Boris wrote: "I found the essay pretty scant on what this infrastructure (of capitalism) means, or why it being like that enables what we have. There's a lot of focus on the financialization it enables, but where are the people?"
Boris, I get your point about what's left out of the article, and I can see how that would give the impression of a machine that runs by itself, which is a useless idea for sure, society is not like that, it's never so clean or schematic. I think the aspects that you mention, chiefly different forms of exploitation, are in fact assumed in the text, and certainly they are by me. But it's impossible to talk about things in detail when there are too many assumptions, so it's worth spelling them out and going deeper. Strom does not discuss even the just-in-time production and distribution system that links the US, Europe and China in a global exchange circuit. Nor even less does he deal with resulting precarity among wage earners in the former core countries of Western Europe and North America, or the corresponding rise of oligarchies. Least of all does he deal with expropriation, by which I mean capitalism's reliance on coercion and simple violence to extract values without payment (what Marx called primitive accumulation). Definitely Nancy Fraser covers all these things really well (I'm a fan btw). Indeed Fraser is among at least a few dozen major thinkers who have characterized the current phase of capitalism as neoliberalism, or neoliberal globalization, and on my end there is no question of simply abandoning that characterization. But there are two things to consider. First, Strom focuses on something that has been central to this list forever, namely tech. He does so in response to some really simplifying and even spurious talk about technofeudalism (by Varoufakis and others), but also, in response to the rather dogmatic and reductive Marxism displayed by Morozov himself, who btw has been the best net critic publishing in the mainstream press. That last detail suggests that Morozov's dogmatism might be a significant symptom of a larger failure to grasp the present, and for that reason the debate in the New Left Review becomes quite revealing (plus I actually recommend the Morozov article on its own merits as well, there's a lot of interesting stuff in there about various strands of Marxism). Problem is, Morozov does not seem able to grasp his main object of interest, which is the internet and networked societies, with the conceptual tools he is trying to use. He returns to the Book I of Capital paradigm, where an industrial firm makes a widget and competes with other industrial firms to sell it on the market. This is the simplified schema of typical dogmatic Marxism, which ought to have disappeared when the Grundrisse and the notes for the unfinished books of Capital were published in the Sixties and Seventies. But it didn't disappear and here's Morozov defaulting to it! Strom, on the contrary, says that under cybernetic capitalism, the firm acts to shape all the factors that constitute the market, namely distribution, sales, financing, government regulation and security, as well as the wage regime that sustains worker/consumers and, even more crucially, the cultural environment that stimulates and channels consumer desire. That kind of shaping was done throughout the twentieth century - just consider the development of credit, social wages, and advertising in the early mass-manufacturing period - but cybernetic machines and cybernetic theory allowed it to be done with incomparable scope and intensity, through the fiber-optic cabling of the world in the 1990s, the consolidation of networked just-in-time production and distribution in the same period, and then the development of social media and platform capitalism in the 2000s. I think all the valuable contributions to the understanding of neoliberalism take this cybernetic aspect on board, although sometimes without naming it as such. If you look at David Harvey, Bob Jessop, Manuel Castells, Hardt & Negri, and dozens of others, they all discuss how capitalism, and therefore, individual capitalist firms and states, act to deliberately shape their operating environment. That's the core cybernetic idea: control is exercised through the design of the overall factors that govern social interaction, which means systemic factors, such as communication, logistics, the monetary system, etc. It's an idea that Hayek understood very well, by the way, and it's worth noting that Hayek became a kind of cybernetics aficionado in the Sixties. Anyway these particular capacities of control gave rise to a recognizably distinct phase of capitalism, usually called neoliberalism but here called cybernetic capitalism in order to insist on the importance of those control functions. So, I may not have been clear enough in my post, but I was trying to say that this cybernetic aspect is real, in fact it is a core component of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. My question is, why is the cybernetic logic of neoliberal capitalism now being forgotten after such important work was done, and after major struggles were carried on in the 1990s and 2000s in clear cognizance of that cybernetic logic? We talked about it on nettime endlessly for over twenty years, many of us engaged in activism on these issues, and people like Felix Stalder, myself and dozens of others published quite a bit about it, all in the shadow of the major thinkers that I've