Cybertime: The Tyranny of the Cognitariat

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Franc “Bifo” Berardi in Precarious Rhapsody will reiterate one of his favorite themes which is the incorporation of General Intellect into the machinic phylum that is taking place as part of a program to enslave and exclude at the same time the human as part of late capitalisms (financial or technocapitalism) systematic enclosure of the commons: both virtual and actual. If one reads his several works the basic thematic is iterated over and over in various forms and examples, yet it is in this specific book that his notion of cybertime as distinct from cyberspace is first conceptualized. As he tells it the “colonization of time has been a fundamental objective of the development of capitalism during the modern era…” (p. 69).1 Yet, in our moment time is taking on a rather accelerated form as we enter into machinic-interfacial relations through the massive oceanic system of the Internet and cyberspace that capital is slowly expanding and encompassing in its systems of capture. According to him time is now becoming a “battlefield, as it is the space of the mind: mind-time, cybertime” that is introducing new subjectifications and forms of subjectivity that up till now were based on the liberal capitalist Subject. As he states it: “The potenza of this new figure of intellectuality of the ‘cognitariat’ is being reterritorialized by way of the tyrannical operation of capitalist cybertime.” (p. 69)

We all saw the anarchic explosion of creativity and talent during the 90’s of the early internet culture, as well as the more libertarian capitalism of start-ups and young entrepreneurs developing applications for this cyberspatial world. Yet, we also saw what supposedly was the end of this era as the dot.com’s burst around 2000. In most ways what hasn’t been shown is how this was a manufactured and artificial monopolization of the dot.com industry by larger entities on a more global scale. Slowly but surely the monopolization of the corporate internet and its takeover of the supposed creative and anarchic impulses of the open source communities, etc. has just been capital back at its long well worked solution of Monopoly Capitalism. Nothing astounding here as John Bellamy Foster tells it:

Microsoft may seem like an extreme example—but as the leading high-tech corporation in the world, it also reflects the extreme direction that capital is taking in general. Moreover, the phenomenon is not simply confined to computer software firms or dot.coms. Nike, to take an additional case, subcontracts nearly all of its production to owners of factories in China, Indonesia and Vietnam. Tens of thousands of workers in Asia employed by these subcontractors produce the shoes sold by Nike, which is thus free to devote almost its entire paid employment to the pursuit of monopoly power. In 1992, Nike’s payroll included eight thousand people globally, almost all of whom were in management, sales promotion, and advertising—geared to Nike’s swoosh label products. (see Monopoly Capital at the Turn of the Millennium)

As he’ll conclude “according to the dominant corporate consensus, the struggle against domestic labor is at one with the struggle with other capitalist blocs, and with the struggle against already superexploited third-world labor. In each and every case, the goal is a narrow pursuit of low production costs, widening profit margins, increased capital gains, and global monopoly power—at the expense of all other interests and values.” This was to be expected, yet what we are seeing beyond the external changes in production (First world restructuring of the Factory to the Financial model of Monopoly, etc., pushing intensive factory labor into the sweat shops of Asia, South America, and Africa, etc.), is the turn toward immaterial labor and the monopolization of creativity and innovation itself in its governance of the newly formed knowledge workers and service workers in the First World regimes. Hundreds if not thousands of books on ‘neoliberalism’ define and delimit this process under various aspects. Yet, when it comes down to it it’s still just monopoly capitalism doing what it does best: monopolize every aspect of life on the planet, even the life of the mind in the Internet of things, etc. It’s objective to monopolize everything for profit and expansion (Luxembourg).

The point of Berardi’s argument is that capital in seeking to enslave the knowledge-worker has produced most of the various socipathic and psychotic disturbances we see in the world today. The human organism is well adapted to the external environments of the natural order which evolved over eons of living connections and elaborations through ritual, technic, and cultural practices. Yet, in our time we are exposed to systems of impersonal elaboration and environmental pressure that we are ill-adapted too. This has caused a short-circuit in the human organism that the tyranny of psychology, sociology, and other forms of capital and academic knowledge systems have sought to understand and control. The failure of this adaptation to a new machinic phylum is apparent to all yet we seem bent on martialing every resource available to continue this massive organization of humanity and knowledge based systems at the exclusion of the human organism and its needs. As Berardi remarks:

The psychopathic epidemic that appears to be spreading in social behaviours also depends … on this asymmetry between the format of emission (the techno-communicative system) and the format of reception (the social mind). The acceleration produced by network technologies and the condition of precariousness and dependence on cognitive labor, forced as it is to be subject to the pace of the productive networks, has produced a saturation of human attention which has reached pathological levels. (p. 71)

These pathologies of attention which enforce knowledge workers to incorporate various drugs, exercise, and artificial adaptations to overcome attention deficit or depression and panic in order to comply with the pressures of the market and its need for speed and accelerated innovation has brought new forms of collective and singular collapse and sociopathy.

