A social history of the internet – Part II

[Editor’s note: This is the second part in the humanaesfera series on the Internet. For Part 1, please follow this link.]

6. SUBSUMPTION OF THE GEARS THAT MAKE UP THE MIND: MEMORY, THOUGHT, VOLITION, APPETITE

Not only are the social relations of each person’s knowledge, abilities, and affections with others being increasingly subsumed to capital, but the relationship of each person to the ideas and capacities within themselves are being subsumed.  By externalizing knowledge, faculties, and feelings in social networks, the data become, in a short time, uninteresting, obsolete and disposable. There is no time or space for deep development of any ideas, knowledge, or capacity for oneself, because there is no longer time or space in which they can be expressed to be enjoyed and confirmed (or not) as an objective, social human power.

Socrates criticized writing because it externalizes human memory into objects, which would make people unable to remember, becoming increasingly forgetful and less and less autonomous. Perhaps he was exaggerating, but it is an accurate description of what we are seeing today: memory of each one is increasingly outsourced abandoned, to be appropriated by companies, which makes it scarce, opaque and difficult to access the original form in which it was outsourced, so that it becomes a commodity when it is returned facilitated, “chewed” by algorithms, manipulated and formatted to create dependence on the enterprises. It is a modus operandi diametrically opposed to that of the previous free internet community, whose wealth consisted solely in increasing the autonomy, the abilities of those who participated in it, who became more powerful with the stories and memories that each one brought.

This algorithmic operationalization  of the mind for private property can be seen in the current man-machine interfaces. They become increasingly bestializing, devoid of all the wide configuration and modification possibilities they had previously (even the simplest software of the 1990s looked like complex spacecraft panels). The current interfaces (from operating systems, applications, programs, to machines and even entire industries) are usually just big colorful kindergarten-style buttons with all the various possibilities locked, inaccessible or hidden.

Companies now sell a supposed maximum facilitation that saves the maximum amount of time (which is “money,” the abstract time of capital), and this is made possible by algorithms that invisibly monitor the actions, the life of each person, and analyze their bio-socio-psychometric profile to present to them, at the human-machine interface, the free-choice objects she is supposedly already want to choose . 11 As we saw earlier in chapter 4, this “facilitation” was only possible due to the flood of artificially injected noise on the Internet. And so, programs like torrent, where movies, programs, and music were downloaded for free have been emptied, and private properties specialized in streaming whose algorithms “facilitate all” (as long as you pay), such as Netflix and Spotify, took their place overwhelmingly.

7. LABORIZATION OF EXISTENCE

A specific human-machine interface almost brings to the absolute the power of capitalist class over human existence. With the popularization of smartphones, miniaturized computers connected to the internet, with telephone and various sensors (cameras, camcorders, microphones, geolocation, accelerometers, gyroscopes, proximity, magnetometers, lux meter, thermometers, etc.) that are ubiquitous and made compulsory for those who do not want to be excluded from social contact, each person is monitored in virtually every aspect of their lives 24 hours a day by private property algorithms.

The data collected by companies allows them to implement, through the same smartphones, a subsumption of society to capital that covers the smallest details of daily life. The distinction between work and consumption disappears more and more, with everything becoming in one way or another some form of labor, a “value addition”. Even unconsciously, by the development and application of gamification techniques, that is, designing the conditions of any and all activities to make it look like a game, pavlovly manipulating the user to perform unpaid tasks under the command of the owner of these conditionscapitalist class.