partially listed (there should be probably fifty more names in that list), and also with a lot of help from science and technology studies. Yet Morozov's text seems like a symptom of a general and ongoing theoretical regression with regard to the analysis of capitalism. I'm mystified by the apparent decline of social theory at this moment in time. Strom is not the be all and end all of social theory, certainly not in one brief article, but at least he clearly names and analyses cybernetic capitalism as it is actually practiced by the big tech firms. And he does so in such a way that you can use his work to fill in all those huge gaps that are inevitable when we're just referring to one short article. The second thing is that many of the components that came together to form the distinctive phase of neoliberalism are now in open crisis, that is, they are breaking down under the weight of their own contradictions. Neoliberalism has been characterized by the free global movement of money capital, factors of production and finished goods, and by the race to the bottom in labor markets that has made labor freely exploitable, through deregulation, outsourcing and a widespread reliance on immigrant labor with reduced rights. But now the international monetary system has become unreliable and is splintering, war and the rivalry between major capitalist blocs is seriously disrupting the ability to produce anywhere capital sees a comparative advantage, and the exploitation and subsequent abandonment of labor is causing social turmoil, on the left in the form of struggles by racialized minorities and precarious workers (often one and the same), and even more on the anti-immigration right where many people have also been seriously affected by capital flight and abandonment (I live in the US Midwest where this condition of abandonment is at its most extreme). Simultaneously to all this, damn, the climate, and more broadly, the biogeochemical cycles that sustain earthly life, are being stressed to the point of collapse, which is causing enormous tension, both on the left where we are aware and very afraid of these impending ecological catastrophes, and on the right where they are terrified of the admittedly major and highly disruptive changes to the industrial system that are being proposed (like, cancel the oil, steel and cement industries, cancel industrial agriculture - this kind of talk makes people very very nervous). All this tension and open conflict suggests that the distinctive phase of neoliberalism will now go through a period of turmoil, comparable at least to the turmoil of the Seventies, and more likely I'm afraid, to that of the late Thirties and early Forties. Neoliberalism is not over and you're right, it is useless to simply proclaim that it's over when nothing recognizable has yet replaced it. However its core axioms are threatened and it appears almost certain that many of these axioms will now evolve, almost surely in a capitalist way I'm sad to say. After all, neoliberalism itself is just a reorganization of two hundred years of capitalism, and every time you check your phone in the taxi when leaving the train station or the airport, you are reiterating major phases of technological and organizational development that still leave their mark on everyday life. Like the train and the automobile, the computational machines of neoliberalism and the cybernetic logic that governs them will continue to be important in whatever new figure of capitalism arises from the present turmoil. But their importance will change, just as the importance of trains has changed, and as the importance of the automobile is about to change through electrification. Can we be aware of these changes as they happen? Can we grasp an overall pattern of change as it emerges? And crucially, can we follow how the big tech firms will evolve, and what kinds of new roles they will take on as the crisis of neoliberalism gets deeper? Finally, I think what Molly Hankwitz is trying to point to is that what we do now, and even, how we interpret the deeds and misdeeds of Silicon Valley, could become crucial to the ways that tech evolves, and capitalism along with it. You know, in the US, neoliberalism largely "solved" its race problems by abandoning Black workers, either through automation, or outsourcing, or by drawing on immigrant labor. The resultant conditions of abandonment plus onslaught from the increasingly nationalist and racist right have provoked a major critique of the whole contemporary capitalist system AND its colonial roots. That critique has spread from Black people, who kicked it off, to Indigenous people, who significantly deepened it on the ecological level, and now to the whole progressive bloc and especially precarious youth, who are directly threatened by the breakdown of neoliberalism and its ecological consequences. How does such a critique affect tech, which is unlikely to just go away (dream on) but which is likely to undergo major changes over the next decade? That's a key question, and when I get some time I'll check out the book that Molly's talking about. I think she's making an important contribution there, but hey, it takes time to read a book so I have not done so yet. Anyway, we might agree more than you initially thought, or if not, maybe we can have a better discussion by making some of the assumptions more explicit. best, Brian On Thu, Jul 7, 2022 at 11:58 AM thresholdpeople < thresholdpeo...