Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jonathan Beller's "Paying Attention"

For a while I have been interested in the way that attention can add value, as a form of immaterial labor that enhances the sign/symbolic value of things -- the attention that attenuates meaning. Attention qua attention may not entirely qualify as this sort of labor yet, but it may in the data trail that our attention produces online. This can be monetized in the connections it produces, the associations. "People who liked this also liked that" -- that sort of thing. One offers this data by virtue of using online media; even if one establishes credibility as an innovative tastemaker, one couldn't, as things stand, withhold the data trail one creates -- one can only choose disconnectivity. That sort of pursuit of isolation seems appealing only when you consider how you are being "ripped off" and having your identity-making "stolen" from you by marketers. But the climate of social media makes such conclusions seem reasonable, "realistic," ideologically appropriate.

Thinking about attention as capital implies that we are alienating our own attention span, abstracting it rather than allowing it to be a spontaneous consequence of our inner motivations. We spend attention rationally, as an investment or to win the exchange, rather than as a consequence of finding ourselves absorbed, giving over our attention with no expectation of future reward, simply for the pleasures of being engaged in the moment. Imagining we have some attention as capital to invest rationally for profit seems to spring up with the idea that we are a personal brand whose equity must be built. But if we are a brand investing our attention, what sort of "being" is behind those concepts to actually profit from the activity, and what form does the "profit" actually take? Mustn't our being engrossed in something be in its own reward? Otherwise, we have abstracted ourselves out of life itself. (Which is to say "value" to the individual is a matter of being engaged in something, absorbed with it. Otherwise the value is strictly theoretical, unable to be actualized. It's frozen, dead like Marx says of capital generally, which is why he occasionally expresses an ironic pity for capitalists, who are turned dead inside.)

Jonathan Beller's The Cinematic Mode of Production: Towards a Political Economy of the Society of the Spectacle is about these ideas, I think, but I haven't yet read it. In the meantime, I've read this 2006 essay in Cabinet, which presumably condenses the core ideas. In the essay, he also concludes that the "final subsumption of our cognitive-linguistic capacities by capital (and its huge industries dedicated to the production of signs) is the mark of the real subsumption of society by capital and the full economicization not only of culture but of what was once called 'human.' " That is, there is nothing beyond capital for its own sake -- no humans outside the system who are "using" capital for some other noble end, or even for self-satisfaction. The self disappears into capital; it is an effect of its circulation, not the thing that does the circulating. (That circulating happens automatically, presumably on account of the total system set in motion as capital was subsuming everything.) That we can talk about the "attention economy" without sounding insane means that the facility has been subsumed by capital, can be understood by its logic of measuring, commoditizing, circulating, and profit-seeking.

Beller's essay is densely theoretical and to my mind needlessly obscure, but interesting nonetheless. Still think a lot of what he's arguing has been superseded by recent and more comprehensible analyses of social media. Actually, Virno, whom Beller cites at the end, is way more lucid on the subject of the "general intellect" that our various media organize. Total mediation of experience means that all of that "general intellect" is captured in exploitable form and can be alienated from the common, privatized as proprietary information.

Beller draws on some of the management/marketing hoopla about the "attention economy," which is "built upon the premise becoming conviction, becoming fact, that human attention is productive of value." As I understand it, that is not the same as when our attention is the product being sold. When attention can be reliably measured, it can be monetized, it can be brokered and sold. This has long been the case with Nielsen's measuring "audiences" broken into demographics for mass media ("selling eyeballs"), but new internet micromedia and emerging social media have put individuals' attention span into play. In the economic climate of measurement and metering, we shouldn't assign (give is now the wrong word) our attention to anything without receiving something in return. Awareness of this "opportunity" is what threatens to prompt our self-exploitation. We are tempted to withhold genuine attention we would naturally give to something in hopes of some other reward than the fact we have been seduced. Beller describes this as a matter of humans being reduced (or reducing themselves in exchange for spectacle-pleasures) to a medium for data. (In his estimable prose: "This brutal calculus that renders human biomass into a mere substrate for information, is symptomatic of the qualitative transformation of the cinematic mode of production into the world-media system")

Attention as "creating value" is something slightly different. This makes attention into a kind of labor that seizes upon a thing and makes it richer. Knowing that you looked at a painting, say, and possibly commented on it and interpreted it could make it a more valuable object to everyone else. Beller writes: "Phenomena such as the cult of the celebrity or the fetish for the painted masterpiece are revealing—the celebrity is not an individual but a social relation characterized by the accumulation of attention, and similarly the masterpiece accumulates the value of all of the gazes that have fallen upon it."

