“We will replace insurance companies. We will replace Wall Street. – Joseph Lubin
Under the hood of capitalism flows another world, a dark world of economic counter-insurgents. A realm of noirpreneurs who slip the electronic seeds of an anarchic future of pure freedom beyond the capture systems of global governance. A cryptosociety of dark capitalists who live in the shadow markets outside the global eye. This darker world of the bitcoin and blockchain revolution is unleashing the teeth of a global systemic exit, a techno-secessionism that seeks not only to forget capital’s fractured End Game but to undercut its all too human roots in transparency with utter opaqueness and anonymity.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” says Amir Taaki. “Like a hydra, those of us in the community that push for individual empowerment are in an arms race to equip the people with the tools needed for the next generation of digital black markets.” (from Inside the Dark Market by Andy Greenberg) As the blurb on Consensys site envisions the opening out from bitcoins to the larger framework of the global use of blockchain technologies state it: “Blockchain technology and dApps have the ability to decentralize power from existing authorities in business, law, and technology to a broad set of stakeholders. This shift will disrupt current business, economic and social paradigms. Transaction costs and barriers to entry in various industries will be reduced in these industries. The result will likely be an increase in economic exchange and prosperity.”
Taaki argues that he’s merely distributing a program–not running a criminal conspiracy. “I’m just a humble coder,” he says. “Code is a form of expression. You can’t imprison someone for speaking an idea.” Yet, it can be used to counter your so to speak techno-anarchistic neutrality. This open source vision of expression is nothing more than subterfuge, and less than it seems. What’s ironic is that Taaki and those anarchist of the new economy of black markets and terminal exit from the system through a form of techno-secessionism are already being coopted by the very powers they seek to accelerate beyond. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for this anarchic wave of dissent and techno-secessionism toward alternative sub-cultures and techno-tribalism etc.
The open letter, which was signed by Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Jeffrey D. Sachs from Columbia University among others, urged Merkel to make concessions towards Greece.
“To Chancellor Merkel our message is clear: we urge you to take this vital action of leadership for Greece and Germany, and also for the world. “Right now, the Greek government is being asked to put a gun to its head and pull the trigger,” they said in the letter.
“History will remember you for your actions this week. We expect and count on you to provide the bold and generous steps towards Greece that will serve Europe for generations to come.”
“The utopian currents of socialism, though they are historically grounded in criticism of the existing social system, can rightly be called utopian insofar as they ignore history …, but not because they reject science.”
– Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle
“…the best Utopias are those that fail the most comprehensively.”
– Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future
But what of the history of the future? – Has anyone written of that territory beyond the moment: of its struggles or its failures; and, what of its successes? Who will mention a nostalgia for the future? Jameson would ask the question of culture: whether culture could be political; that is, whether it could be both critical and subversive, or is it necessarily reappropriated and coopted by the very social system it seeks to escape?1 Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding will remark in their Histories of the Future a sense of loss, saying, “our sense of the future is conditioned by a knowledge of, and even a nostalgia for, futures that we have already lost.”2
One remembers the Japenese film Battle Royale (2000) where civilization is in state of chaos, and violence by rebellious teenagers in schools is completely out of control. The government hits back with a new law: every year a school class picked at random will be cast away on a desert island to fight it out among themselves. The rules are simple: it lasts three days, everyone gets water, food and a weapon and only one may survive.
Ghost in the Shell (1995): Set in the year 2029 and following World Wars III and IV, a Japanese-led Asian block dominates world affairs. The alliance maintains its international supremacy through its elite security force whose cybernetically enhanced operatives tackle an array of hi-tech terrorists and other threats to international security. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cybernetically augmented female agent, has been tracking a virtual entity known as the Puppet Master with her crack squad of security agents.
The Giver (2015): One of the big components of the 1993 novel was that, due to the Sameness of society, there was no war, no hunger, but also, no color. The receptors had been blocked, as it were, and we all saw the world in a plain, black and white. A place where euthanasia became the remedy for almost all infractions.
