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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'val
Jonathan Marshall on Sun, 4 Mar 2012 03:34:40 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'value abundance'?


Brian writes:

>What I have found very limiting in recent years, in the
>discourse around so-called web 2.0, is the use of Marx's notion of
>exploitation in the strict sense, where your labor power is alienated
>into the production of a commodity and you get an exchange value in
>return. 

I'll confess i'm not sure about Marx's terminology, but that is possibly irrelevant to this particular argument.

Let me put it this way, if you will allow. People using facebook, or any other source, engage in labour. The question here is do they get the full return on that labour? The answer is, I believe, 'no'.  Do they get anything from that labour, yes of course, just as they do with most other forms of labour under capitalism. Do they autonomously consent to the amount of extra value being made out of their labour by facebook, and then (perhaps) that value being used against them? Do, they, in many cases even know about this profit being made from their labour? These points are perhaps more ambiguous.  

Ambiguity is important, just like paradox and not proceeding to clear up the mess of reality into exclusive definitions.

Even if facebook users did consent, would the decision be autonomously made, or would it be in the form "Everyone really needs to use facebook nowadays, and if i don't use it i have no hope of being autonomous, and i will be bypassed or left out?" ie are they are bound by a degree of compulsion, fear and by 'the social'?   

Is facebook's profit the result of opportunistic exploitation by the owners and controlers of facebook?  

That depends on your definition of exploitation, I suppose.  Personally I will claim it resembles exploitation.  Just as in the peasant and lord example.  My memory is that Marx thought the peasant and lord relation was in some (but not all) ways preferable to that between capitalist and worker, due to a degree of personal mutual responsibility and obligations. Whether the owners and controllers of facebook feel they have any obligation to their user/workers I don't know - but not much from what i have seen - perhaps just enough to keep them prosuming or in addiction or whatever metaphor you wish to use.

Can we say people are autonomously exploited?

>Then you can quote Capital or (worse) build the academic
>simulacrum of a 1950s labor campaign around that model. For a while,
>as I recall, Christian Fuchs was trying to calculate the monetary
>value of the time people spend looking at other people's lolcats, or
>whatever.

I've not read this work of Christian Fuchs so i won't comment on this, but another simple and inaccurate measure would be to divide the number of people who have made at least one post per week over the last year, into the amount to be raised by market capitalisation, plus the profit for that year.  That would give a monetary value that facebook user/workers each did *not* get.  We can then talk about whether the owners and controlers raised all that monetary value, autonomously or not. Again I think they needed the user/workers to do so.

It strikes me that an imagined slave owner could be poor and actually share their wealth equally with their slave because that kept them both alive. The equality of income, and even the slave's consent, might not imply there was no exploitation. Same with Facebook.

>What gets lost in such an approach is exactly what Michel points to so
>perfectly in the second part of his article, the part that goes beyond
>Facebook itself. He points to, not just the possibility, but the
>*reality* of cooperative production using the tools that we now have,
>and indeed, using the accumulated material, intellectual and artistic
>wealth that is more or less ready to hand for many people in the world
>today, despite the crushing realities of poverty and expropriation.

Well I don't have a problem with that, but does facebook do any of this?
I don't use facebook very often, but collaborative production of the kind that is happening on Nettime, or in this process of moments between you and me, does not seem to happen there that often.

And, even if it did, that does not mean there is no exploitation

Again, to me, the argument seems to be insisting on either the 'good' or the 'bad' and not seeing the both together.

>Most of the functions of capture and control that inhibit us from even
>talking about the use value to which Michel refers seem to depend
>on the simple suppression of this possibility of autonomy within
>the imagination of the user and within the collective imaginary. 

And i guess who (or what) helps to supress this, and how, are important questions

>In
>the case of Facebook -- which I do use vicariously, through all my
>friends -- this has been demonstrated on a global scale with the Arab
>Spring and then Occupy. And it has been an impressive and welcome
>demonstration!

Again i cannot claim to be informed about this, so please think of this more as a thought experiment, but my reading of some of those who used Facebook in the Arab spring, may well imply that Facebook was indeed useful when it was a surprise. 

Even so, it built upon huge numbers of pre-existing networks, contacts and forms of resistance. Without those contacts etc, it would have added nothing and produced nothing, but together with them it did add to their salience and force on occasions.  However, most of those rebelling may not have had access to facebook personally. In Egypt the success of the rebellion may also have depended on the army chiefs not supporting the government, which may have had little to do with facebook and more to do with internal politics and opportunity.

However, and again this is my understanding only, that once facebook was not a surprise, the police and secret service found facebook a tool which enabled them to cut off organisers, deactivate important nodes, find out what was going to happen and prepare for it and so on. At the least, facebook enabled paranoia and distrust to flourish amongst those resisting.  Again it was not just good, but good and bad - from a number of different viewpoints. 

 (I recently read something about how China and facebook will solve their differences, and facebook be advertsied to the Chinese government as a mode of surveillance - that does not mean that will be the case of course, but it adds to the potential ambiguities here). 

>> Can we have an autonomous potential in any case? To me sounds like
>> a potential outside of society, outside of organisation, or the
>> interplay of chaos and structure. So again facebook might be good or
>> bad.

>In my view, the quest for (and not some reified condition of) autonomy
>is the very essence, or rather the departure point, of all egalitarian
>politics. 

It might also seem that the quest for autonomy can also be the essence of an elite politics, in which those with true worth activate their autonomy and guide the sheep beneath them who are declared not to have the potential for autonomy - by virtue of them not having it at the moment.  

This quest for automomy would seem to be the basis of capitalist libertarianism - and that is not meant to be an accusation or branding of you, but simply pointing out the ambiguity of such quests for autonomy.

Especially an autonomy that does not explicitly recognise the importance of others, and of the patterns of social organisation and disorganisation we find ourselves in.

Given i exist surrounded by others, interdependent on others, immersed in social organisations, cultures, languages, prior thought and so on, I don't think i'm autonomous  in any sense that ignores this interdependence. 

>You know, it basically means the self (autos) trying to
>define its own operating system or law (nomos). The autos can be
>a group, it's fundamentally social, collective. 

And this is a point you make here, but somehow, to me, in this position, it seems like the groups become secondary to the free self. Rather than paradoxically intertwined with the possibilties of a free self

>When people try
>deliberately and consciously to define who they can become in the
>relation to others, either by just talking about it or more often by
>developing a project together, they break away from the dominant nomos
>(experienced as a binding norm) and attempt, well, to change life.

Communication does not always lead to greater harmony. Sure it can, but it can also lead to conflict, to mutual hatred, to dispersal, to fossilisation etc.

Communication, attempting to define who you are in relation to others and developing a project together can also reinforce a dominant ethos and nomos, and can lead to projects which intend to impose that ethos.  It can lead to thinking that protects the nomos and promulgates it. The tea party and conservative christians, are examples, unless we are to deny they think, feel and engage and indeed strive for their particular form of autonomy. 

Again good and bad.

>But usually at some point I get back, not just to the interplay of
>chaos and structure (a phrase which I quite like btw), but to those
>moments where particular people and groups make a move within that
>interplay. The reason for always returning to this is simple: that's
>what I find so passionately interesting in life. No accounting for
>taste, however.

I'm just attempting to put the other side and the paradox and ambiguity back in the equation.....

>Sorry, Jonathan. I didn't intend personal offense, but sometimes
>launching a polemic is a good way to have a discussion. Thanks for
>this one.

I don't intend personal offense either, and hope that i am not provoking it.  SO thank you for the response, the discussion, and the newness.

jon

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