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<nettime> News from the Been There Done That Dept.
Ed Phillips on Wed, 15 Jul 2009 22:56:37 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> News from the Been There Done That Dept.

Perhaps someone reading nettime at this time might be interested in
this ocassion of the mention of two nettime alums?

Erik Davis is hosting a new weekly radio show, Expanding Mind, which
will be streaming live (and archived) at the Progressive Radio Network
starting this Thursday, July 16th, at 2pm EST US and 11am Pacific
time. 1400 EST or 1600 GMT, July 16th
There will be an opportunity for call in and discussion.
US: 888-873-4643.


The ostensible topic or starting point for discussion will be a new
book by another nettime alum, Douglas Rushkoff called "Life, Inc."
I anticipate that it will range over general discussion of Capital as
well as other aspects covered by the book.

Of the book, I can say that I rather wish he had plagiarized from
Keith Hart's work on some of the same concerns. Apparently, Rushkoff
is an advocate of Open Source, but he seems to have fallen into the
newbie coder's autochthonic error of reinventing the wheel. I'm
reminded of the old adage that every generation fails to take up the
dialectic, but here poor Doug seems to have not even have arrived at
an aborted dialectic.

As we've seen on an off this list it is obvious to many, including
Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, that global capital is not
merely or only a speculative parasite upon "real" life but
paradoxically a form of the "real". With
Rushkoff we seem to be back with Proudhon, with a nostalgia for a
pre-Capitalist Late Middle Ages that never was.

Rather than dwell on the weaknesses of Doug's thinking which
reproduces the problems without even attempting to work them out or
without knowledge of and respect for the previous and current work on
thinking through the subject money in an unequal world, I thought I'd
just quote from some of the end of Keith's book.

The Memory Bank is a much better discussion of money, of informal
economics and alternative currencies than Rushkoff is up to. Keith has written about how alternative economies are already coming into being, and of the
interplay between the larger economies and local exchange.

He covers more ground more quickly and more comprehensively than Doug
does in his entire book I'd say. Here are a few paragraphs from the
final chapter:

How do we go about exchanging the squalor of contemporary society for
one in which economic justice is taken seriously? A prerequisite is to
learn to think creatively in terms which both reflect reality and
reach out for imagined possibilities. This in turn depends on
capturing what is essential about the world we live in, its movement
and direction, not just its stable forms. I have argued that the stage
of capitalism we have reached is at the same time global and virtual,
each term reflecting the phase of mechanisation I have called the
communications revolution. The idea of virtual reality goes to the
heart of the questions I have raised here. It contains the movement
which links the book's form to its content, extension from the actual
to the possible. Virtual means existing in the mind, but not in
fact. When combined with reality, it means a product of the
imagination which is as good as real, almost but not quite real. In
technical terms, virtual reality is a computer simulation which
enables the effects of operations to be shown in real time. The word
real connotes something genuine, authentic, serious. In philosophy
it means existing objectively in the world; in economics it is actual
purchasing power; in law it is fixed, landed property; in physics it
is an image formed by the convergence of light rays in space; and in
mathematics, real numbers are, of course, not imaginary ones. [iii]
â??Realityâ?? is present, in terms of both time and space (â??seeing is
believingâ??), and its opposite is imagined connection at distance,
something as old as story-telling and books, but now given a new
impetus by the convergence of telephones, television and computers.

Already the experience of near synchrony at distance, the compression
of time and space, is altering our conceptions of social
relationships, of place and movement. When Hegel set out to show how
thought could move from the known to the unknown by means of
dialectical reason, constructing imagined futures on the basis of
knowledge of the real past, he was hardly aware of the machine
revolutionâ??s first steam-driven stirrings. [iv] Yet he understood that
analytical reason was too far from normal human thought processes to
be able to grasp the movement of history. For that we need narrative
in some form. There are many words for made-up stories and the one I
choose for this chapter is scenario. This is in origin the plot
outline for a dramatic or literary work, but for us it is usually a
screenplay, the story-line of a movie. It can also be used as â??a model
for an expected or supposed sequence of eventsâ??; and, in this sense,
scenarios are often plural, a range of possibilities in a planning
exercise. [v] Here, it is time to extend the retrospective analysis of
money in history to the task of making it in future; and that depends
on making scenarios with many facets and possible outcomes, all
addressing a single question which defines our plot: Will we or wonâ??t
we, humanity that is, be able to make a more just society (as the
market) than the one in which money (as capitalism) currently confines
us? And, as a step towards that end, how may we learn to make our own
money rather than just take it as it comes?