With a millenarianist and utopian ideology, companies of the “collaborative economy” like Uber announce to offer the Midas touch that transforms  objects of consumption of proletarians (home, car, tools, furniture, appliances, toys, etc., which are only costs – are now consumed, that is, wear out every day, every use), as well as their body and mind. They announce the transubstantiation of the proletarians into capitalists, finally made free from wage labor and owners of their own time. 12

In fact, with all this post-industrial futurist rhetoric, capital merely resurrected, with high technology, the most archaic form of subsumption of labor to industrial capital: the “putting-out system”, including even the gloomy  figure of the “middleman”. The difference is that now, through its “frictionless” algorithms that analyze and compare the performance of everyone with each and each with everyone, to the extent that it involves the entire planet, the owner class more and more impose on the proletarians a continually optimized global competition for offering the maximum amount and intensity of work in exchange for the minimum wage. The only thing that separates this maximum from being absolute is the time of feeding and sleep (although often interrupted by bosses, thanks to smartphones). Eating and sleeping are still inescapable needs of proletarians around the world. They are the last frontier of exploitation, unacceptable, intolerable, inconceivable for  the system of private property. 13

In addition, the production, transportation and distribution of all goods became inseparable from the internet. In supply chains, the increase or decrease in demand for goods commands directly (without human, with algorithms), through the transmission of information through the internet, the automatic activation of the various phases of production, assembly, stock and flow (maritime, road , rail, air) of goods throughout the world. Often the transmitted signals directly drive the machines, robots, conveyor belts, container handling to and from ships, and the hiring and mobilization of workers scattered and fragmented all over the planet, all of which are connected by these logistic chains, private property of mighty and invisible “middlemen”. 14

Proletarians around the world have never been so close, but they are increasingly placed in a situation where they do not directly see that they are working for capital, for bosses, for the owner class. Everything makes them seem to work immediately for themselves and against the other competing proletarians (the renaissance of provincialism, racism, xenophobia, nationalism, left and right identitarianism, separatism, militarism, fascism … which for many is an unfathomable mystery is nothing more than a banal expression of the extreme intensity of competition for survival among workers,  competition for the “merit” of exclusive submission to “their” owning classes). They think they are only making money in return for satisfying the automatic demands of the world market that are signaled in the man-machine interfaces that surround them. 15 16

8. TRANSFUSION OF DESTRUCTIVE FORCES INTO THE PORES OF THE PHYSICAL WORLD. THE INLAYING OF PRIVATE PROPERTY IN THE “NATURE OF THINGS”: THE SUPREME UTOPIA OF CAPITAL (FORTUNATELY STILL UNREALIZABLE).

The domination of capital, first and foremost, is the artificial inlaying of scarcity in the objective nature. It is nature transformed by the alienated labor of human beings into a power separate from them, private property. The population becomes deprived of its material conditions of existence, and consequently  everyone, democratically, is forced to buy, and for this, forced to sell commodities voluntarily, if one want to survive.

In pre-capitalist societies, in servitude and in slavery, domination was personal, directly from men over other men, the personal will of some is imposed directly on others, denying it. In contrast, the most basic aspect of capitalist society is that it transforms the domination and exploitation of man by man into something that is voluntary, a manifestation of one’s free will. This is because it occurs in an objective coercive condition – deprivation of property – which imposes objectively – that is, in a “neutral” (“democratic,” “impersonal,” “reasonable,” “fair,” “natural”) way  – the need to compete for submission to private property, to the capitalist class, in order to receive a wage and survive.

Since each proletarian, because he is deprived of means of production, has nothing to sell, he, if he wants to survive (socially and physically), has only the option of voluntarily selling himself, his vital capacities, in the labor market, to the owners of the means of production (the capitalist class). He has free will, as he “may” choose to starve or become a beggar rather than sell himself. Purchased by the capitalists, this commodity is consumed: the proletarian is placed to work and transform nature increasing the objective force that confronts him as a hostile power, private property. The more he works, the more deprived of property he becomes, the more powerful private property becomes, and the more it transfers human capabilities to it (fixed capital: machinery, automation; knowledge, and know-how made intellectual private property, etc.), actively creating what makes it increasingly disposable, deprived of property, proletarian.

In short, in capitalist society, domination presents itself as an imperative of objective reality, a “force of nature” (“second nature”) that was created by human labor. Scarcity – deprivation of property, private property – reproduces itself as an independent power that commands all beings (human and nonhuman), including the person of the capitalist (and also the states) who, if they fail in the competition for accumulating capital, go bankrupt, and are automatically replaced by more “efficient” ones (that is why we use the word “capital”, for in fact it commands the society of the commodity according to an autonomous, automatic, but opaque logic, while capitalists are only agents, personifications of the power of capital, obliged to apply the dictates of its accumulation  over human beings under penalty of falling into the hell becoming proletarians).

