Productivity and War

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Should we be more, or less productive? The laws of the global market insist on the former: excess is a virtue, or at least while excess amounts to the excess of profit. To be rich and powerful, one needs to get money; and to obtain money, one needs to sell things; and in order to sell things, one needs to make things to be sold; and those things should be commodities with a short life-span so that that there will always be a need to purchase new things allowing the money to keep flowing in.

Now, according to this economic philosophy, we should have a productive and innovative society that is continually producing new commodities or improving on old ones. Capitalism produces a marvelous circuit of creativity dedicated to satisfying the needs of the hungry consumer.

However, there is an essential flaw in this philosophy. In order for it to work, consumer needs are not enough: the system must be fueled through consumer-desires, which can only be systemically positive enough if they are turned into needs. But then, this is not enough to keep the system spinning either. Something else is needed to keep the momentum going and the excess turning into wealth and power. To maintain a constant progress, every now and again everything has to be pulled down so that there is room to build anew in. And what is a better way of pulling things down than blowing them up. Natural disasters are good for the consumer economy, but, despite the increment of natural weather-anomaly disasters, these phenomena are still too infrequent and too random to be an assurance.

Yet, there is something we can always depend on in moments of the deepest decadence of the capitalist-consumer system: war.

War is something that can be manufactured; something that can be pulled out of the hat as a last resort whenever growth becomes lethargic, and guarantee the system’s self-perpetuating motion. In fact, war is a very part of that system: a tried and true methodology for injecting momentum into the machine. Wealth and power have been using war to sustain itself for the last eight thousand years. In a sense, technology has always been subordinated to military needs and great advances have been made when the empire of the state has pumped huge amounts of man-hours and money into military research.

But to see this fact as justification for the military and, subsequently, as a justification for war, is the most cynical of positions. The production and selling of arms (whether of mass or minor destruction) and the use of those weapons as profit-making internecine tools of thymotic rage has led us to the gates of the Apocalypse and the eternal damnation of a complete nihilistic destruction of life on Earth.

The inherent absurdities in the capitalist-consumer philosophy of perpetual growth have necessitated the production of its own class of clowns to perpetuate itself. Their justifications for prolonging the destruction have become infantile-ego wailings, in adolescent-will societies, driven by demands for what the clowns want and by the fact that they all want to have those wants now despite the consequences, because they deny the existence of any consequences. To get what they want, the clowns know they have to be tough, but they can buy protection, and they can rig the system to perpetuate their power and strength. The promises this circus makes for humanity, of course, are not comforting at all, but the clowns also feed on the fear they themselves produce in order to stabilize their grasp on power. And while the tough clowns flex their muscles, the weapons of mass-destruction sit comfortably in their silos, waiting to be unleashed in the greatest destructive act the world has ever seen. But this time, surely, it will be the final curtain.

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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.

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