More and more the future becomes a site where we can dump civilizations dirty little secrets rather than as a place to test the waters of change. While we are taught to believe in the emptiness of the future, or even that no future exists, or that the future is a dead end going no-where, or, even – a catastrophe zone best left in the abyss of its own death knell, we all now live as if the future were already here: saturated by future-consciousness that permeates the spectacle around us like so many electronic toys we seem to busy ourselves with, moment by moment, not knowing that we are not only using them but they are using us back in ways beyond telling. As Rosenberg-Harding relate the “Future” is a placeholder, a placebo, a no-place, but it is also a commonplace that we need to investigate in all its cultural and historical density (9).
Cataclysms – The Future has been Cancelled
Yes, cataclysms: climate change; terminal resource depletion – water and energy shortages; mass starvation; famine; economic collapse; hot and cold wars; austerity and governmental control (Fascism); privatization of welfare and prisons; automation of even the cognitariat itself. All this will be the opening gambit of Williams and Srnicek’s #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics. A Politics of Fear? or, Concern? Let us listen: “While crisis gathers force and speed, politics withers and retreats. In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.” Caput! Finito! Done! The future is no more, or is it?
Antonio Negri – scholar of Spinoza, collaborator along with Michael Hardt on a trilogy of works against the neoliberal order Empire, Multitude: War and Democracy in an Age of Empire, and Commenwealth – will tell us not to be worried about the cataclysmic events coming our way: “There is nothing politico-theological here. Anyone attracted by that should not read this manifesto.” Simple. Effective. To the point. If your looking for the Apocalypse of John be our guest and find a preacher in your local parish, for there will be no one here preaching salvation by God or any other big Other. Instead Negri will hone in on the core truth to be found in this manifesto revealed as ‘the increasing automation in production processes, including the automation of “intellectual labor”‘, which would explain the secular crisis of capitalism (365).3 As Negri explicates it the neoliberal global order is afraid: to continue they had to “block the political potentiality of post-Fordist labor (i.e., the inforgs, cognitariat, intellectual workers). Neither the left nor the right will escape Williams and Srnicek’s derision, both have become a part of the neoliberal machine because both have put an end to any opening toward the future: canceled by the “imposition of a complete paralysis of the political imaginary (366).” Negri states it simply that the manifesto offers us nothing less than the potentiality against power – “biopolitics against biopower“.(366) It is because of this new potentiality that the future has opened up again, says Negri: “the possibility of an emancipatory future radically opposed to the present capitalist dominion” (366).
For Negri the manifesto hinges on the “capacity to liberate the productive forces of cognitive labor” (366), cognitive labor being the new class or precariat within this post-capitalist project. The Fordist era of labor has shifted, there will be no return. For better or worse we are in the midst of an immaterial informational economy in which the cognitariat are workers of knowledge rather that producers of hard commodities, intellectual laborers in a game of tech patents both medical-pharmaceutical and science-tech. Negri tells us that to move forward will take decisive planning and organization: – “planning the struggle comes before planning the production” (369). It’s about unleashing this power of cognitive labor as well as tearing it from its latency (its delays) through education and learning. Next comes – as Negri states it, the most important passage in the manifesto, the notion of the reappropriation of “fixed capital” under its many guises: “productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, and the most abstract cognitive models are all appropriated by worker-subjects…” (370). As for a new Leftist hegemony or techno-social body he tells us: “we have to mature the whole complex of productive potentialities of cognitive labor in order to advance a new hegemony” (371).
Negri commends them for a reinvigorating the Enlightenment project, for their humanist and Promethean proclivities; and even sees a tendency in their work as opening out toward posthuman utopian thought; yet, most of all he approves their movement toward reconstructing the future – one in which we “have the possibility of bringing the Outside in, to breathe a powerful life into the Inside” (372). Yet, I wonder if Negri reads them aright: are they humanists in the old sense? And, what of the Enlightenment: which Enlightenment is he referring too, there being multiple or plural enlightenments? I assume, Negri being a Spinozaean scholar – that he’d be more in tune with the “radical enlightenment” – as Jonathan I. Israel will tells us “the Radical Enlightenment arose and matured in under a century, culminating in the materialistic and atheistic books of La Mettrie and Diderot in the 1740s. These men, dubbed by Diderot the ‘Nouveaux Spinosistes’, wrote works which are in the main a summing up of the philosophical, scientific, and political radicalism of the previous three generations” (6-7).4 Yet, by the time of Kant a more moderate Enlightenment would oust the radicals from there place in the sun, and a compromise with the traditionalist or conservatives would be the ruination of French Revolution in the end: “Insofar as anything did, the coup of Brumaire of the Year VIII (November 1799), and the new Constitution of 13 December 1799, ended the Revolution. …The 1799 Constitution, in short, effectively suspended the Rights of Man, press freedom, and individual liberty, as well as democracy and the primacy of the legislature, wholly transferring power to initiate legislation from the legislature to the executive, that is, the consulate, making Bonaparte not just the central but the all-powerful figure in the government. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was removed from its preambule. (Israel, 694).