At one level, this is another way of conceiving network effects -- the more people who use certain thing, the more utility it has for all the users and the more value it has for the owner of the network -- and presumably the more the owner can ultimately charge for its use. With social networks like Facebook, the users aren't charged directly; instead the value of their attention is expropriated and sold to advertisers. So this is not that different from the classic radio-TV model, nothing has really changed except the programming, which Facebook gets for free. "Network effects" measure utility benefits to users but also measure the size of the captive audience for the marketers parasitically attaching themselves to that utility (assuming the utility for users is not in the "information" that ads supply -- not as safe an assumption as it might seem).

But Beller has something different in mind. He associates moving images with assembly lines, and sees film viewers as paradigmatic attention-laborers. Then he drops this passage on our heads:
This new machine-body interface known as the cinema acted directly on the imagination to harness attention as a force of social production. The visible world and the Imaginary (the unconscious) became technologically linked and constantly retooled to create an industrial technologization of the Imaginary that today has become generalized. Moving images, the utilization of which valorizes their media as well as modifies spectators, result in the continuous modification of a collective, variegated operating platform that images the world and its relations in exchange for pleasure, social “know-how,” what-have-you. Thus “the image” creates the techno-social modifications necessary to engineer the adaptive forms of social cooperation that have become the pre-requisites for the preservation of capital and capitalist hierarchy.
What? Need help. I think he's saying that watching movies changes viewers by changing the sort of pleasure available to them, and then in exchange for that pleasure. These changed viewers are then more likely to reproduce the social relations needed for what sometimes gets called post-Fordist or postindustrial capitalism -- a capitalism that exploits worker cooperation and communication (or the "general intellect") to a greater degree. The key idea, I guess, is that cinema is a way (a "technology") to unlock the "Imaginary" to systematic exploitation -- making "spectacle" and "images" into salable commodities. The result is "socially produced stupidity": Beller asserts that "Americans are stupid by design."

In other words, cinema uses entertainment as manipulation; it is culture-industry product; it is a vector for ideological fine tuning. The media are the "practical organization of attention" and represent "the viral penetration of the logistics of capital into the life-world that turns revolutionary desires (for self-realization, for survival) into the life-blood of a growing totalitarianism." I've probably said similar things about Facebook. It reproduces the conditions that have allowed for inequality, thereby making them worse.

Not sure why he needs to stress visual culture when the problem is mediatization, which occurs in language as well. I suppose visual culture reifies images and accustoms us to that idea that they are on-demand, that pleasurable experience can be reliably bought. Beller wants to argue that capitalism has a vested interest in making culture more visual and less verbal; I don't think this distinction matters all that much; language and images can be equally degraded, and neither has a special, pure relation to being or reflexivity. Everything is always already mediated (reality and TV are "inseparable," as Beller says), but in language and images, right? I also don't think this lens helps clarify the plight of the "slum people," as Beller calls the people in impoverished cities outside of the major economies.

I kept waiting for Beller to define the "value" he's talking about attention creating, but this is simply assumed. People want your attention, thus it is valuable, thus value is created. But value here is divorced from any notion of ultimate utility. I wanted a look into attention as meaning-making.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Digital exuberance"; always connected, never there

From a Feb. 2006 Prospect article (pdf) by Will Davies.

This article lays out Davies's argument that as we move toward perpetual connectivity, we need a "new ethics of inconvenience" to preserve community in the face of the implicit individualism of gadgetry. "For every technologically enabled gain in convenience or efficiency, there is likely to be a cost to cohesion or stability." Yes. This is because we have come to understand convenience as a special kind of efficiency -- the elimination of the need for social compromise, for politics. Convenience has become the guarantor of the self, or "real identity" to ourselves, since it consists of the fantasy of complete personal autonomy, of total self-sufficiency in pleasing oneself. Against this fantasy stands the real "public value" of democratic institutions that create collective conditions of equality and fairness, that worth of which is easy to forget about in the midst of all the spectacle and self-regarding forced upon us.

