Alternatives to Extraction Capital

capitalism

I learned a new term today A2D – alternatives to development. In the past – like 10 years ago – I used to think that everyone deserves their industrial revolution. This was without thinking about all the people that were subjugated by this, by the extraction, by the different lenses through which we can examine the effects of the industrial revolution beyond economics: familiar, ecological/environmental, cultural, etc. The way beyond is not the compensatory state that reinforces these networks, but something else that reframes the nodes on the network of extraction and provides alternative interfaces and perhaps funnels off from that structure. 


This is sort of a systems poetic interpretation. These are different systems through which we view contemporary industrial revolutions. 

There is also the idea that the industrial revolution is not localized. This is what I got from Planetary Mine. Rather than a sort of moving atomic monolith or something setting down in a country and causing “industrial revolution”, the industrial revolution is a process tightly coupled with capitalism and capital. It is like an octopus whose tentacles are moving to create new connections and networks – between sources of extraction and centers of commercial capitalism. 

How do we move beyond extraction which disrupts lives and lifeworlds (phenomenologically)?

We can have a plurality of parallel economies. I have been meditating on the oikos – the greek word for house. This is the original term for economics comes from this word- the House. The house is foundational in thought. The stars and planets have houses.  The house is the body to the soul – perhaps. There is Gaston Bachelard has a phenomenological analysis of the house – the inside, which I don’t really remember.  What is the inside to a nomad? To a wandering jew like myself? There is always an inside, an inner life or an inner sanctum, even if it is obscured for us… an occult house.  

We can use this and think about economies as the insides.  We can have inside economies and outside economies – right now we really have only outside economies. But these are not insides – these are not dwellings. The outside economies perhaps should be called something else – roads or streets. The economies used to take place in other insides – in the insides of markets like the agora or the NYSE.  But with network economies there are no more insides and outsides only skeletons. What is the inside of a skeleton – bone marrow? Blood is made on the inside of the skeleton – the house of the bone. The Blood is the transportation system of the body – the outside economy (if we call it an economy since it is an outside, but perhaps every outside is also an inside).  The blood is a transport, like the road. There is a door to houses, there is a path to the inner, that connects the outer world with the inner economy. 

Perhaps economies should be local parallel and plural. What we thought was the economy is actually something else, perhaps it is communication – like something fro Habermas. Perhaps there has been mass confusion?

 

 

Mining is extending primitive accumulation

capitalism

I am not sure I already wrote about this, but I am going to write about it now.

There is a relationship between technology and primitive accumulation. 

The story goes like this… where did all the capital come from to allow capitalism to begin?  One story is that people saved up or found buried treasure left by victims of the black plague. Another story is that this original capital was some how stolen – the commons were transformed into private property or all the gold of the mesoamerican empires were stolen by the europeans)

This idea of primitive accumulation always was interesting to me because we are in an era of personal data primitive accumulation. All the information we share and give, even this blog, is being monetized and someone is profiting off of it (not me). 

I was reminded of this and more while reading Martín Arboleda’s excellent book Plantary Mine.

Arboleda even says: 

“The capital form hinges upon appropriating the vital capacities and potentialities of individual workers and the collective power that results from their socialization.” The key being their socialization. It is not just the work of the individuals but the collective power (one could even connect the concept of the General Will to this). This is some sort of accumulation outside of the M-C-M circuit. 

The traditional monetary circuit in Marx is the M-C-M circuit, whereby money creates a commodity when creates (often more) money (money prime). Value exists in these different forms (the money, commodity, and perhaps money’ / surplus value?).

In Planetary Mine this circuit is expanded to the global supply network that begins in the mines – or the extraction of natural resources. This extraction serves as a driver for other transformations in the economy. To paraphase a friend of mine …  anarchism is the notion that society imposes class… get rid of society and you get rid of class, and marxism is the notion that class creates an oppressive state.   Here we go one level below, what are these structural drivers of this and what is the scaffolding or physical bones of this. In Marxism we always hear about money, if we get rid of money then we will be free.