@protonmail.com> wrote: > Hi everyone, > > Brian, thank you for sharing these articles, and everyone for the > conversation. Molly, Nobel's book seems interesting, thanks! I've got > some issues with Strom's article, and perhaps Nobel offers a clearer > picture. > > > First though, and respectfully, I think it is dangerous to declaring > neoliberalism dead, or dying. Or wishful thinking, at best. How many > catastrophes have we all experienced that resulted in such a > pronouncement? And now we are seemingly looking at only impending > catastrophes from nearly every direction, as we pass by others that have > already struck, and yet neoliberalism remains. And is it actually > weakening? I truly don't think so. Look at climate change: as > governments continue to provide "told you so"s to neoliberals as being > completely ineffective at being able to enact any substantive policies, the > market continues to both reinforce the power of the status quo, and provide > a new bubble for capital to flow in to: for-profit companies developing > products that claim to be the solution we all need. In the US, now in a > post Roe v Wade world, it's again certain companies stepping in to fill the > void left by government, offering to provide funding for travel for > reproductive care for their employees. The ascension of seemingly > anti-neoliberal leaders, like Trump and Bolsonaro, continue and bolster > this trend. Neoliberalism is shockingly, and unfortunately, > hyper-adaptable. > > I haven't read Morozov's essay yet, so maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit on > judging Strom's. > > I found Strom's take interesting for additional points of historical > analysis of our current situation, and I agree with his fundamental points > of needing to understand the levels of abstraction in play to understand > how exploitation occurs, how power operates and normalizes, that we're > not reverting to feudalism, and that capitalism is complicated. Is what he > describes actually different than neoliberalism though? > > Strom writes: > > Many aspects of this transformation are discussed under the rubric of > ‘neoliberalism’. No doubt the brutal drive to put profit über alles has had > devastating ramifications for society, subjectivity and the planet’s > ecology; yet the focus on production and exchange should not occlude other > aspects, such as communication, inquiry, organization and technology. > Neoliberal transformations are underpinned by cybernetic changes that laid > the foundations for a global market to operate, via instantaneous > communication and rationalized logistics. > > > Isn't his just a description of the technical infrastructure that makes > neoliberalism possible and thrive? What makes lean production, outsource, > subcontracting, causualization, etc possible? And as such, just capitalism > as we currently know it? > > I found the essay pretty scant on what this infrastructure (of capitalism) > means, or why it being like that enables what we have. There's a lot of > focus on the financialization it enables, but where are the people? As an > example, there was nothing on the fact that a lot of this technology, eg > AI/machine learning, is made possible and propelled by ultra-precarious low > wage labor, by those who are so far removed from maybe any company, who can > even claim them as employees? Or even the logic of using this same > technology to source and hire the same laboring people that continue to do > this work. This work ultimately contributes up toward these immense > valuations and speculations in these companies. Maybe the exploitation is > taken for granted, and thus left out, but it's almost like the > infrastructure he describes is shown to be self-sustaining, and > self-fulfilling. This is problematic I think. > > I think the closest he gets is that *I* or *you* - this individualized > notion - will be strip-mined of our precious data based on the technology > we have around us. This is an important consideration, no doubt, but seems > to be missing the point? > > I feel like I'm missing something here. > > > Last year I read Wendy Hui Kyong Chun's book called *Programmed Visions: > Software and Memory*. It was published over 10 years ago, but I believe > it has a lot in the way of extending and deepening Strom's core point, but > also taking it to task where it's lacking. It focuses on the parallels > and paradigms in both computing technology and neoliberal governance. She > wrote about how code is an abstraction and metaphor, and in computing as it > stands now, it is a metaphor of a metaphor. The code one writes no longer > represents what happens when one runs it. In a sense, the sheer complexity > of the system is beyond one's the capabilities of being able to grasp it in > total. She traces it back to biology, Eugenics, chemistry, the military > industrial complex, etc. And offers a very good history for how the > computing industry came to be, going into gender dynamics. She saw > potentials for intervention within this logic. Her book was > > And maybe this is tangential, but I would also recommend this talk by > Nancy Fraser - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zk2VJAW_jHw. It's focus > isn't on technological infrastructure, but rather that capitalism requires > non-capitalist spheres to sustain itself. She discusses how capitalism can > only be fully understood at this intersection point and relation. She > describes these relations are highly problematic, contradictory, and areas > with crisis tendencies. Fraser highlights the ecological, social and > political as three such zones and their boundaries: economy and nature, > economy and society, and economy and polity. Importantly, I think, she > identifies these as points of social struggle, and sees the possibility for > coalition building across these three points as a way to fight capitalism. > > > Boris > > > > ------- Original Message ------- > On Wednesday, July 6th, 2022 at 1:25 PM, Molly Hankwitz < > mollyhankw...