Davies suggests that "technological bottlenecks can also be necessary conditions of social interaction or valuable moments of isolation." In the friction generated as we adopt new technology, we are reminded of what is jeopardized by it. Atavistic states of mind can suddenly no longer be taken for granted, and we see for the first time the conditions of everyday life as they are in the process of slipping away for good. Among these conditions are the kinds of makeshift strategies we have derived to sustain community and connection, which new communications technologies tend to supplant or facilitate to such a level of ease that they appear almost superfluous. Communication in many ways inheres in the friction, in the difficulty involved in making it happen, in achieving reciprocal understanding. This same difficulty also limits the degree our personal communications can be commercialized, though emerging social media work to overcome this, removing the stigma on smooth, broadcast interpersonal communication and ending the equation of difficult talk with authentic connection. We may lose sight of the "authentic" as a relevant category with regard to friendship or intimacy.

Davies points out how internet technology has brought benefits mainly to the consumer in terms of efficiency and ease of consumption. Technology makes consumption more convenient, mainly by removing the unpredictable human element. "The assumption underlying the digital model of progress is that we want fewer obligations, more immediate satisfaction, less contact with strangers in public spaces and more with those we already know." The result is a growing selfishness, or rather, a sense of entitlement of being left alone coupled with the delusion that one is at the center of everyone else's world because one is linked to them in a persistent network.
Digital technologies are generally personalised and ubiquitous, allowing us to opt in and out of social situations in a particularly egocentric fashion. Already, mobile phones offer us an almost permanent get-out clause from the here and now. As the ubiquity and bandwidth of the wireless internet grows, so the forms of technological connectivity that are constantly available to us will grow also.
Connectivity is, somewhat paradoxically, a way of never needing to be specifically present in a particular moment. Always connected, never there. It extends an on-demand sociality to every consumer of other people's conversation. You time-shift it to when you can be bothered with it. Synchronized reciprocity ceases to be a cultural norm. Collective identity derived from the habits or even the experience of co-presence is harder to achieve; politics becomes self-centered. Davies argues that "community depends on some sense of continuity and co-dependence, and a sense of the inescapability of social relations." Otherwise we imagine ourselves with limitless individual autonomy, and regard the inevitable limits as gross injustices. We seek to eliminate limits by shunting them onto someone else, gaining freedom at their expense instead of compromises for communal welfare.

Thus we must seek out the "beneficial checks on individualistic autonomy" and find some way to implement them. Davies hopes that the "economy of presence" -- the idea that co-presence, since rare, will come to seem valuable -- will reincentivize difficult communication and consumption inefficiency and inconvenience. But it may be that the passive pleasures of consuming media will more than compensate for the loss in aura that was once derived from face-to-face talk and live performance. He is right that "privilege will lie in access to rare face-to-face services" -- that granting facetime will carry more significance, that human customer service will be reserved for elites who can afford it while the rest of us deal with automated "help" that serves mainly to drive us to distraction until we give up our grievances.

But this basically means we only want human contact in a crisis of some kind, and under normal circumstances it is a democratic triumph that most of us are freed from the indignity of other people's frailties. Wanting to talk to a person in virtually any situation is a signal that everything is fucked -- that the self-sufficiency of the individual has been breached. We are forced to face our lack of autonomy, and we likely hope we can buy our way out of extended human contact -- that we can purchase help as commodified labor. When people recognize the need for each other, the need to unite in collective purpose, it is regarded as an extraordinary, and unpleasant, situation, an anomaly rather than the norm, let alone the ideal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Will Davies quotes Alain Ehrenberg's The Weariness of the Self: Diagnosing the History of Depression in the Contemporary Age:
Depression began its ascent [in the 1960s] when the disciplinary model for behaviours, the rules of authority and observance of taboos that gave social classes as well as both sexes a specific destiny, broke against norms that invited us to undertake personal initiative by enjoining us to be ourselves. These new norms brought with them a sense that the responsibility for our existence lies not only within us but also within the collective between-us. I try here to demonstrate that depression is the opposite of this paradigm. Depression presents itself as an illness of responsibility in which the dominant feeling is that of failure. The depressed individual is unable to measure up; he is tired of having to become himself.
I think I need to read this book. Depression, by this interpretation, is what happens when the burdens of sharing, etc., the incentives to self-actualize through communication, become overwhelming. That burden, arguably, has been progressively made heavier by "communicative capitalism" and its incentives and ideological cajoling it offers for us to develop our personal brand. Davies's gloss is that "the result is a paradoxical combination of narcissism and depression, whereby the individual projects an omnipotent ideal of who they truly are, but (like any ideal) one which their actions are never able to match." This, perhaps, is the "new narcissism." We grandiosely reconceive ourselves as a media company with a personal brand, but we never amass a sufficient amount of brand equity.

