ART AS ANTI-PRODUCTION

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Labour becomes productive only by producing its own antithesis (that is, capital)” Karl Marx

Let the artist not kid him/herself: no matter how much the artist creates, he or she does not produce. In order to produce, the artist must find an agent of production.

The agent of production is that which produces nothing itself, but knows how to turn the creations of others into commodities. The agent of production may be a capitalist, or it may be the State, or it may be an antithetical Mr Hyde character created by the Dr Jekyll artist himself. In whatever form the agent of production appears, once the creation is turned over to the agent it loses its autonomy and the artist loses his/her freedom in relation to the work. Even in the latter case, where the artist (anti-producer) becomes his/her own agent: a stress is produced on the artist’s creativity. The marketing of art, in any fashion, produces a stress on art.

The labour of art is, therefore, essentially unproductive. Art only becomes productive when the agent takes hold of the creation and produces it, i.e. turns it into a marketable commodity. In his or her essence, the artist remains an anti-producer; an outsider to the economy; an economic aberration in fact.

The fact that art can survive at all in an economic-political society is an indication of its enormous strength. In theory, it should have been made extinct long ago by both the capitalist and socialist systems that are both so deeply immersed in the politics of production.

Not only is this great anti-producer Art a tremendously powerful human drive and social force, it may also be a marker showing us the way to a post-production society in which capital, perhaps even the monetary system itself, has been rendered obsolete.

In fact, all truly positive, purposive political and social thinking will need to analyse the creative and unproductive force of art in order to revaluate and recreate the positive human society that we are all crying out for. The answer to all our problems lies in the anti-productive nature of art.

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ONE STEP BEYOND THE EXCHANGE SYSTEM

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If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value

(Karl Marx, CAPITAL)

If we could abolish the system of exchange, what would we do with ourselves? Without monetary reward, labour would be useless. If we didn’t need to do things, why do anything? Wouldn’t the human race simply disappear?

However, even in the exchange system as we have it today, a great deal of activity is carried out without any monetary reward. The writing of this entry, for example, attains no other compensation than that someone will eventually read it. That may never happen, but that fact doesn’t dissuade the author from writing it. People spend hours a day toiling in their gardens with no expectations of monetary reward. Likewise, the time and effort spent in cooking a special meal achieves the only recompense of being able to enjoy a dish that you yourself has prepared, or offered to others. Artists will indulge themselves in complex, difficult activities, even dedicate their entire lives to such activities, without necessarily receiving any reward at all. In short, human beings do not need to be paid in order to motivate them to do things. All that needs to be stimulated is our inherent passion for doing things, for keeping ourselves occupied and free from boredom.

The exchange system of sacrifice and reward is designed to encourage us to surrender ourselves in exchange for a power to buy commodities, but instead of being a possible part of existence, as the exchange ritual originally was set up to be, it has become the essence of our existence. Hence the term homo economicus.

The concept of reward and sacrifice via the exchange of money has become so important it seems to be the essence of reality itself. It dominates lives in a dictatorial way, creating spiritual misery not only for those participating in the sacrifice, but also for those who are forcibly removed from participating in it. It is an absurd system based on a perpetual growth that is unsustainable. Essentially it is a dictatorship and, like all dictatorships, freedom can only be achieved by either: a) blindly conforming to the system (freedom through absolute passivity); b) escaping (freedom by removal); or c) by active dissidence (freedom through discrepancy, insubordination and/or revolt).

Of these three alternatives, the first is paradoxically the most dangerous. Although it may eliminate stress and perhaps even ensure a passive state of contentment, the stress generated by the system’s absurdity and ingrained exploitation of its subjects will grow around the passive citizen creating an increasing level of denial. This will only cause deeper guilt feelings. Conforming is a kind of escapism, inferior to real escape which is an active removal from the system.

Real escape can be positive if it can create a different system existing autonomously outside of the exchange system paradigm. Such attempts can be seen in the creation of grass-roots communities that try to reject consumerism without completely abandoning the exchange system. Traditionally this has been associated with hippy-type, back-to-nature movements, but that image is being transformed by the development of new technologies, especially renewable energy technologies, that can create technology-based counter cultures. What such escapes reveal is the profoundly revolutionary aspect of technology once it is applied creatively. But in order for this revolution to take place the existing paradigm must first be overhauled.

The third option (active dissidence) is the least cohesive alternative, and yet, at the same time the most promising and dynamic. The dissident space works from within the system in a cellular way. As a body it is largely unconscious as it has too many different voices to be heard in a legible way. It seems chaotic and confused, and it is in essence directionless. It is based more on discrepancy than any concrete alternative. It complains about lack of direction rather than offering clear solutions.  Nevertheless, its negativity has an eroding effect on the absurd system. Also it reveals the emperor’s nakedness, the system’s lack of possibility in the future, and eventually it will participate in the system’s inevitable collapse.