But to this day capitalist society has been impossible without a central power, which, with police and prisons, enforces respect for private property by violence, validates centrally the equivalence of means of exchange and payment (money, credit), protects and guarantees the contracts between proprietors, and represses the struggle of the proletarians against the deprivation of their living conditions (a struggle which, by definition, disrespects the private property of these conditions). Thus capitalist society has a very concentrated and visible Achilles heel, which, if attacked, instantly disarms all the gears of the private property system. Of course, the existence of this vulnerable point, the State, causes great concern to the owner class.

To this day, the only way for the owner class to justify and legitimize the state – which is simply a territorial enterprise, which, like all capital, is a dictatorship for the imposition of wage labor, subject to the same imperatives of capital accumulation like any other enterprise – was to present it in the imagination as neutral, above classes and capital. That is, “Rule of Law”, representation of subjects (the citizen) whose “autonomy” coincides with their voluntary subjection to it, and in which the citizen elects his own boss (who competes to be freely chosen at the polls), representation of the “general will of the people”. In other words: democratic ideology (or “socialist” ideology, as in countries with nationalized capital such as the USSR and Cuba).

However, this purely imaginary legitimation is never fully convincing, and many capitalists prefer to preach that the state is totally separate and alien to private property, whereas in reality, as we have seen, it has always been in fact the supreme and indispensable institution that guarantees its existence. It is simply impossible for private property to exist without police, courts, armed forces and prisons. Until today.

Blockchain technology (the so-called smart contract) is now heavily financed with the explicit goal of making private property something that no longer depends on absolutely any “central power”, becoming embedded in the automatic and decentralized behavior of things, and therefore in human relations mediated by these things.

Its purpose is to make each thing spontaneously verify, homologate and validate the presupposed condition of deprivation of property. This means instantly to authenticate the artificial scarcity of everything by the quantitative equivalence imposed by private property: the homologation of limitation of use by payment, limitation of copy by copy licenses, authentication of the command by the execution of the work, instant enforcement of respect for patents and intellectual property in all things, and even laws with cases in that it applies, etc.

With this, each object will tend to cease to be a “product” – which is bought at once, and whose use, after being bought, is independent of the company and the market – to become a “service” – in which a subscription or a license is paid continuously for its use, like a rent. This makes its short-term use seemingly much cheaper and more accessible to proletarians, but will mean that the owner class will have the power to impose directly on any and every use the dictate of continuous scarcity, “monetizing” even the most ordinary gestures (especially with the popularization of wearable technology, e.g. smart clothes, augmented reality, transhuman prostheses, biomedical sensors, etc.), such as dressing, walking, going to the bathroom, operate the flush, yawning, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, even peristalsis, blood circulation, brain synapses … Every gesture, and even the functioning of the human organism, will incarnate the coercion to labor. It will be need, even more so than today, to work desperately to get money to pay for simply existing.

It is a scenario where the “internet of things” will automatically take on the role of police-penal wedge that separates needs from capacities, imposing the submission to private property of the means of life and of production in absolutely all aspects of human existence.

The utopia of private property, as we have seen, has always been to convert the totality of circumstances in which human beings exist in ‘natural’, ‘objective’, ‘automatic’ and ‘voluntary’ imperatives of submission to the dictates of capital accumulation, to the maximum work. The difference this time is that with these two technologies, blockchain and internet of things, the police will be automatic, it will be in the “nature of things”. The prision could be the sofa in your house or the “smart home” itself, which suddenly locks up the “human capital”; or it may be all things (every “service” in the smart home and smart city) that suddenly stop working for him, isolating him from the society that only exists connected to them. And the “crime” judgment, a decentralized algorithm that returns to the “criminal” – who does not even need to be informed that he has been charged, tried and convicted (as is already the case today  with the “bans” in social networks and “collaborative economy” companies) – the automatic execution of the penalty. “De jure” and “de facto” become indistinguishable. The ideology of the “rule of law” becomes totally unnecessary to legitimize the police-penal wedge, which becomes the “neutral” objectivity of the conditions where each atomized individual is “voluntarily forced” to “choose freely”. 17