We must further attenuate our uniqueness and justify our precious sense of specialness, since it is no longer rooted in a traditional identity, in our social contribution to reproducing a particular community's way of life. With self-fashioning subsumed by capital, capitalist logic now governs it, meaning it must be commodifed (as data) and exchangeable and then turn some sort of profit in being circulated. It needs to continually valorize itself. Thus the self we must become is not a "steady-state" self but a self always on the verge of "creative destruction" -- a self that must continue to grow or die. We end up with an ideology that celebrates an entrepreneurial sort of self that is putatively free to fail, but a lived self that is ravaged or emptied by the perpetual insecurity.

Depression is a different way of conceptualizing a refusal to reiterate the requisite process of ceaseless self-destruction. It is a way of expressing a refusal of the freedom to fail by making a particular failure permanent. Depression is a kind of resistance that manifests as self-destruction, since the self has become caught up in the thing we long to resist in our souls.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Communicative capitalism, the compulsion to make more text

From Jodi Dean, Blog Theory. Heavy on the Lacan, which I didn't find very useful; seems like this merely translates phenomena into a coded language more than anything else, which seems like a dead end. But there are several illuminating passages that seem detachable from the Lacanian superstructure.

The first is Dean's idea of "communicative capitalism" -- capitalist system where acts of communication are the main commodity being exchanged, where communication is the most lucratively exploitable -- at least that is how I understand it. Here is her definition:
I take the position that contemporary communications media capture their users in intensive and extensive networks of enjoyment, production, and surveillance. My term for this formation is communicative capitalism. Just as industrial capitalism relied on the exploitation of labor, so does communicative
capitalism rely on the exploitation of communication. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri argue, “communication is the form of capitalist production in which capital has succeeded in submitting society entirely and globally to its regime, suppressing all alternative paths.” A critical theory of communicative capitalism requires occupying (rather than disavowing) the trap in which it enthralls and configures contemporary subjects. I argue that this trap takes the form that modern European philosophy heralded as the form of freedom: reflexivity. Communicative capitalism is that economic-ideological form wherein reflexivity captures creativity and resistance so as to enrich the few as it placates and diverts the many.
My way of putting this is that we develop our identity and seek recognition in ways that can be captured in networks and are exploitable for other ends. This invalidates the identity discovered through this process -- we are forced to be reflexive about our self-creation but the reflexivity makes identity more tangible but more inauthentic feeling. The key point is understanding reflexivity as a kind of trap, a kind of compulsion that generates more communication that doesn't serve the communicator -- the more we try to articulate the self, the further we are from grasping it, the more extensive becomes the alienation. This seems a matter of perspective on communication -- we are brought to understand it and sociality more generally as quantitative, abstract. The texture of life begins to vanish, but culturally available modes of pursuing it worsen the problem. She quotes Žižek: “Is not one of the possible reactions to the excessive filling-in of the voids in cyberspace therefore informational anorexia, the desperate refusal to accept information, in so far as it occludes the presence of the Real?” And she adds: "It’s like the feast of information results in a more fundamental starvation as one loses the sense of an underlying Real." Baudrillard explains this as being caught up in the simulacra. The "filling in" makes ambivalence about connectivity and information surfeit worse; the fantasies of completeness become more elaborate and thus more destructive, corrupting everything they touch. Anything digitized becomes suggest to completeness-mania. Intimacy in friendship is particularly corrupted. Others become "overpresent" -- they force upon us "unbearable intrusions of the other's jouissance." That's possibly my main problem with being on Facebook, I think. Others appear fulfilled in their happiness and presence and I am utterly superfluous to it. Always true, but not something i want to be reminded of.

