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?

HOW TO FIND YOUR TRUE VOCATION IN LIFE?

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Imagine a future civilisation in which our technologies are so advanced that money has been rendered obsolete. Work, as something that one needs to do to earn an income which will pay for your survival or improve your standard of living, no longer exists. Now think: in such a scenario what would I do with my time now that I have all day to do what I want? Try and imagine something that you could spend most of your time doing without really needing to do it. If something comes immediately to mind that is probably your vocation in life. If nothing does then you’ll have to look harder for it. Or perhaps you can think of many things, in which case you probably have a holistic vocation that does not limit itself to specific areas and you’ve got a Renaissance soul.

What this also gives us is a measure of progress. The standard of living in a society improves when we can all actually do what we really want to do. Only when we have liberated society from the money system will we be able to make it a vocation-driven one.

HETEROTOPIA

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Michel Foucault, wrestling with the problem of the crisis of space, and, subsequently, the idea of the real and imaginary in spatial terms, came up with the concept of heterotopia to describe a place that is real and unreal at the same time[i] – as opposed to the Utopia which is imaginary only and does not exist.

In his essay Foucault lists the type of places that fit this dual-quality criterion, perhaps his useful analogy being the mirror. You look in the mirror and see yourself, but you know that you are not really in the mirror. Nevertheless, the mirror exists. Your presence in the mirror is real and unreal at the same time.

The idea of the Heterotopia is an interesting one, that has generated more interest by our own Heterotopic existences in the virtual worlds we can inhabit on the Internet. However, we feel Foucault in a sense could not see the forest for the trees, for, from the point of view of the Human-whole, the very fabric of our civilisation itself is heterotopic and, consequently, so is our human condition. We live a dual reality existence that embraces reality (that which can be found in a space) and the imaginary (that which exists in no space) at the same time. In a sense then, the term Heterotopia opens doors to perceiving the concept of Idealism from a new angle. For this reason, we would like to keep Foucault’s term, but amplify its range.

Heterotopic realities can be true abstractions of what they are intended to be, or they can be false ones. A mirror image, for example, can be true if it is well-made or misleading if the image it reflects is distorted. Likewise, the images we create of ourselves in a social forum or chat room may be attempts to reflect our true personality, or they may be ways of presenting ourselves in another form all together. The ones that are constructed in a falsifying way, conceal the real purpose or nature of their original conception. We call these constructs masking-heterotopias.

Another example of the masking-heterotopia is civilisation. Civilisation is a thing edified from certain human fantasies in order to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the few within a form that seems admissible. It can only be admissible of course if it hides its desires and designs for wealth. At the same time, the demos, the people, or the civilian population, is also a masking-heterotopic construct. The demos is an ideated form of humanity that has emerged out of the desires of civilisation itself. The Wealth (yes, with a capital W) that runs civilisation began with its selfish-needs’ fantasy of what the human race could be used for, and turned them into a masking-heterotopic reality that the exploited themselves are largely unconscious of. In the masking-heterotopia, the admissible, imaginary form, once created, solidifies and becomes more and more real with time, but, in its essence, it is always that which was created as a mask over the real nature of the thing conceived.

To think of the people as something to be exploited for one’s own gain and for the maintenance of its own falsely heterotopic mega-construction, is a depressing pessimism. Nevertheless, the fact that human reality is an imaginative construct also bears very positive seeds.

If a civilisation serving Wealth can be imagined and constructed from that idea, then so can a future, authentically heterotopic civilisation serving the whole of humanity be construed in abstraction and made real in space. The greater our technological capacity grows the deeper should be our faith in our ability to create any kind of reality we wish.

Nevertheless, such a belief seems to frighten us more than inspire us. We not only have dreams to build; we also have horrible recurring nightmares. The idea of crashing once more into a Quixotic impossibility, a new Third Reich or a new Communist hell of terror and bureaucracy, paralyses us. The idea of the collective dreams, our collective ego-projections of grandeur, terrify us.

