Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Potential of General Intellect

Perhaps one of the elements I appreciated most about Marx’s arguments is that his explanations address meaningful connections between people living within a capitalist system. As Chandler points out, on surface, the dialectic is apparently tidy. I, however, was taken by the complexity and careful articulation of the interrelatedness and interdependence of such a system: “Production, then, is also immediately consumption, consumption is also immediately production. Each is immediately its opposite.” It is in identifying how each stage is unique and interrelated that we are able to begin to understand the complex workings of a capitalist system. This understanding allows us to consider where chinks in the system’s armor are weakest.
The conclusion we reach is not that production, distribution, exchange, and consumption are identical, but that they all form the members of a totality, distinctions within a unity. . Mutual interaction takes place between the different moments. This the case with every organic whole (Exchange and Production para. 4)
Such understanding is key to progress—or dare I say, Revolution. The true nature of the political economy lies disguised within these mutually perpetuating, bi-directional relationships. The distinction between each element is reified within public discourse; each element is examined as unique and unrelated. What is more, individuals are separated from each other, unable to see their relationships to others. While individuals are constrained by their individually situated conditions, we can understand and exploit the interrelatedness of the system.
            This understanding has to come in some sort of general intellect. It is not enough that a few recognize this interconnectedness, but rather such knowledge must compose some sort of communal doxa. While prophetic in some regards, Marx surely had little conception of the extent to which contemporary life would be governed by machinery and technology. Although, in some regards, his conversations concerning machinery condemn society to a spiraling, capitalist hell have come true, in others, we might find the seeds of revolutionary potential.
As early as 1999 Nick Dyer-Witherford argued that technological advancements would break down walls. Economic powers have certainly sought to protect themselves—tightening regulation and controls to keep up with such advancements (consider instances from SOPA, to the death of Aaron Schwartz, to ongoing net neutrality battles). Outside of the strictly commercial, however, Dyer-Witherford suggests that technology can be used to foster a revolutionary knowledge, arguing that, “working-class emancipation involves the collective ownership not only of the physical machinery of production but also of ‘the general intellect’” (p. 220). While far from perfect, we might take into account the role of techology in recent revolutions in across the Middle East. More than simply the where and when of a protest or action, technology revealed and communicated the ways that power manifested itself throughout diverse contexts—and then proposed solutions. While many of these efforts have resulted in little material change (if not a return to some instantiation of pseudo-democracy), I wonder if it is false hope to see the seeds of possibility within the digital. If not televised, I wonder if, through the fostering of revolutionary general intellect, the Revolution might be Tweeted?

Within popular culture, I thought NPR’s T-Shirt Project did a great job of exposing the interconnectedness of our chains of supply and demand, tracing the production of a T-Shirt from cotton field to Western store to an “after-life” in sub-Saharan Africa

Dyer-Witheford, N. (19991). Cyber-Marx. University of Illinois Press: Champaign, IL

1 comment:

  1. Jodi Dean has things to say in response to "revolution might be tweeted" (JD: "no"...).


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