One consequence of the "creative tools" afforded by Web 2.0 is a sense of inadequacy to the tools: "it’s stifling as it confronts users with their lack of skills and imagination." It structures enjoyment as quasi-social but ultimately solitary, a mode in which one needs not answer to anyone else, in which convenience is the guiding principle. "Convenience trumps commitment," as Dean puts it.

Central to Dean's interpretation of blogging is "whatever being" -- belonging as belonging, rather than to anything in particular. Participation for its own sake, as a mode of avoiding commitment, perhaps. It structures noncommitment: "With multiple convergent and turbulent media, I don't have to settle on any one direction or theme ... these multiple, circulating impulses incite in me a kind of permanent indecision or postponement, a lack of commitment – what else is out there?"

Online, we are not sure of who is watching, so our identity shaping gestures are tentative, incomplete, anxious. "We imagine ourselves one way, then another, never sure of how we appear because we don’t know before whom we appear." We inhabit simultaneous subject positions, which inhibits empathy in our observers, and in ourselves for the onlooker -- what Adam Smith was necessary for sympathy and moral responsiveness. "Caught in reflexive networks – always another move, another level – we lose the capacity for reflection. Our networks are reflexive so that we don’t have to be." I think we are reflexive; it just is expropriated and is a trap, a punishment within capital's networks.

The social media forms allow performance of authenticity as immediacy, as "spontaneity" which is a consequence of how messages are consumed rather than composed. We tend to forget in our "sharing" how exposed we are -- we think of it as something we do, not a passive state of vulnerability, as it actually is.

Online media concentrate us on the metadata: "Differently put, they track the fact of the spoken as they direct us away from what is said."

The key point for me in interpreting Web 2.0 has always been this: "Far from inaugurating a new creative, post-monetary commons, media practices like blogging and social networks ease the paths of neoliberal capitalism. Why should employers pay for work that we happily do for free?" Yes. Neoliberal capitalism seems to evolving in conjunction with social media, which lays down the infrastructure for its markets and for the modes of subjectivization it prefers -- creating influencers and hyperconsumers and so on. The nature of "unpaid work" has changed from domestic work to this sort of affective labor that can be conducted digitally inside corporately owned networks, establishing norms of civility and reciprocity within them and not opposed to them. But it also makes this work trackable, countable, so the way is paved to making it wage work, explicitly commodified and commercialized. People can reasonably demand payment to do it. The making of bonds becomes a kind of wage work in this emerging neoliberal capitalist society.

So basically this is how neoliberalism currently works: unpaid work in the commons (social being, etc.) is captured in networks where capital can exploit it and where it becomes reflexive for individual subjects. Then subjects have an investment, by capitalism's terms, to make that work pay, make it commodified abstracted labor. Thus capitalism internalizes more and more of experience to itself, its system, its interpretive lens -- more and more human behavior is understood in terms of maximization incentives. Other ideological incentives for action are suppressed. Sociality is thereby proletarianized.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Awkward incentives to communicate

from this post by Will Davies.
Mobile telecom companies ... are so culturally pernicious because they are effectively flogging language itself. In an age when there is scarcely any limit to what can be mediated, and where or when it can be distributed, there is no relationship or artefact that isn't on sale at your nearest Vodafone stockist. Your granny, Coldplay, BBC, work, dating are all part of the package. It's everything.

As the scarcity of Everything gradually wanes, the companies are becoming bolder in their branding of the infinite. T-Mobile now has an advert asking 'What would you do with limitless texts?' with a photo of a happy punter saying things like 'I'd text everyone I know and put together the world's greatest super-group!' (sorry??). Infinite opportunity to say, share, broadcast everything all the time anywhere has to be sold as a positive achievement, with a tangible result. But the truth was sitting across the aisle from me on the 15.03 from Birmingham: a restless child, pawing at a toy which promised everything and delivered scarcely anything.... This isn't progress.
When communication itself is the product, what is communicated is irrelevant, abstract, all the same, all commensurable to the units of communication being traded. And an incentive is generated to spur communication for its own sake -- noncommunicative communication that doesn't facilitate understanding but necessitates more communication -- and this incentive embeds itself as ideology and finds its way into our reflexive subjectivity. We all suddenly feel like it's who we are to want to be "creative" and "share" so much online.