@gmail.com> wrote: > > Brian et al, > > What a great and hopeful last paragraoh, Brian. Perhais, as you say, now > that neoliberalism is attacking itself, there will be change…can be a more > productive critique if the beast than hipster slants. > > I will mention that Nobel’s book, which I’ve read very closely, not only > analyzes the regimes behind search, but provides ideas; is a clarion call > for what is needed to resurrect a 90s era value in public information - > transparency, literacy, and accessibility to a wide range of sources rather > than the singularity of google’s authority - and this from a black > information scholar who is already versed in how information skews history. > > Thank you…lots more to read. > > Molly > > > > Sent from my iPhone > > On Jul 6, 2022, at 10:07 AM, Brian Holmes <bhcontinentaldr...@gmail.com> > wrote: > > > The thing to conclude from this thread is that capitalism is a beast. You > hope it's gonna change, and then it just adds new fangs. We all watched > this happen despite (or even to some extent, because of) Nineties-era hopes > that decentralized networks would translate into a distributed productive > basis for a new society. Dyne.org took this hope on board in the most > pragmatic way possible, and Jaromil, your conclusions after two decades of > sustained effort are definitely heard on this end. It's sad to be the one > who gives them a theoretical framework, but this is where resistance comes > from, right? I don't think there's any way to share struggles, to socialize > resistance, without updating the critical analysis of power. And we're > overdue for a reboot on that account. > > Felix, your pamphlet does something fundamental in that regard, which is > basically to ask, is the mining in data-mining the same as the mining in > South America? Or in other words, has the raw expropriation of colonialism > ever been separable from the rule-governed exploitation of factory labor? > The answer that has emerged everywhere, and especially in the Americas, is > no, the beast of capitalism has those two heads. The pamphlet is > particularly interesting because it tries to grasp them together, and to > see how they have together caused the Great Acceleration of climate change, > rather than defaulting back to one or the other as the prime explanation. > To me it is certain that the Great Acceleration of the 1950s would have > never happened without the postwar spread of the cybernetic regime, which > includes not just computers but a vast organizational form, the corporate > state. It takes a willful ignorance not to see that this has always been a > neocolonial, extractive regime (the example of oil extraction, one of the > biggest consumers of CPU cycles, is there for all to see). Okay, that > ignorance was deliberately practiced by many of us for decades, out of > hope, as a kind of constructive wager - no regrets about it. But now is a > time of resistance, and it's really getting urgent to have more precise > observations and stronger theories about where the double-headed and > heavily fanged beast of capitalism is going. That's why I came out against > the idea of techno-feudalism, and all the reductive hipster concepts that > now just limit our understanding, with no political benefit in return. > > Since 2008 there has been huge uncertainty about how cybernetic capitalism > would evolve, because of insuperable contradictions within its financial > core. After Trump and Brexit, the just-in-time system of globalization came > equally into question. Now the Ukraine war, including China's qualified > support for Russia, has made it clear that this system of > production-distribution will not stand. We are headed for a major > restructuring, further influenced by the fearsome encroaching reality of > climate change. How is the existing system, the beast, cybernetic > capitalism, going to morph under these new conditions? > > For years on nettime we speculated about exactly that question, but each > crisis, from the dot-com bust onwards, was quelled by the injection of > central-bank money into the system. Now it seems that the free-money > strategy has reached its limits. All the world saw that China was able to > use direct state control of the economy to solve a major financial crisis > on a 2008 scale, centered in real estate and particularly around the > Evergreen corporation. Apparently they dealt with it, you don't hear any > more about it. This is definitely a clue. It is apparently possible to > combine cybernetic capitalism with a strong state. Whether or how that > combination might come into being in the so-called West is a real question. > > In any event I am certain that the thing we speculated about for so long > is now really happening. The neoliberal paradigm is being hit by all the > monsters that it has created - Russia, precarity, climate change - and at > the same time, AI is coming out of the box. A new production-distribution > system is both technically imaginable and widely desired. The next decade > will see, either generalized war and entropic breakdown, or a reformulation > of the exploitative/extractive combo. I reckon that option 2 is more > likely, although definitely with limited war, of the kind we're seeing now > or maybe worse. If you don't want to leave the right-wing ideologists in > charge of the question of a state-led, protective cybernetics, then now is > the time to give up the hipster concepts and restart the pragmatic analysis > of what is indeed a very ugly beast. How to grasp it as it emerges? > > courage to all, > > Brian > > On Wed, Jul 6, 2022 at 5:27 AM Jaromil <jaro...