Friday, February 08, 2013

Liberated by robots

At the beginning of capitalism stands the beast – as in all social orders – and at its limit stands the robot. The robot is one of those fascinating border objects. Generated within capitalism as a commodity to produce commodities, the robot – even more than the proletariat – digs the grave of capitalism, to use Marx’s phrase. 

Paul Krugman is quoted  in a recent New Yorker piece on our dark robotic future  as saying: “Smart machines may make higher G.D.P. possible, but also reduce the demand for people—including smart people. So we could be looking at a society that grows ever richer, but in which all the gains in wealth accrue to whoever owns the robots.”  Which gives us a definition of us mortals that transcends biology and mechanics – it is ownership that lords it over things and people. Robots can’t own, in this scenario – just as the computers that are now programmed to plunge into the market and out of the market in microseconds, seeking micro-point differences on which to make profits, generously allow their owners to take all the spoils. And yet, in a society of robot provided abundance,  the justification for owning is – behind the backs of the owners = practically abolished. Each dollar we hold is, in part, staked on scarcity. And scarcity is the mother of capital  – out of its belly capital bursts, greedy little ringer, to make the system of exchange work. But the system of exchange, as economists always forget, is not the purpose of the economic system. That purpose is to serve the  needs of humanity. With the ultimate robot world, we can cast the system behind us, slough it off, bury it. The system would finally have generated its own obsolescence. Economists, however, work for the man, and the obsolescence of the man is outside of their program. Better a nation of slaves than a nation without the wealthy.

Gary Marcus, the man who wrote the New Yorker piece, mentions Oscar Wilde, butnot Karl Marx. However, both Wilde and Marx had their eyes on the prize, as far as what the economy was ultimately for. Marcus even daringly explores an aspect of automation that is rarely mentioned: substituting the computer for white collar jobs.

Secretaries have been replaced by word processors and accountants by QuickBooks. As John Markoff explained last year, in an article entitled “Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software,” blue-collar and white-collar jobs are both threatened. Even new-fangled information-economy jobs like I.T. departments are now endangered by systems like Amazon’s back-end A.W.S. infrastructure, which provides one-stop cloud-based solutions where a team of on-site computer wizards were once needed. With advances in both hardware and software, the time between the invention of a job and its automated replacement is getting shorter.

Marcus doesn’t mention management. Upper management. CEO level management. But of course those jobs are also easy to routinize and automate. And yet, the literature on this is sparse. The reason, of course, is the strong streak of servility in our current American culture that dare not dream of knocking the boss off his pedestal. The boss, after all, is a genius!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Everyman's Marx on the Internet Archive

I've put the Everyman's Marx book up at this link on the Internet Archive.
And I've put an account of this fiasco up at as a review of this always forthcoming and never to be published book. Hey, I have to have my fun.

A guide to self-scabbing

After I put up my post about being ripped off by that feeble excuse for a press, Mark Batty Publishers, I received the following comment:

“New to publishing? Sounds like it. The net is filled with thousands of books that will never see the light of day. Sales forces force that shit for pre-ordering.

Take them to small claims if you're really upset.

Otherwise you just sound like a bitchy child.”
Now, my response to this  was the common-sensical remark, "stuff it up your asshole, fool". Sufficient to the provocation was the jibe thereof.  But I further thought that this comment deserved more philosophical reflection, as it was a useful window into the world we live in - the world oof self-scabbing. 
First, however, like good old Marxists, we have to place the phenomenon of self-scabbing in the larger system under which we all live and rot. I’d define the current world system by the fact that it is dominated in many ways by the class that owns the means of circulation.  At one time, the means of circulation – roughly defined as the instruments of speculation and marketing – was ultimately subordinate to the means of production, but this relationship has long been reversed in the developed economies.
This change of regime brings with it, of course, a whole mental technology – a program of norms, so to speak. I would outline it in broad, cartoonists strokes as follows: we can divide the mental class system in the U.S.A right now approximately as follows: we have a gated community class, a class of scabs and self-scabbers, and a large class of the lost. Lost is close to “loser” – but the lost aren’t all failures in the system. Far from it. They are, however, lost – that is, they feel opposed to the order of things in their bones, but helpless to either comprehend how this system was constructed or how to take it down without losing everything. Thus, the lost stretch from those who are living in such poverty that they are going down into the psychodynamic pits to those who live in an incredible affluence and can’t stand not only their own lives, but the entire cultural shift around them. The lost can be far right or far left – but this merely describes the language in which they express a more primary lostness.
The scabs and self-scabbers, on the other hand, are not lost. They are, however, exhausted. They are exhausted with their daily round of eating shit. My commenter is a typical member of this band. To eat the shit of the bosses, one has to begin by an act of faith and surrender. That act we can call, roughly, eating your own shit. There are more polite phrases for it, of course. I recently read a completely dreadful article in the New Yorker about “Twenty somethings” by Nathan Heller in which eating your own shit is called “keeping up with your cohort.” Heller’s article reads like some strange manifesto gone wrong – a manifesto calling for more conformism and better C.V. writing. It is a bizarre document, but it contains plums for those who can spot em, such as the neutral quotes from various tomes of pop sociology on Heller’s supposed generation that are about keeping up with your “peers”.
Keeping up with your peers.  I would like to create a voice arch enough, mocking enough, sarcastic enough, to simply repeat that phrase until it self-destructs from all the inner rottenness it contains.
However, I think Heller’s article is a product of the self-scabber culture, which it is now my duty and pleasure to define for you on this very stage, for the first time!
According to Smith’s Household Words, “scab” began to branch off (or should one say peel off?) from its mainstream English use to refer to the crust on the skin of clotted blood over a scratch, wound or infection in the sixteenth century. But it didn’t acquire the meaning of strikebreaker until the 19th century. In 1806, the word turns up in a court case involving striking shoemakers with its current meaning.
The scab was driven by poverty and those intra-labor class exclusions that turned the milk and honey of solidarity rancid – the usual racial, ethnic, religious hate. But in the world created by the dominance of circulation, it is not enough that the strikebreaker perform a service for a lower price to the company – now he or she must absorb a sort of strikebreaker’s credo about the self. In essence, the self-scab  breaks the self’s perpetual strike – its utopian demand for depth, broadness, fairness, the ability of each to develop to the full the capacity for unhappiness and happiness – by inserting a boss’s self – by becoming a little delegate from the gated community, policing the range of the permissible, with one eye on the credit record and the other on the C.V.
The self-scabbing ethos requires that any full and free kick in the pants one gives, if only verbally, to the powers that be be mediated, deviated and hallucinated. Such kicks must come from children, bitches, savages – in general from the lost. The self-scab secretly feels lost, and is all the more angry when the lost self is called up within his shaky spiritual framework.
And meanwhile, the self-scab is marked down. He even knows it. He can feel his price dropping. To which the response is to self-scab even harder.
Such is the current state of play in the U.S. Someday, the lost will get a clue, a map, and the self-scabbers will have had enough with eating shit. And something will change. At the moment, though, self-scabbing has developed a powerful claim on being the norm of this age – the Age of the Shiteater.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...