To create our own authentic Heterotopia, we need to overcome this fear. Overcome the fear and then imagine the future.

[i] See Michel Foucault’s essay, OF OTHER SPACES. A PDF copy can be found online via MIT http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/foucault1.pdf

 

 

OUR IMMATERIAL AGE

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We are often told that we live in the information age, but is this a limited and insufficient description of our times? Hardt and Negri used the terms “immaterial” or “biopolitical” to describe the type of production that we are moving towards today. According to Hardt these terms combine: “the production of ideas, information, images, knowledges, code, languages, social relationships, affects and the like… (that) designates occupations throughout the economy, from the high to the low, from health-care workers, flight attendants and educators to software programmers and from fast food and call-centre workers to designers and advertisers… Industry has to informationalise; knowledge, code and images are becoming ever more important throughout the traditional sectors of production; and the production of affects and care is becoming increasingly essential in the valorisation process.”[1]

            In the industrial age capitalism was a very tangible thing: production was carried out in factories, that were the symbol of the industrial revolution. For the anti-capitalist/communist revolutions the key was therefore to take control of those factories as well as the factory-like farms and mines that produced the materials that the factories processed.

            But now, in our “immaterial” age, capitalism has taken hold of a very different kind of production, which capitalism itself finds it difficult to trap. The question for capitalism today is: how do we manage to take and maintain a control over information, knowledge, codes and images, as well as affects and care, and turn these things into profit? Likewise, the most pressing question for the anti-capitalist must be: how do we prevent the control and exploitation of these things taking place?

            For us, the main problem here is in the effects socially, culturally and psychologically (or spiritually, if you like) that the capitalisation of the immaterial has had and will have as more and more of our immaterial world is converted into profit making commodities. The mind-set of today’s entrepreneurs is the following: people fall in love – how can we make a profit out of it; people need each other – let’s exploit that need; people hate and fear some other people – there is definitely a profit to be made there; people get ill and die – we can make money from that… etc., etc.. But the essential ingredient in the capitalist system is: people want to measure themselves against other people; people see a lack in themselves measured according to what others have and what enjoyment they have and they want to obtain that lack and that enjoyment for themselves.

            But what capitalism has to sell us is not quality, but quantity. And if we demand quality it must be paid for, it must be made more expensive. But how do we quantify the immaterial which is mainly differentiated according to its quality? Does the quantification of it diminish its quality? If you sell love how do you put a price to it? If you mass produce beauty what happens to the quality of that beauty? If the real quality of lives needs to be measured by immaterial things, what happens when the immaterial loses its own features of quality?

            If we do live in an immaterial age, shouldn’t our fulfilment come from a human embracing of the immaterial itself, rather than the perverted image we have of it that is created by capital?

    


[1] Michael Hardt, THE COMMON IN COMMUNISM – from THE IDEA OF COMMUNISM, edited by Douzinas and Zizek, Verso, 2010

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.

ON DESIRE.. DO WE NEED IT?

When I desire that car, it is not that I really desire it but I think that others expect me to want it. I want to have what I am expected to want to have. The greatest achievement of the publicity campaign is making your product or turning your product into something which people are expected to have.

Why do we let ourselves be duped time after time? Why are we so easily manipulated by the dictatorship of false needs? To the extent that our lives are driven by it, our resources exhausted by it… Why?

Go shopping, shop from home, whatever… The goal of desire is a viral one, to multiply itself by creating more desire. For this reason an orgasm in the consumer-world is a negative act if it satiates and needs to be followed by a stimulus for more. After satisfaction comes more foreplay – the law of the marketplace. Ours is a hypersexual, multiple-orgasm society.

Why is constant availability suddenly important for us all? Plutocratic publicists tap into our libido. The latest cell-phone dangling before your nose is an electronic phallic-carrot. Like a vibrator it can be pocketed and if its batteries are charged it can be used anywhere.