@dyne.org> wrote: > >> >> dear Brian, Felix and nettime readers, >> >> coincidentally, let me share some recent news, small but relevant to >> complete the analysis: >> >> >> https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=Lennart-Poettering-Out-Red-Hat >> >> let me complete with what this magazine (historically pro-systemd and >> aggressively posed against all critics) is perhaps afraid to tell: the >> master of systemd now works for Micro$oft. >> https://twitter.com/jaromil/status/1544618996833583104 I hope you don't >> mind me per-using your quote Brian. >> >> On Sun, 03 Jul 2022, Brian Holmes wrote: >> >> > This is totally on point, Jaromil. The tech industry has always been >> able to think cybernetically - it has to, in order to handle interactive >> networks with millions of users - but what you're pointing out, in a very >> specific situation, is how it's now able to carry out integrated strategies >> affecting entire fields or "modes of practice." In your example, it means >> reshaping all the factors that condition the software development process, >> including institutional ones such as the literature on standards and the >> processes for their validation. >> > >> > On the global level both Google and Microsoft are notorious for >> transforming governance through the introduction of particular types of >> software and information-processing services that reshape the activity of >> corporate officials and bureaucrats, and in that way, affect entire >> societies. However I had never considered that Red Hat would be doing the >> same within social-democratic spheres where FOSS development is supported >> by public money. It's somewhat depressing news, because FOSS development >> for public use is really one of the few places where the social-steering >> capacities of Silicon Valley are challenged... I don't have the expertise >> to fully evaluate what you're saying (although I have read about Devuan and >> the systemd controversies!) - but anyway, yes, I think we are talking about >> exactly the same thing here. >> >> I love how the research and works by Florian Gottke remind us about the >> importance of topping statues, an act operating through the language of >> liturgy, and firmly preluding radical changes in governance. >> >> And so there is a symbolic event last year worth mentioning: the topping >> of RMS from his role as prophet: we wrote about it here >> https://medium.com/think-do-tank/open-letter-to-the-free-software-movement-7ddc7429b474 >> - an open letter written together with Christina Derazenski, a big loss as >> I believe she'd be able to describe much better than me what is happening >> and through the lenses of feminism. >> >> Today we have the not-so-symbolic event of Linux development being >> steered by Micro$oft, with all implications enounced in this thread. >> >> So now let me once again use nettime to mark an event in time - this list >> is the best literary blockchain around! :^D >> >> Today we witness the epilogue of what was the F/OSS movement with all its >> dreams of glory and democracy or do-ocracy or whatever fascinated our >> friend Biella so much when describing Debian. Today we observe what you >> mention as a "classic cybernetic takeover" vastly overlooked by academic >> literature about governance and free software. >> >> I am fascinated by all this, but somehow relieved there will be no more a >> global F/OSS movement, just pockets of resistance. >> >> Foucault, Deleuze, Caronia... they have seen all this already. >> >> And they were right: being and becoming marginal, feels good. >> >> Also some security experts were right from the beginning, about using >> OpenBSD. >> >> ciao >> >> -- >> >> Denis "Jaromil" Roio https://Dyne.org think &do tank >> Ph.D, CTO & co-founder software to empower communities >> ✉ Haparandadam 7-A1, 1013AK Amsterdam, The Netherlands >> 𝄞 crypto κρυπτο крипто क्रिप्टो 加密 التشفير הצפנה >> ⚷ 6113D89C A825C5CE DD02C872 73B35DA5 4ACB7D10 >> >> # distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission >> # <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism, >> # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets >> # more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l >> # archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nett...@kein.org >> # @nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: > > # distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission > # <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism, > # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets > # more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l > # archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nett...@kein.org > # @nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: > > >
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