The main question is: will there be a tangible alternative available when the collapse occurs, or will the system operate as it always has done by pulling itself out of the rubble in a new reinvented form of the same mistakes?

Our Naked System

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Marxist doctrine argues a need for an emerging working-class self-consciousness capable of comprehending the aggressive nature of the capitalist system in order to liberate itself from it. But reality now demands that we look beyond the confines of any ideologies and their separations—whether class, cultural, linguistic or territorial—in order to become conscious of how the system infects us all, and how it uses the separating forces inherent in all ideologies to perpetuate its own selfish interests.

 

The best way to bring the oppressors down is to reveal the true nature of their nakedness. Like the Emperor parading his new clothes, the system is really quite naked of principles once we allow ourselves to open our eyes to what it tells us is there but in reality is not there at all. And once that nakedness is seen the next brave act would be to confront the emperor with the awkward truth of his real, pathetic condition. We risk stirring the emperor’s rage, but perhaps his shame will be so great that he will abdicate.

 

The world-view of the system, despite its globalising, empirical apparel, cannot tolerate any singular world-view that would be antithetical to its philosophy of dynamism. For this reason it demands separation and seems to move in a constant direction to ensure that borders will remain in some form or other. From the worldview perspective of the ideology/identity system, separations evolve into relativisms that are tolerated because they can maintain the spirit of separation and not alienate ideologies from the global empire in its entirety. But, relativism is also a step on the downward ladder to scepticism and from there to pessimism, which is always a numbing energy that invites a depressive fall into unconsciousness.

 

Of course the system ultimately fails again. It engenders a lethargy rather than a dynamism. But what the system calls crisis is essential to its own metabolism, and with the collapse, and the great misery resulting from that collapse, the system itself, driven by renewed needs and a renewed grasp of reality, will be able to catapult itself back into the dynamism that capitalism demands. A dynamism fuelled by the fantasy of perpetuity: continual growth is impossible within the closed system that is the Earth. And this is the ridiculous nakedness of the system. A farce that is no longer funny anymore, it has become emphatically dangerous.

THE END OF WORK AND THE DEATH OF MONEY

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Marx estimated that the introduction of power-looms into England reduced the labour required and subsequently labour costs by a half. Technology as it now stands has reduced labour costs in factories and warehouses to minimal levels – in many cases the only costs are those of the energy consumption of the machines and that of human maintenance of machines. It would not be science fiction to imagine that in the near future machines will be designed and programmed to maintain and reproduce themselves and that renewable energy technology will be developed providing a much cheaper, or even free, power source for machines, eliminating the human labour force in manufacturing completely.

Presently the human labour force is being shifted away from manufacturing into services and sales, design, programming, and maintenance. But with the development of robotics there may also be an immanent invasion of android workers coming. Once dexterity issues are overcome, these humanoid-machines, with more efficient information systems that have been programmed so that they work untiringly on specific tasks, could easily also begin to operate on a wide-scale in services, sales, programming and maintenance, and why not even design.

The immediate problem arising from this would be the realisation that human labour could become unnecessary. In a system like ours, in which all reward and satisfaction, even the idea of fulfilment itself, is subject to the individual’s sacrifices in the labour market, the logical evolution of technology towards the abolishing of labour must be impossible. We are faced with a paradoxical situation: we live in an advanced technological society, but the purpose of technology, which is to substitute the tedium of human labour and create a better world, is not allowed to fulfil itself because such a fulfilment would destroy the system of exchange and rewards for labour sacrifice that are the fundamental basis of our money-making system.

Here is the real essence of the System’s crisis. The relationship between production commodities and labour is one in which the latter is constantly shrinking whilst the former is rapidly growing. Eventually this relationship, which is already impossible through its inbuilt contradiction, will become absolutely unbearable. Full employment in modern capitalist society is impossible without making human labour cheaper and more efficient than machine labour. The current system of exchange – of sacrifice and reward via the concept of the production and purchase of commodities and services – is already obsolete. Unemployment is not the result of bad economics and political management, it is a necessary part of the exchange system as we have it.

The only way to remedy our economic absurdity and all the serious problems it creates is by removing one of the conflicting elements in the contradiction. Either technology has to be frozen or the exchange/reward system has to be radically rethought. Of course the most radical way of rethinking the latter would be to ask ourselves how a human society might exist without any exchange system at all, or how a complex technological society might function without money.