Fortunately, all this is still just the dream of capital. And there is no doubt that the slightest attempt to implement it  in a society which is a blind mechanism whose behavior the capitalists and their technocrats are inherently the least able to understand (for their praxis – and therefore their thought – is totally clouded by commodity fetishism), will certainly lead to uncontrollable effects that threaten to disrupt and undermine the overall functioning of capital itself. (For example, look at what happened recently with the little experience of the criptocurrency Bitcoin – from which the very idea of blockchain originated – which was created on the basis of the unshakable fetishist faith in the invisible hand acting through auto-moving technology, dead labor).

It is much more likely that, in the end, blockchain technology will be used primarily by states to keep their records instantly up-to-date and to make surveillance, judgment, punishment and policing schemes automatically unified and immediate to the utmost. Or else, what in fact makes no difference, by enterprises that in the division of labor will play the unifying role (“interoperability”) necessary for the continuity of capitalist society (which, without it, collapses torn by competition, the war of all against all that moves it), charging a bill for access to the blockchain that is its private property (e.g. blockchain implementations such as Ethereum are thus). It is a private property that will be the indispensable unifying infrastructure for all transactions and things produced in capitalist society. In practice, this bill will be the same as a taxation, just as these enterprises will be the same as a state.  The latter will only cease to adorn itself with the democratic ideological façade (“republic”, “constitutional monarchy”, “socialism”) to become directly an absolutist corporate monarchy (in fact, as it always was, in one way or another: dictatorship of capital).

As for artificial intelligence, and the illusions about it, unemployment and universal basic income, we will not speak here, because we have already addressed it previously in the article: Artificial intelligence, unemployment and universal basic income: another panacea of the owner class.

9. CONCLUSION: FORGET HOPE

As we saw earlier, the self-constitution of the proletariat as an autonomous class against capital – the class struggle – can never take place on an empty or funereal background that would be confronted by the free will of the hopeful exploited, who would break the isolation through a community of suffering, pain and guilt.

In concrete reality, it is exactly the opposite: human capacities and needs – the productive forces – are both ends in themselves and the means of the struggle of the proletariat against capital, and only depends on them the rupture of isolation and atomization, the fraternization, their irruption as a world-historical class, as well as their victory or defeat. As long as the other is found in practice as a cause of incapacity, denial of desires and necessities, impediment to survival in the competition of all against all for submission to the private property of the means of life, there is no possibility of breaking atomization and isolation. And attempts to break it by “willpower,” “correct ideas,” or activism only reproduce the same circumstance, at the most creating an even more unbearable moralistic competition, introducing at an even more extreme level in human subjectivity the “doing for sake of doing “, “production for sake of production”, ie the real subsumption to capital.

To freedom, which consists in the practical affirmation of the productive forces of the human species, capital opposes the fictitious freedom of free will or free choice. This imaginary freedom is the way in which it submits and adapts human subjectivity to the separation of capacities from needs, which are  violently separated by the deprivation of their means (private property). This pseudo-freedom serves to turn them against themselves, converting them from productive forces into destructive forces, accumulation of dead labor, active servants of the imperative to choose among the innumerable options of submission and exploitation that capital presents in order to reproduce itself indefinitely.

Human faculties and needs are created, produced, and developed in the material conditions of existence that they are transforming, that is, in praxis. In this, they produce themselves, bringing out in this transformation untold faculties, potentialities, desires and needs, the discovery of unimaginable and impossible potentials under the previous conditions. There is no free choice. Choosing, by definition, is to pick out from among the things already known, already existing – the components of the status quo itself. In genuine freedom, on the contrary, nothing is chosen, none possible is selected, but rather, by transforming the conditions in their totality, it emerges what was always seen as rigorously impossible.