But money is not the only way to represent commodified value. Value exists within a global network of change and surplus value is created at different ratios (although Marx would not agree perhaps) along the way in regard to more or less human labor.  Khanna calls this a “fact” and connects surplus value with a higher ontological order (in Khanna’s case the ontological order refers to organizations of people, but I think ontological state refers to material complexity)

One of the most interesting things, is the extraction as a site of primitive accumulation, and that primitive accumulation does not only exist at the beginning of capitalism but throughout. Perhaps the distinguishing feature in different stages of capitalism is the locus of primitive accumulation.  Schwab identifies the fourth industrial revolution as not because of some new technology but the convergence of all technologies.

One could go one step further and say this convergence also represents a change in the topologies of the value stream, as it changes from the source of primitive accumulation to the deployment of capital. The flip side of convergence of techology i ubiquity – that technology becomes the milieu – there is no more distinction between background and foreground, between environment and object.

Arboeda states “territory needs to be viewed above all as a form of political technology; that is, a spatial category that is measured, demarcated, bordered, represented, and policed eminently by the lawmaking violence of the state.”  We see the idea of geography as technology with gerrymandering in the united states. This is the construction of culture as technology, or the construction of consciousness.

Mining represents not just a territorial expansion but as Arboeda states an “intensification”… an intensification enabled by technology. This could even be seen as a way to create new methods of measurement of finer and finer granularity.  Intensification is perhaps transformative in a way that territorialisation is not. Intensification is a blurring of boundaries just as convergence is blurring of boundaries where as territorialization is a reification of boundaries through transgression of those boundaries. 

I am thinking now about the films that I teach… In Blade Runner, there are replicants for mining. Mining is dirty … mining is destructive there is a cyber punk aesthetic to films that feature this sort of extraction. That we separate the the place where we use the technology from the place where we extract the raw material.  In cyber utopian films, like AI, there is no extraction. 

Towards the end of the book there is a discussion of Hegel’s inverted world. I dont really get it. I have maybe mentioned it before. I now think of the upside down when I think of the inverted world. The interpretation I like these days is that it shows the absurdity of binaries. If I put a Wittgensteinan gloss on this, what if I took everything as the state of the world as it is, all statements, and then reversed them… What is the purpose of this exercise?  That perceptions of the world by another person can be opposite… so what is true?  We come to a higher law through this “dialectic”

For Arboeda The inverted world is the idea that your tool is also using you. The smart phone is a product of extraction but it is also a tool of extraction. From this perhaps we can say that extraction is one of the fundamental laws of capitalism. 

Orientation and the Body

capitalism

What if orientation is in the soul? I started rereading The Soul at Work by Bifo, and The preface  begins with the notion that the soul is the clinamen of the body. This is interesting in that it is discussing a somatics – the soul is the body – it is the orientation of the body.

Clinamen is the name Lucretius gave to the unpredictable swerve of atoms. We could call this direction or orientation. Lucretius is also one of the authors I have in quarantine.

Atoms, as we have learned, spin in certain directions. Perhaps this is the 20th or 21st century notion of clinamen. Object have orientation as part of their embodiment. They have left handedness or right handedness. This is also called chirality, and is covered in the first or second episode of breaking bad. It seems also that the universe has a handedness (it is left handed).

Kant does not include handedness in his transcendental categories nor does hegel in his here and now, nor does Heidegger in Being and time. Instead we have things like space/time, being/time, subject/object, causality, and so forth.  

Sara Ahmed talks about orientation in Queer Phenomenology, and I have heard that Said talks about orientation in Orientalism, which perhaps I will read in quarantine. That objects in the world exist in relation to one another and this relation have orientation. Orientation is provided by the construction of the world in which the objects live.  If we are going to create new categories of thought lets begin with the body and how we interface with one another.

As I am writing this I am listening to a podcast about the book Spinal Catastrophe. It is four hours long, and I am not paying close attention, because it is four hours. But I am picking up bits and pieces about orientation about the orientation of the human towards verticality on the spine vs the startfish and radiality for example.  There is also the discussion of recapitulation.  This means that within the seed there is the mighty oak, or that in the chicken dna there is the dna for the velociraptor.