Exercise, run, keep yourself fit so you can keep cumming. We are kept consumer- healthy by being trained to desire rather than need things.

It is when you feel you are expected to have something that your interest for an object turns into a passionate desire for it. In fact, being expected to want it can turn an object that is even undesirable into something that we cannot do without.

ON MONEY

The Wall Street Whale doesn’t just consume as any normal animal would by taking what it can whenever it can. The human system regulates the power of taking and basically all power is in the regulation and distribution of this power of taking. And this power is enforced and carried out in a technologically organised way through the invention of money.

Money is a purely human and anti-natural creation, hence the puritanical notion that it is “the root of all evil,” for it is “the devil’s work”. Ironically though, most religions are more than apt at accumulating this evil. And, evil or not, it is very difficult now to imagine any complex society without it. We could even regard money as one of the things that defines us. If societies are discovered in frozen wastelands, deep jungles or lonely islands that possess no currency, they are immediately labelled as primitive. A more accurate adjective would be simple, but even simplicity has taken on negative connotations in our chaos culture that thrives on the dynamics of complexity.

When a society is complex enough to need money it is on the road to human civilisation. The second step is a need to have somewhere safe to keep that money – add the complexity of banks. Then money starts creating more money. Money lenders provide loans that must be paid back with interest. Suddenly there is not enough to go around, more money needs to be printed. Complexity demands a civilisation with an economy that will establish the worth of money and how much can be circulated. At first an arithmetical approach to economic accounting is sufficient, later it becomes more complex but based on simple laws (like Newtonian physics). A relationship between money and gold reserves is fixed. The economy is as easy to understand as the law of gravity. Then Einstein comes along with his relativity and the economy must become relative as well. But even relativity is easy enough to grasp. There is also a constant element: the speed of light in physics; the gold standard in economics. But when the real excitement in physics became the unpredictability of quantum particle theory, the dynamic economy opened its eyes: the economy can be a chaos economy as well working on different planes of reality. If we want an unlimited amount of money, then so be it. And the gold standard was abolished in 1971: now you can print as much money as you think you need. We can go faster than the speed of light. The era of economic chaos is born.

The idea that money is an addiction is nothing new and we doubt that anyone would have any difficulty at all in grasping the concept of money is a drug. Nevertheless, despite the ubiquity of this vice there are no clinics dedicated to kicking that habit.

The problem of course is that the habit is ubiquitous and we are all infected, including those capable of making the diagnosis. So the question of understanding the problem is as difficult as the question of being itself. How can I say with any objectivity what I authentically am if what I authentically am consists of everything that I am, including all the words and ideas that those words comprise? And, so how can I kick the habit of what I am if what I am is the habit of what I am? How can we kick the habit of our dependency on money if our dependency on money is what we are?

Without a doubt society needs economy to be able to regulate its relationships between each other and organise its exchange of objects and needs, but, what if we are looking at economics the wrong way? What if it is wrong to consider economy as a science?

Science is an investigation of the physical world: physics, biology, geology, etc.. Economics is a man-made invention like art. This is a crucial distinction for we are living now in an economically-manipulated world in which technocrats create economic laws that are imposed as if they were the laws of physics. But the essence of technology is art – in fact the Greek origin of the term technology embraces the concept of both art and technology. It is man being creative and the product of that creativity. And yet if we applied the same controls to art and technology that we do to the economy we would kill almost all creativity in art. So, could it be that the scientific structure of economy is what is stagnating it?

But don’t misread us here: we are not eulogising the liberal capitalist free-market chaos that we have at the moment. Money is a drug and the economy is a pornographic version of what it should be. Porn, like heroin, tobacco and alcohol, can be bad, even lethal for the health when it becomes addictive and needs to be regulated. But what happens when the addiction is ubiquitous? What happens when the doctors and analysts treating the addicts are themselves addicted to the same drug? What does a total-addiction imply?