After Negri’s initial praise of the manifesto he discovers a flaw: “there is too much determinism in this project, both political and technological” (373). He sees a difficulty in their project, a tendency toward teleological openness which might lead to perverse effects in the end, producing a “bad infinity” if not corrected (373). To correct this tendency he suggests they need to specify in details what the “common” is in any technological assemblage, while at the same time providing an anthropology of production(375). Having been subsumed within a global information economy, one in which production is now defined by the socialization of cognitive work and social knowledge, we must also understand, Negri tells us that informatization being the most valuable form of fixed capital, and automation the cement of capital, we are all slowly being enfolding by “informatics and the information society back into itself” (375). He remarks that this is a weakness within the manifesto in that the cooperative dimension of production (and particularly the production of subjectivities) is underestimated in relation to technological criteria (375).
He argues that in the future the battles will be over the “currency of the common” (i.e., money as a type: gold, bitcoin, dollar, etc.). As he tells it the “communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on the ‘common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation into money” (377).
Finally, Negri reminds us that we should remember what the slogan ‘Refusal of labor’ meant: a reduction in automation and labor time “disciplined or controlled by machines”, and an increase in real salaries. Last is the nod toward a favorite theme of Negri: the production of subjectivities, the “agonistic use of passions, and the historical dialectics that opens against capitalist and sovereign command” (378). All in all a favorable review by Negri. I do like that he wants to see in the manifesto more details concerning its mapping of a transformative anthropology of the workers’ bodies (373), one that centers the relation between subject and object as a relation between the “technical composition and the political composition of the proletariat”. As Negri states it in this way the “drift of pluralism into a ‘bad infinity’ can be avoided” (374).
In the end though Negri will remind us that we need a new ‘currency of the common’: that the authors of the manifesto are well aware that money functions as an abstract machine (Deleuzeguattari) – acts as the real measurement of value extracted from society through the real subsumption of the current society by capital (377). Yet, this same process used by capital also points to new forms of resistance and subversion: “the communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on ‘the common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation of money” (377).
In a brief Cyberlude we’ll revisit Nick Land’s ‘Circuitries’ essay in the reader before moving on to Tizaianna Terranova and Luciana Parisi who both deal with the new algorithmic worlds of culture and technology and their impact on an accelerationist politics.
Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One
1. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (Verso, 2005)
2. Histories of the Future. Editors Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding. (Duke University Press, 2005)
3. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
4. Israel, Jonathan I. (2001-02-08). Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (pp. 6-7). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
The rhetoric of competitiveness seemed to serve a crucial function in winning certain moral and political arguments, on behalf of economic elites, and I wanted to understand how and why.
– William Davies, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition
Began reading William Davies new book The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition in which he tackles a couple of themes: the first, concerning the question of uncertainty that plays a central role in the neoliberal vision of society and economics; and, second, the concerns of state: – What are the rationality and authority of the neoliberal state? What are they based on? Are they constituted by a careful, economizing logic, in which waste is monitored, productivity optimized, and agents carefully regulated? Or is this a more excessive, violent force, that transcends any economic or evaluative logic?
Before I began reading decided to do a little cataloguing of the experts he relied on in the bibliography. Was able to discover the usual suspects, such economists and authors like Angus Burgin (The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression), Philip Mirowski (The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective), and Daniel Stedman Jones (Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics). There were many others recognizable from the differing political spectrums as well: Agamben (State of the Exception), S.M. Amadae (Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice), etc., the list could go on… The point of this exercise is a truism: that authors begin to refer to each other and the supposed truths that emerge become self-reinforcing over time, allowing for a legitimation that may or may not be deserving. Always need to be aware of this discursive looping as the expert treadmill weaves and unweaves in the academic climate of opinion and doxa. Beyond that let’s take a peak at where he’s taking us in this critique.