Davies looks at this through the lens of "economy of presence" -- telecoms have incentive to encourage us to choose to communicate with people who are not present, because they cannot monetize unmediated conversation taking place face-to-face. "The mobile phone company's task is to convince us that moving more of our lives into the column entitled 'Different place' is a form of liberation." It does this by making mediated sociality seem more convenient -- it flatters us, telling us we are too important and to have our individuality or our schedule compromised by the ardor of reciprocal conversation. Direct human interaction is figured as a de facto nuisance.

Its success at accomplishing this is testified to by our willingness to mediate more and more discourse in the name of it being more convenient because less reciprocal. The media companies sell us the ability to opt out of conversation and make discourse entirely asynchronous, on-demand -- akin to time-shifting television consumption. We start to consume conversation as though it were television; it becomes less spontaneous, more geared to our entertainment, otherwise we reduce it to the bare minimum: a text of "k" to confer agreement, etc.

The last hill for telecoms to conquer, Davies argues, is the nostalgia for actual presence: the feeling of "I was there" when something momentous occurred: "The 'But I was there!' plea is an attempt to cling to something that cannot be watered down and rendered worthless by over-production." Despite the ideological snow job, we still yearn for presence, for the limits on time and space that provide an aura of meaningfulness. This reminds me of a passage from Ortega's Revolt of the Masses in which he comments on time-space compression but views it as an enhancement of vitality: "we get a childish pleasure out of the indulgence in mere speed, by means of which we kill space and strangle time. By annulling them, we give them life, we make them serve vital purposes, we can be in more places than we could before, enjoy more comings and goings, consume more cosmic time in less vital time." It turns out that "vital time" is a real constraint that when superseded, empties cosmic time of its textural richness and fills it with abstract experiences to tally.

To preserve vital time in the face of telecom advertising hype and a general ideological climate that celebrates accelerated cultural consumption as an end in itself (more=better!) Davies advocates resistance, deliberate slowness, complexity, difficulty -- anything to interrupt information processing and invite contemplation and co-presence. But the increasing ubiquity of devices and connectivity militates against resistance. Davies notes that it even colonizes the simple pleasure in being there, transforms it into a mediated pleasure of announcing one's presence.
With telecoms inter-woven with everyday social life, be it long distance or otherwise, all varieties of space are being marketed. We're cajoled to relinquish our enjoyment of just being there, and when we refuse, we're sold a new package which allows us to shout 'but I was there!' It's suffocating.
That is Foursquare in a nutshell.

Gadgetry offers undeniable convenience but masks the price we must pay in surrendering nostalgia, contemplation, rich experience. Not only that, but widespread gadgetry adoption creates network effects that make not having gadgets more and more socially isolating; thereby tech holdouts are coerced into adoption themselves. As long as resistance leads to social isolation and loneliness, it will always be futile.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ortega y Gasset's The Revolt of the Masses

Unrepentantly snobbish and of its time, Ortega's Revolt of the Masses (1930) looks down its nose at proto-fascistic "mass-men" -- the spoiled ingrates who never had to suffer for a more liberal world and who "automatically" take its plenitude for granted.
The common man, finding himself in a world so excellent, technically and socially, believes that it has been produced by nature, and never thinks of the personal efforts of highly-endowed individuals which the creation of this new world presupposed. Still less will he admit the notion that all these facilities still require the support of certain difficult human virtues, the least failure of which would cause the rapid disappearance of the whole magnificent edifice.
As a result, mass men have "two fundamental traits: the free expansion of his vital desires, and therefore, of his personality; and his radical ingratitude toward all that has made possible the ease of his existence." The mass-man, who is of course "unintelligent," thinks "everything is permitted to him and that he has no obligations."