Is there orientation in the seed or is orientation only the expression of the seed, what is the limits of recapitulation or code. What can be coded and what cannot? If orientation is in relation and not the object it makes no sense to talk about something like orientation in the seed, we can only talk about the orientation of the seed. 

Bodies are oriented toward one another, and this is the soul.  The soul at work is about the world or structure that controls this orientation. What is the world that all of these orientating bodies, these souls inhabit? Are they the world of Dante? Are they the world of Adam Smith? What are the garments that restrict or constrain these orientations. For Bifo, the soul is that which, in Marx is reproduced when the body reproduces itself. It is the orientation of that reproduction. (Late?) Capitalism also has a soul, for Bifo it is semicapital – money and language.  This is the orientation of capitalism. Perhaps we can also think of this in terms of Marx and the forms that capital takes. 

But late capitalism has a different quality than the capitalism of marx. People can disagree with me. But I stand by this, as does Bifo. “The emergence of intellectual, technical and scientific labor is a sign of the decade.”  Intellectual, technical and scientific labor is labor.  These people are workers. It is interesting because their cultures are different. The culture of the factory worker is different from the culture of the adjunct, and by culture I mean things as basic as country music vs indie music, nascar vs sxsw (again these are generalizations). There is not a mass labor culture, but there is a labor body.

There is an interesting section that I found related to the loss of the public intellectual.

Today the word “intellectual” has lost much of the meaning it had throughout the twentieth century, when around this word coalesced not only issues of social knowledge, but also ethics and politics. In the second half of the twentieth century intellectual labor completely changed its nature, having been progressively absorbed into the domain of economic production. Once digital technologies made the connection of individual fragments of cognitive labor possible, the parceled intellectual labor was subjected to the value production cycle

The intellectual is a worker, now. The creative class is a fiction. Although we are not successful, we do try to subject intellectual labor to the value production cycle in the creation of technology (including biotech/medicine) and the creation of culture (reinforcing cultural mythologies that sustain the capitalist system). We attempt to subject intellectual and creative labor to the production cycle, in code this is through the use of agile methodologies, metrics such as MTTR and cycle time, or even number of code commits. In design as well this is treated in terms of numbers of designs or in terms of completion of briefs. 

All this does is create a lot of material, it does not necessarily achieve goals or produce surplus value, because creative labor cannot be controlled in the way mechanical labor is until we have a cybernetic feedback cycle connected with amygdala in peoples brains (in the case of culture), or connected with dna or molecules via nanotech or crispr. 

The first chapter traces the changes in the intellectual, from part of bourgeois society (the gentleman scholar), someone outside culture or without culture (kant), to an instrument of change/praxis (marx) to abolish class, to the leader/vanguard/embodiment of Hegelian geist (lenin), to a figure producing something yet estranged from the dynamics of marxist production (gramsci), the intellectual is someone who chooses to do what she does / is not forced or destined (sartre) – but finally by the 1960s, the advent of advertising, ibm, and biotech – poets write copy and scientists create hair coloring products. 

Part of this has to do with mass education, and access to education – that now being an intellectual is not a class marker but a consumer category. 

How does thought and creative production figure into a marxist ideology? Does it? Why is it even useful to think about this? This is sort of a question of system poetics. Of understanding where systems overlap, where they fall short, what can be excluded and what can be extended. 

 

Capitalism’s Problem with Boundaries

capitalism

These days it is common to talk about boundaries, not just national boundaries, but personal boundaries.  Our traditional categories are changing: public/private, family, work/play, gender.  Some of these are aided by technology, such as social media creating a more porous boundary between the public and private sphere, or even hormone treatment for gender. But some are emergent from our cultural and economic milieu, such as the changing nature of the family which is related to increasing wage earning capacities and legal recognition of different types of unions. 

Our categories are changing, and this was where our traditional boundaries stood. We did not have to think about them. Now that our categories are changing we are constantly talking about boundaries.  We ask, am I crossing the line? What sorts of stories and details can I share with my friends, with my family, with my colleagues?

John Bellamy Foster, in his excellent Capitalism and Robbery article, paraphrases Marx when he says that in capitalism all boundaries become barriers to overcome. This is another way to think about boundaries and where our anxiety around boundaries come from. It is not only that our categories change, but for capitalism, categories are only there to be transformed by the engine of capital into the Money-Commodity-Circuit.

