.218, emphasis added)

He uses “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” as an analogy to be played with and altered in light of the third axis. In the Prisoner’s Dilemma, morality and the logic of outcomes seem to be at odds. Ulmer argues that when we include the axis of pleasure-pain, this analogy shifts into the analogy of “The Seduced’s Epiphany,” which although seems like a bit of a jump (from dilemma all the way to epiphany?), also sounds like a more imaginative analogy, (p.227).

In terms of shifts in modes of communication, Ulmer lays out the following: In oral cultures people predominantly were concerned with moral questions, that is, what is right and what is wrong. When we shift into predominantly literate cultures, we find a shift towards scientific questions, concerned primarily with what is true and what is false.  He argues that in electracy, questions will begin to be more oriented towards, what attracts and what repulses, (p.231).

I think Ulmer best describes what is at stake in including this bodily axis of decision in our digital world when he discusses jouissance and the Matrix; “Jouissance names an energy specific to human embodiment. Our future will be determined by how this energy is augmented and directed in electracy (The Matrix…as worst case scenario). This wisdom is to electracy what philosophy is to literacy,” (p.243, emphasis added).

Including Transparency in Politics (Transpolitics)-

Ulmer makes a strong call for more transparency in politics. He argues for what he calls transpolitics, a progressive word in itself. He describes transpolitics as destructured and de-historicized, involving a “promiscuity of networks”, actually engaging with the term social as it applies to the masses and “the end of the secret, the irruption of transparencies,” (p.223). A tall order, but he claims that the “the dromosphere requires transpolitics” (p.223).

Transpolitics would rely on most of the other aspects Ulmer has laid out in this chapter (and this book). A society willing to be individuals and counsel-members, agents and egents, willing to look past the scene into the obscene, incorporate not only logic and morality, but bodily sensation. 


Flash Reason- is discussed in terms of using a narrative heuristic to understand how we process things like disaster. 

Electracy- is discussed in terms of incorporating the axis of attraction-repulsion into how we process information and make decisions