Ortega posits two sorts of people, those who drift along contentedly, self-satisfied, and those "noble" souls of gold who are impelled to strive. With characteristic circumspection, Ortega proclaims:
For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort toward perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves.
With the rise of mass-men, the buoys are in position to impose their coarse, common self-satisfaction on liberal institutions and thereby destroy them. The average man are hydraulically injected with "ideas" but he "lacks the faculty of ideation.
He has no conception even of the rare atmosphere in which ideas live. He wishes to have opinions, but is unwilling to accept the conditions and presuppositions that underlie all opinion. Hence his ideas are in effect nothing more than appetites in words.
Ortega romanticizes at a safe distance the struggle of material deprivation. "There might be a deceptive tendency to believe that a life born into a world of plenty should be better, more really a life than one which consists in a struggle against scarcity. Such is not the case.... The abundance of resources that he is obliged to make use of gives him no chance to live out his own personal destiny, his life is atrophied."

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Communicative capitalism"

From this conference paper (doc) by Jodi Dean, "Is Democracy Possible? Sure, This Is What Democracy Looks Like." Says do not cite, but no one reads this blog anyway.

It’s as if the dismantling of the social welfare state were somehow disconnected from the celebration of networked communication as the new ensemble of tools and skills and associations that will enable the individuals left exposed by the disintegration of a social safety net to compete, even survive, in the brutal environment of neoliberal capitalism. It’s as if the incitement to individualize and personalize were not an element of the diminution of a sense of the collective and the common—a sense that the protests are reinvigorating.

In other words, neoliberal democracy seeks to hyperindividuate so as to divide and conquer. It presents equality in communication as compensatory for economic inequalities. We resign ourselves to "capitalist realism," accepting this as the only real alternative. "Fixing democracy" is a cover story for accepting the status quo.
The conditions that enabled democracy to name an ideal have passed. Now it is a means of financialization and xenophobia. So to continue to appeal to democracy is in effect highly conservative, an instance of misplaced longing for a movement that has already been realized. No one contests democracy. No one says that people should not express their views, participate, get involved

At the same time, the economy is changing to something more communication driven.
My goal is to highlight the convergence of communication and capitalism in a formation that incites voice, engagement, and participation only to capture them in the affective networks of mass personalized media, networks that presuppose and intensify individualism such that widely shared ideas and concerns are conceived less in terms of a self-conscious collective than they are as viruses, mobs, trends, moments, and swarms. It’s odd, isn’t it, this transformation of publicity into the terms of epidemiology—an idea or image with an impact “goes viral.” Channeled through cellular networks and fiber optic cables, onto screens and into sites for access, storage, retrieval, and counting, communication today is trapped in the capitalist circuits it produces and amplifies.
Good description of social media as form of immaterial labor that reproduces the social as a set of atomized personal brands seeking synergy.

The two ideas get connected this way, through psychoanalytic idea of drive:
In drive, enjoyment comes from missing one’s goal, from the repeated yet ever failing efforts to reach it that start to become satisfying on their own. This is democracy for the left: our circling around, our missing of a goal, and the satisfaction we attain through this missing. Media companies love this—not only do they enable us to keep circling, ever more and ever faster, but they can capitalize our satisfaction, privatize and monetize our traces.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

marx and value

As Heinrich states, "Value does not arise somewhere to then be 'there'." Value is not a thing but rather a social relationship. It emerges neither through production nor through exchange, but presupposes both. It is a property something is assigned in relation to other things, which then gives the appearance of possessing it quite apart from such a relationship. As Marx insists on repeatedly, value is a ghostly or over-sensual property, not a substantial one. The conception of a commodity possessing its value objectivity independent of these relations is a semblance that transforms a social property into what is taken to be a natural one.

The same situation applies to Pierre Bourdieu's non-economic concept of capital. One must both work for one's capital, get an education, practice, and produce something which is recognised by the field of science or art in order to become a scientist or an artist, or else one becomes neither, regardless of what one has produced for the drawer or the hard disc. Similarly, the value-relation does not arise in exchange without a labour process, but without exchange, concrete labour would never be reduced to abstract labour either, and thus, no value would emerge. One might also bring to mind Ludwig Wittgenstein's by now famous, and to modern social sciences so significant statement, that one cannot have a private language. The same thing applies to the value, one cannot decide it on one's own.

from Eurozine article by Anders Ramsay about Marx's theory of value. Emphasis added. Value is a complex, condensed relation, not a transferable property. Its abstraction is always ideological, since it depends entirely on its specific embeddedness. It is a quality and never a quantity.