One of the reasons we have an issue with boundaries in the public and private sphere is because of social media. Social media, as powered by capital, reduces all social connections such as family connections and work connections to a commodity. When all relations are commoditized, they no longer exist in the category public/private but only in the category commodity.  The boundary is between what is inside the machine of capital and what is outside the machine.

John Bellamy Foster is not talking about people creating personal boundaries, however. He is talking about physical boundaries and the encroachment of capital across physical boundaries. It is about the boundaries of the earth. The traditional story that Marx tells is that capital did not arise because people just saved a lot of money and invested it well. Instead there was a process of primitive accumulation, such as taking communal lands, plundering gold from the americas.  This is where the original capital for capitalism comes from. 

What are the boundary conditions of the earth? How were they breached? Foster distinguishes 3 moments: industrialization of agriculture, empire, and the anthropocene.  Although there are many ways to read these moments I see them as distinguished the relationship between different human beings (bios) to capital. 

Industrialization of agriculture excludes people from the ability to sustain themselves. It excludes those from outside capital or marginal within capital, such as indigenous populations and workers. In empire, those marginalized our externalized people essentially become slaves. In the anthropocene, those slaves become statical populations excluded no longer necessary in the global supply chain and excluded from the network of capital. 

We can also interpret these three moments as three moments of violence.  The first moment as the destruction of indigenous cultures and replaced with a commodified capitalist culture – epitomized by the death of many indigenous peoples. The second moment as a destruction of geographies when methods of cultivation in one ecosystem are exported to another – epitomized by the dust bowl. The third moment, as the destruction of biomes, where mechanized production feed one population by depleting a biome – epitomized by the overfishing.

There are a few movements to notice. One is the movement from the individual to the population, which is the statisticalization of human beings. The other is the change of scale from property, to geography, to biome. Another is the method of accumulation, via theft or plunder, via access and networks, and via mechanization. The gun that allowed nations to steal gold from the americas, is different from the train that allowed farmer to export unsustainable farming practices to Oklahoma, are different again from the trawler that digs the ocean floor grabbing both fish and destroying the ecosystem at the same time.

But, at its core, this discussion is about boundaries. It is about the boundaries between us and the land and between different conceptions of land itself. Is land a place where my family lives?  Is land a place that is accessible, land only exists if I can get there? Does land not exist, it is only what I extract from it? Who has extracted oil from the ground seen the land where this oil comes from, the deep earth. Is there a difference between the land I live on and the land the deer lives on? What is that boundary?

Also what should I do to the land? To the land I see, to the land I dont see, to the land I use, and to the land that others use but I also do not see?

I am not even sure if we should talk about boundaries. Boundaries are perhaps an antiquated notion and maybe let’s get rid of all boundaries.  The boundaries between land and ourselves are already porous – this is not an accident of capital but of nature. Rather in this instance it is capital that has constructed the boundaries. 

Reproducing Oneself

capitalism

Today is Wednesday and thus the day of my Women’s Marx reading group at MEP / Peoples Forum. We are basically a group of 6-10 women that are reading Marx’s Capital Volume I cover to cover. It has been super insightful and has served to jailbreak the text for me. I have learned things like: Marx’s methodology regarding creating abstractions and then deriving concrete examples of the abstractions, or his use of theword ‘appears’ as a clue to the fact that Marx is now going to unpack a concept.

This week is about Rate of Surplus Value, The Working Day, and Rate and Mass of Surplus Value. I have many a passage underlined, but my main takeaway is that humans reproduce themselves through their work. What does it mean to reproduce oneself?  If a company has less money and workers have to work shorter days, surplus value is often not sacrificed, rather it is the meaning of what it takes to reproduce oneself.

Last week, our reading group leader, told a story about a bus driver. She said that she knew people who complained about a bus driver getting a pension because the job was not difficult (anyone could do it). But she said, it destroys your body, it also steals your attention, the money you need to reproduce yourself  (keep yourself healthy in body and mind) is what is represented in this pension and that is not even enough.