As he tells it to understand the history of this sociopathic experiment and metamorphosis of our collective subjectivation we need to understand cyberspace and cybertime. Cyberspace is the rhizomatic field of “infinite productivity of the general intelligence, of the General Intellect, of the net.” (p. 71) But cybertime is finite rather than infinite and impersonal, it is the actual organic, physical, and finite capacity of the varied multitude of the cognitariat itself that elaborated the cyberspatial infosphere. In this exchange between infinite cyberspace and its machinic organization, and the cybertime of singular organic systems the human is forced to “follow the rhythm of the machinic network, and this brings about a pathology that manifests itself as panic and as depression on an individual level, and as generalized aggressiveness on a collective scale.” (p. 71)

What Berardi would hope we might do is to realize that we are leading ourselves into a no win scenario, one that will end badly. He hopes will disconnect ourselves from the systems that are sucking our minds dry, that are feeding off our energy, creativity, and intelligence until all that is left is an affectless husk – a creature that is essentially a living zombie in a machine. Capital cares not when one system fails and implodes, or commits suicide or mass murder. Capital cares only about profit and its need for more and more immaterial and material goods and surplus it can extract from the cognitariat and service labor it has enslaved.

Of course Berardi knows this is just a stage in this new form of technocapitalism, that a further stage is in the offing, one that will for the most part do away with the need for the cognitariat altogether (i.e., the cognitariat like the factory workers of old will sooner of later be replaced by machinic intelligence which can perform 24/7 with the need for rest or insurance; a fully compliant onlife fulltime worker that can perform infinitely without rest or play.). Berardi like many hopeful utopianists seeks to free the cognitariat who he tells us are the heirs of modern science and philosophy, and also the heirs of modern art and poetry” – that these knowledge workers will liberate themselves from the machines and mutate the knowledge they’ve collectively produced into other more appropriate forms and anticapitalist modes of cooperation and social systems. Berardi championing the Italian revival of the Marxian notion of the ‘General Intellect’ in the 1990’s by Paolo Virno, Christian Marazzi, Carlo Formenti, and Maurizzio Lazzarato has “introduced the concept of mass intellectuality, and emphasized the interaction between labor and language.” (p. 73) His hopes is that in these thinkers and those following them the emacipation of the cognitariat will enter a new stage of political and social relations that will resist the capitalist initiatives.

One issue I have after half a life of working in the knowledge industry as a Sofware Engineer and Architect, as a contractor for many of those years living in various parts of the world working for companies is that most actual cognitive workers are so hooked into the system that political and social thought is almost nil in these people lives. How to reach people that have already for the most part no interest in being freed from what they perceive as their only source of hope and freedom for themselves and their families? In other words for those already blinded by the ideology of capitalism and its effective power to create the illusion of freedom rather than freedom itself? I think sometimes we as intellectuals think people actually read what we’re writing. The truth is we are for the most part read by those small few who already agree with our opinions. The others have already been blinded or incorporated through ideology and belief systems to exclude such notions as we for the most part present.

Even when we appear to see emancipatory activities around the globe I think we mistake local struggles with our own theoretical notions on those struggles, and when later the reality of the struggle either does not fulfill our expectations (read: doesn’t fit our current scheme of intellectual and emancipatory politics) we see it as a failure of imagination, when in truth its our failure to perceive the actuality of real street-level politics in the world. We confuse our grand little emancipatory schemes built up over hundreds of books as if it existed in the world, rather it is a database of potential rather than actual material relations. We have to actually intervene in the world with this knowledge rather than sit back and contemplate our creative schemes. But that seems to be par for the course these days when academics spend more time wandering from meeting to meeting speaking to other academics and publishing in academic journals or political journals, rather than actually getting down in the streets with workers of service or knowledge… or any of the excluded and non-workers around the globe (i.e., the poor and excluded).

Me: just a blogostormer of the radical outside, non-academic with my own less than adequate axe to grind, a sardonic miserablist who happens to give a shit about the people who all over this earth truly hurting in their private and familial worlds due to austerity and other even more formidable degradations due to late capitalist bullshit. Do I think my blogging has an effect? Probably not. It’s only meant as a Message in the Bottle that is this great cyberoceanic slipstream of a bit world we inhabit, a realm of dataspasm and dark energy, a tale of the current tribulations of the human fish slowly sinking into oblivion.

In my next post I’ll elaborate a little more on Berardi’s notion of Autonomia, which is his conception of emancipation from the temporality of capitalism that has enslaved the cognitariat and precarity in a time prison.


  1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. precarious rhapsody (Autonomedia, 2011)

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