In the previous chapter, I made much of the symbolism of coins, that
form of objective money which (pace Keynes) so clearly represents the
economy of agrarian civilisation from which we would emancipate
ourselves. It is worth recalling that states and markets of the kind
with which we are most familiar developed as institutions designed to
meet the needs of small urban elites living off the coerced production
of the rural masses. We have seen that the dialectical interplay of
heads and tails, of public hierarchy and private exchange conceived of
alike as impersonal institutions, has dogged 20th century society,
finding nightmarish expression in the nuclear stand-off of the Cold
War. It should not have been difficult to see the interdependence of
the two sides; and some nations like Germany and Japan recognised
this, although their example was not inspiring from a humanist point
of view. And this is the point: humanity stands in dire need of an
alternative to this unholy pair, a third way which is more conducive
to self-expression through the money form and hence to economic

Coins gave way to paper currency in the modern period and recently
money has taken the predominant form of electronic digits (or bits)
transmitted through telephone wires. If paper marked a move towards
the assertion of state authority over money, the cheap information
contained in bits allows exchange to admit a higher degree of personal
agency than before. So that, instead of debating whether money resides
objectively in precious metals or is made by political authorities, we
can revive the tradition of banking which emphasised money as personal
credit or acknowledgement of debt. Seen in this light, money is an
expression of trust between individuals in society, an act of
remembering which allows us to bring calculation to some of our
interactions and relationships. This trust is two-sided also, residing
in both personal responsibility and the shared memory of communities,
in personality and culture, to echo an American school of
anthropology. [3] But we can no longer afford the oversimplified
assumption that nation-states monopolise, in their relations with
individual citizens, either the source of money or the only meaningful
locus of community. Most of now live, thanks to cheap transport and
telecommunications, in a plural set of associations of potentially
infinite scope, the most inclusive of which is the world market. Money
must evolve to reflect that plurality and this, I have argued, is
precisely what has been happening already.

It seems likely that, for the foreseeable future, any moves towards
more personalised forms of money will co-exist with those which are
already dominant. A large number of transactions, involving people and
institutions around the world, will have the need of a money or moneys
which have wide acceptability both as money-of-account and as
money-proper, to use Keynesâ??s terms. At present the dollar and, to a
lesser extent, some other national currencies play such a role; and
this has been enhanced by the financial turbulence in east Asia,
Russia and elsewhere during the late 1990s. There are moves to
strengthen the dollar zone of currencies tied to the USA economy. This
comes at the same time that Western Europe has explicitly set out to
establish a rival currency, the euro. The timing of this initiative
was not ideal, since the American economy has been enjoying remarkable
buoyancy when Europe is still struggling with high unemployment and
low growth. In the aftermath of Japanâ??s economic difficulties, the
Chinese have let it be known that they may seek to establish the yuan
as an international currency; but that may have unacceptable political
consequences. In any case, the regional power blocs are shaping up to
offer currencies which aspire to general use in the world economy.

One obvious victim of this development is the independence of national
currencies. Many of these have been more or less useless for
international transactions for a long time, being â??softâ?? or
non-convertible rather than â??hardâ?? currencies. And those few which are
still actively traded in international money markets experience wide
and destabilising fluctuations in their exchange rate, as a result of
the growing size of the free-floating funds which shape these
markets. Keynes called these state-made currencies â??managed moneyâ??,
accepting, within an established range, the logic of markets and
banking. It seems probable that these will persist as an expression of
feelings of national sovereignty, as a medium of public expenditure
and taxation supporting the reduced pretensions of government in
countries whose citizens have traditions they wish to cling to. But it
is my prediction that this level of the economy will be squeezed
between global and local interests and the money associated with it
marginalised as a result.

Keith nails it here in a few graphs in a way that still is not obvious
to at least one nettime alum. Perhaps if Doug had not left in a snit after
911? Rushkoff wants it seems to simply demonize credit and even the
virtual without ever thinking about the reality of the virtual.

It might be interesting if Keith or anyone else from nettime were to
call in....

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