Obviously like many other authors he centers his discourse around Friedrich von Hayek who he tells us produced a “model of political economy that incorporated uncertainty at its heart, but nevertheless elevated certain types of expertise and government as the guarantors of that uncertainty”.1 Back in the 1930’s an economist Oskar Lange had written a book Economic Theory of Socialism which supported an equilibrium theory based on Walrasian general equilibrium theory, which purports the notion we should convert the whole economy using a “bottom-up” approach, starting with individual markets and agents. Whereas, macroeconomics, as developed by the Keynesian economists, focused on a “top-down” approach, where the analysis starts with larger aggregates, the “big picture”. Therefore, general equilibrium theory has traditionally been classified as part of microeconomics. Without going into the complex details of the mathematical theorems itself what we discovered after it was introduced is the fact that like many economic theories it first came out of Vienna, Austria. It was there that such anti-socialist thinkers and economists as Ludwig von Mises would attack any notion of central planning and a mathematically centered view of economics. Hayek would later take many of Mises ideas and as early as 1935 argue against the Walrasian model of central planning and mathematical certainty, saying, “the mere assembly of these data” needed to prosecute the calculation “is a task beyond human capacity”; but moreover, “every one of these decisions would have to be based on a solution of an equal number of simultaneous differential equations, a task which, with any of the means known at the present , could not be carried out in a lifetime.”2
We can see here in these debates about the use and abuse of mathematics the seeds that would later spawn the need and desire for computing machines that could tackle these massive equations. But all that would come during the 50’s of which Mirowski documents in his thick book Machine Dreams – Economics Becomes A Cyborg Science. So no need to go there for the moment. To bring us back to Davies new work what he tells us about Hayek and neoliberalism is that they would – against such social engineers as Oskar Lange and even Keynes produce a model of political economy that incorporated uncertainty at its heart, but nevertheless elevated certain types of expertise and government as the guarantors of that uncertainty (KL 163).
As for the rationality and authority of the State problematique within neoliberalism that is the central issue of Davies second theme he has this to say:
Sovereignty, in the sense of an immeasurable and ‘ultimate power’, is wedded to economics of various forms and in various ways. Legal and executive power blend with forms of economic rationality, in an unwieldy balance between the immeasurable and the measurable. Procedures of measurement take on a quasi-sovereign authority…. The sovereign-economic ambivalence of the neoliberal state is one of the key lessons of the financial crisis – it transpired that this state’s economically rational role is to offer an irrationally large guarantee to maintain the status quo. (KL 176)
All this sets the stage for his book. As he tells us this book is descriptive and historical, and not an explicitly critical work. “Given the historical moment, this will disappoint some”, readers, he tells us. “But I would suggest that we need to understand how power works, how it achieves authority , and the role of economics (and business strategy) in facilitating this”.
Contrast of Metaphysical and Empiricist Sociological Discourses:
The metaphysical discourses of moral and political philosophy do not, from a pragmatist perspective, actually succeed in grasping that which they refer to (such as authority, fairness, virtue), but they make sense in spite of this. By contrast, the empiricist discourses of the social sciences (and associated forms of management, statistics and governance of populations) seek to operate purely at the level of the sensible, the physical and the measurable. But they must also offer reasons how and why to do so, which draw them into moral appeals, which extend beyond the limits of the empirical.(KL 468-472)
I have yet to complete my reading of it, so this is more or less just a teaser. Yet, it seems to have some viable and critical appraisals of this whole history and some possible solutions going forward. I am disappointed that it is strictly aligned with historical analysis without offering some kind of tentative solutions, but I’ll assume that this will come in the future as he continues his investigations down the line. I’ll need to finish it this week and return with an updated report.
1. Davies, William (2014-04-29). The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Published in association with Theory, Culture & Society) (Kindle Locations 163-165). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
2. Philip Mirowski. Machine Dreams – Economics Becomes A Cyborg Science ( Cambridge University Press, 2002)