This implies that it makes no sense to try to make communist theory to compete with others to be chosen by the exploited, popularized, “go viral”. This is because, as we have seen, it is not from the free choice of the proletarians that arises and develops their struggle, their freedom, their autonomy, but rather from the materialistic increase of their capacities to act (to affirm their desires in practice, to satisfy their needs, etc. associating as class without borders against the dictatorship of capital), which are indistinguishable from the increase of their capacity to think autonomously. It is only as an expression of this that communist theory may be appropriate on its own terms, rather than being reduced to one more advertising in the society of the spectacle. In other words, it is from the communist praxis that the need arises to appropriate the present and past theories that have dealt precisely with this praxis. At the same time, theories are criticized, ridding them of the mistaken aspects of the past, to develop the theory of their concrete praxis, the knowledge of what is objectively necessary to do to destroy capitalist society and clear the way for the process of irruption of impossible go to the end.

This also implies that in the long periods of practical incapacity as today (profound defeat of the proletariat), the tiny minority that (thanks to existential accidents) takes part of communism develops theories whose only importance is to compose a radical analysis of capitalist society, the mutations of domination and exploitation, and especially of the situation of human needs and faculties. It is these latter that sooner or later burst forth as wild productive forces, since capital is bound to periodically invoke them to expand the material conditions of the intensification of accumulation, inadvertently unlocking these forces. But as every transformation of the conditions of existence creates the irruption of the impossible, of the unexpected and unpredictable, capital is forced to strive violently to domesticate these forces, to make them turn against themselves, otherwise they threaten to overflow it, abolish it, defeat it.

From the analysis of the contradictions and potentialities that unfold in capitalist society, the theory updates the communist program, which is nothing more than an outline of synthesis (always incomplete as long as capital and the state are not abolished) of the practical necessities objectively indispensable to overcome class society today (all strictly impossible, as we saw earlier).

For example, in the face of the fact that strikes, protests, and occupations have become domesticated and channeled by the various factions of the ruling class competing to direct wage labor, capital and the state (from the left and right bureaucrats to every the countless legal and illegal factions of national and international capital, including industrial, financial, and commercial capitalists), it is today an illusion to suppose that these tactics press for gradual capitalist reforms in favor of the workers (eg toward a “welfare state”). Against this illusion, the communists (or at least us) stand affirming the objective necessity to overcome these old tactics, substituting the strike with the tactic of free production that immediately abolishes the enterprise and employment by rapidly diffusing exponentially throughout the world, uncontainably. This rapidity in exponential diffusion is necessary to abolish the division of labor – i.e., the conditions of existence of the commodity, the state and capital – before capital gets the time to study and implement the reaction, and before the stocks run out, forcing us to trade – buy / sell – for products manufactured in the other part of the world from which we are still deprived (this would compel us to compete with it so that the products are traded advantageously, reproducing necessarily the exploitation and the class society). It is a question of suppressing the private property of universally interconnected conditions of existence (world supply chains, the means of production and distribution) with the aim of abolishing any system of rewards and punishments, liberating the productive forces as expressions of human desires, needs and capacities, as ends in themselves – the world human community.

Humanaesfera
Rio de Janeiro
July 2019

Notes

11 Interesting article on this: Style Is an Algorithm https://www.racked.com/2018/4/17/17219166/fashion-style-algorithm-amazon-echo-look

12 On this, Dossiê: Luta nos aplicativos (Passapalavra) http://passapalavra.info/2016/11/110470. Also, Adam Greenfield’s book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, it sheds light on the implications for everyday life of a range of technologies, such as smarthphone, internet of things, augmented reality, digital fabrication, criptocurrency, blockchain, automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

13 To understand how all these “novelties” only reiterate and intensify tendencies of capitalist society that have appeared since the defeat of the proletarian struggles of 1968 and the world crisis of profitability that lasts from the years 1970 until today, see this text of 1988, which remains incredibly current: The Luster of Capital, by Alliez and Michel Feher. 