When we think in this way, how are we slowly neglecting the job or reproducing ourselves. How are we changing what it means to reproduce ourselves. Isn’t life hacking a way to reproduce ourselves less / hack self-reproduction?

The labor-process is the one thing that Marx analyzes as a process.   Raw material is taken as constant capital – a thing.  But raw material is something that also has to reproduce itself, it is also the result of a process.  It is the MISPRICING and exclusion of these hidden variables that lead to exploitation:  what is the true state of a human, and how to reproduce a human and likewise the process that leads to the creation of raw material, and how to reproduce it.

In the Marx Capital Vol 3 reading group (because I cannot do anything partially), we go around the room reading the book and then breaking if there is a concept someone does not understand or that someone wants to discuss.

During the last class, I had a fever daydream that this is perhaps similar to sitting around on a Saturday and reading the Torah or the Talmud. That people perhaps read the work of Freud, or Jung in a similar way. Heck, when I was in college this is how we read Plato.  I told a friend of mine this, and he said, yes this is what people did before TV. He also said this is what people do in cults.

In a related fever day dream, I considered turning reading group meditation into a narrative, a sort of sister narrative to Italo Svevo’s Conscious of Zeno, in which the character Zeno writes an episodic autobiography on the prompting of his psychiatrist.  What about an episodic autobiography of a life in reading groups. This may be super boring or SUPER INTERESTING (especially if some characters are in bed … naked) … like perhaps a Marx in Bed reading group.

Capital and Information

capitalism, marx

I was listening to a podcast this morning and it was talking about the rise of the Rothschilds and modern finance. One of the points that stuck with me was a comment that the Rothschilds had the most capital and the most sophisticated information network.

Capital and Information

Lets just sit with that for a moment.

I have been involved in various Marx reading groups lately, which I definitely recommend to other people. I am not ideological. I am not a marxist. But I am fascinated by systems thinkers and by architects of systems people that come to min are Freud, Marx, Hegel, to name a few.

It is hard not to use, and in most cases, misuse concepts from Marx. I myself am guilty of this all the time. So these reading groups are an opportunity to return to Marxist first principles.

So lets talk about commodities. For Marx the commodity has a vary particular meaning. It is something that only exists in a capitalist structure – where you exchange goods for one another through the medium of money. This money exchange means that all commodities have two parts: the exchange value (the value that we talk about with money), and the use value (what you use the item for).  So for example, when I buy an apple at the farmers market it has a use value (eating), and an exchange value ($1 or whatever I paid).

That is the foundation of capitalism the transformation of goods into commodities.

Now we have this thing called information. I wonder if information did not co-eval with commodities in the creation of capitalism.  Information in many respects to the concept of the commodity but it is not analyzed by Marx.

We could say that information is a commodity.  That it has a use value and an exchange value. But I would not agree with this, or that if we did say information was a commodity we would have to change the definition of commodity.

Question – does information have use value beyond exchange value? I posit that information’s use value derives from its exchange value. Outside of a capitalist system that lacks exchange value, information has no use and therefore is not a commodity.

But, you might say, what about literature. I might have a use for it for pleasure, or to learn something that will help my career.  In this case it does have a use pleasure. But is this the same thing has information? Is knowledge the same thing as information? Am I just quibbling. The transformation of knowledge into information is a similar transformation from a product into a commodity.  Isn’t it the same thing? Knowledge being the use value of information?

Well, right there this is different than a commodity.  A commodity is not split between product and exchange value, but between two types of value.  Information seems related to knowledge in a different way then the way a product is related to a product. A large reason for this is that knowledge is immaterial. If knowledge does have use value how do we realize this. An apple has roughly the same use value for everyone, although some people may enjoy eating an apple more than others. (Is this pleasure a fetish?) A law book though will have different use value for a lawyer than a doctor, or for someone being sued than someone not being sued. Again there are those deranged individuals that perhaps derive pleasure from reading about torts. What is this use value? If the law book helps or does not help in my legal case, will this then retroactively give a use value to the law book?

You see the difficulties here.

Some things I want to explore:

What was information, did it exist, before capitalism?

What is the relationship between information and exchange?

What is the relationship between knowledge and information?

What is the relationship between information and commodities?