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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'val
Brian Holmes on Mon, 5 Mar 2012 21:17:49 +0100 (CET)


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


On 03/03/2012 08:22 PM, Jonathan Marshall wrote:

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.

Understanding how society works, how its subtler forms of domination work, is quite an important thing. And I believe that's what you're trying to get at Jon, so I follow you there. Here's the thing maybe I can add:

Facebook clearly needs the *users* to generate, not just the daily activity of the network, but above all its huge valuation on the stock market and the actual revenue it gets from selling statistics, which are its raisons d'etre. So one should best start with the nature of the phenomenon, this fact of "using Facebook." What is the *value* of using Facebook?

Now, if you want to find out what usership is - and if you want to distinguish between use value and what Arthur Kroker acidly called "abuse value" (or what you call exploitation) - I think you can gain clarity by leavving the notion of work and workers out of the picture, or more precisely, by locating their place elsewhere in the larger picture. Predatory relations in the financial economy are not directly about work, except for the work of the financial agents themselves. They are about extracting pools of accumulated money-capital from those who have acquired them, most often by working. For individuals, this accumulated money-capital is called income or savings; and it is augmented by a very strange form of savings-in-reverse called "credit" (borrowing against future income). Predation comes after the work is done, or even via credit, without any work at all. Indeed it happens in what is called leisure time.

However, by saying all that, I don't mean to completely separate the two, and I guess this is what you're trying to get at also, so on that I wholly agree. Consumption - along with its *ambiguous* double, use - is part of capitalism (part of the circuit of capital, an essential part) . Marx (who does have some pretty interesting stuff to say about all this) considered consumption and/or use a distinct "moment" of the processual circuit of capital, and the interesting thing about that is, you get another understanding of the whole circuit when you look at it from the specific perspective of consumption/use. So what's the conceptual difference between consumption and use, even if the two are ambiguously related and never appear in pure form? In my view, consumption tends to integrate one to the circuit. Consumption names this integration, and it is oppressive. This is what you are talking about I think. Autonomous use, on the other hand - to the degree that it is possible - tends to distance the user from the imperatives of the circuit.

Concerning the initial argument against using the word labor to describe the process of integration, I could put this in stronger terms: Nobody gets paid to be ripped off. You wouldn't say someone was *working* if they were walking down the street at the moment when they got robbed. Well, when data about people's preferences is coerced out of them and then used by another party to feed them back an enticing offer that will result in their money leaving their wallet or bank account, it's not labor either. The big question is, what kind of society is it when people *enjoy* getting ripped off while walking down the street? For that we have to call in Jodi Dean and Zizek, because since Baudrillard, they are probably the ones who have done the best work about it.

Concerning the relation of social media to the Arab Spring, the movements of the squares, and Occupy Wall Street, I see it pretty much exactly like you. I was just pointing out that, contrary to my own expectation up until that point in time, there is some use to be made out of social media! As to the way the Internet operates first as an enabler of grassroots communication (in real time), then as a surveillance function (because, alas, not only do they survey it in real time, but they also troll through the records of the past), yup, many of us already learned that in the course of the counter-globalization movement.

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.

That's why those polemics against the modernist verion of autonomy were important and well founded. However, it is hard to do politics (at least the kind that takes on board the famous friend/enemy distinction) without some kind of striving for auonomy. To take a political decision, which in the strict sense only happens with others, you have to separate, disidentify as Ranciere would say, you have to say "We believe x, which is not what you believe, and because of that we will do y." Ranciere's book The Disagreement is pretty interesting on that level, but entirely classical, really. There could be an ecological or relational politics that would operate differently, practicing a kind of change through osmosis if you will, but as most thinking so far depends on the model of a subject making a decision, this other kind of politics is not very well understood. The idea that one is effecting incremental change, gradual, micropolitical change, is easily as dodgy as the claim to define one's position and achieve a measure of autonomy from dominant norms. I think the ecological-relational exists alongside the quest-for-autonomy model, there is even a kind of intertwining. I actually try to practice both in a way. Here again is one of your fields of ambiguity. I tend to live with it rather than celebrate it too much. I grew up with postmodernism. The celebration of ambiguity (seven kinds of it, in a famous piece of lit crit) can get a bit boring.

Concerning autonomy:

 it seems like the groups become secondary to the free self.
Rather than paradoxically intertwined with the possibilties of a free
self

Yes, you're right. It takes some effort to figure out what a relational autonomy can be. I have found it interesting to start with the ideas of Castoriadis - which are already quite social - and then go into Guattari's work. He was initially concerned, in an institutional setting, with how people cease to be a "subjected group" and become a "group subject." Those are Sartre's terms, in fact. But then (as with Castoriadis btw) he had to bring the unconscious in. For Guattari, however, the unconscious was not a kind of black box of dreams enclosed within the self. The unconscious was rather the social and machinic relations in which one was entangled without realizing it. Achieving autonomy means changing those relations (changing the entaglement) in very concrete ways. And yet the change is a somewhat groping and uncertain process, first because the relations are mostly unconscious (you are never really sure what they are) and second because it _is_ a collective process, so there is no one privileged subject in control, doing the steering. So Guattari develops a sort of experimentalist quest for autonomy, which in the best of cases leads to what he calls a "collective assemblage of enunciation." Well, that's quite a clumsy phrase in English. I prefer to say, an articulation of collective speech. I did write about all this, in a specifically financial context, in an text called "The Speculative Performance." The question runs throughout my book Escape the Overcode.

The reason for going through all these gymnastics is that trying to find out who you can become - trying to set some kind of course in relation with others - is not so easy in the predatory societies of control. As you say:

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.

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

Yeah, of course this is maybe even the only way to have a discussion! But I would say, be a little careful with it. Paradox or ambiguity for its own sake becomes a form of quietism. Everything's fine - everything's ambiguous!

SO thank you for the response, the discussion, and the
newness.

Yeah, likewise, it's a pleasure to have these kinds of exchanges with people one doesn't know. Nettime is one of those occasional debating societies with fewer predators than average lurking around, I guess so anyway.

best, Brian


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