On sleep, see Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep.

14 See Logistics and the factory without walls, by Brian Ashton. http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/logistics-and-factory-without-walls

15 This submission to the owner class which has the appearance of making workers small capitalists, entrepreneurs, human capital, petty-bourgeois, also leads to an illusory struggle on the part of the workers, a kind of Proudhonism. This illusion presupposes that, in order for their interests to be achieved, it is necessary to put an end to the monopolies of big corporations and to establish a society of small producers (self-management) that, with application softwares, exchange commodities “fairly” with each other, establishing the “fair value” which remunerates each one. However, this is illusory because the exchange of commodities is a social relation that, regardless of the will and good intentions, implies competition (for “customers” buy their goods instead of others, competition for buy cheap and sell expensive, etc.). By definition, competition is always competition for monopoly, for mutually exclusive ownership: private property. Competition and monopoly are mere adjectives of private property, which presuppose deprivation of property, i.e. proletarianization, and hence wage labor, accumulation of capital, capitalist class, state … As for “value”, it is also a social relation that is independent of the will or good intentions: value is the command that a private property, through competition, obtains over the labor of others, by making the buyers have to work to the maximum to buy from it (i.e., to its commodity becomes equivalent to the maximum abstract labor of society in exchange for the minimum labor in it), and to impose that the workers  agree to work at their maximum in exchange for the minimum to try to win the competition. Thus, this illusion must always be openly opposed in the struggles of the workers.

16 In the book Platform Capitalism (by Nick Srnicek) this new configuration of capitalist society is called “platform capitalism.” According to him, platforms are characterized by the extraction of data from society as raw material to profit. It classifies five different types of platform:

[…] the important element is that the capitalist class owns the platform, not necessarily that it produces a physical product. The first type is that of advertising platforms (e.g. Google, Facebook), which extract information on users, undertake a labour of analysis, and then use the products of that process to sell ad space. The second type is that of cloud platforms (e.g. AWS, Salesforce), which own the hardware and software of digital-dependent businesses and are renting them out as needed. The third type is that of industrial platforms (e.g. GE, Siemens), which build the hardware and software necessary to transform traditional manufacturing into internet-connected processes that lower the costs of production and transform goods into services. The fourth type is that of product platforms (e.g. Rolls Royce, Spotify), which generate revenue by using other platforms to transform a traditional good into a service and by collecting rent or subscription fees on them. Finally, the fifth type is that of lean platforms (e.g. Uber, Airbnb), which attempt to reduce their ownership of assets to a minimum and to profit by reducing costs as much as possible. These analytical divisions can, and often do, run together within any one firm. Amazon, for example, is often seen as an e-commerce company, yet it rapidly broadened out into a logistics company. Today it is spreading into the on-demand market with a Home Services program in partnership with TaskRabbit, while the infamous Mechanical Turk (AMT) was in many ways a pioneer for the gig economy and, perhaps most importantly, is developing Amazon Web Services as a cloud-based service. Amazon therefore spans nearly all of the above categories.


17 Felix Guattari, Eric Alliez and Maurizio Lazzarato use the concepts of social subjection  and machinic enslavement to describe this modification of domination. According to this hypothesis, the trend in recent decades is that capitalist society ceases to legitimize itself by an affirmation of the freedom of the subject that voluntarily crosses several compartments of capitalist society to subject himself  to them (social subjection). This freedom for subjectivity to cross compartments (such as working time and rest time, imprisonment and freedom, school and time outside of school) culminated in autonomy as a voluntary citizen subjection to the rule of law, and hence the legitimacy of capitalist society through democratic rights and freedoms, the welfare state, and so on, considered as free and external to the machinic domination of capital. After the 1980s, capitalist society tend to transmute itself overthrowing all of these compartments in which the subjectivity that went through them was presented as free from domination, to present itself immediately as machinic enslavement, which is exactly what we described in this chapter on the supreme utopia of capital.