Saturday, September 17, 2016

Against Connectivity

At the start of summer I gave a paper of this name at NECS in Potsdam: here's a snippet.

In some indefinite but I hope near future this will become part of the argument of the next book, Anecdotal Evidence, itself both an outgrowth from a paper published by NECS under that title and a partial methodological portal to the much dreamed mad major project on Political Aesthetics

. . . .The self is a performance of its history of 'repression', how it has been conformed to the demands of social living. It is easy to imagine a place-based, local culture whose 'ways of being' or 'whole way of life' generate collective agreement to a shared set of mores, and so to a common mode of self.

Network capital today prefers a non-self whose desire is not at all repressed, not at all socially shaped, but plugged into and endlessly receptive to an unstemmable offer of tailor-made satisfactions. Of course the idea that these satisfactions respond to elemental needs is bogus. They speak only to the needs which their articulation with capital has produced. If the self is ab origine alienated by its socialisation, the consumerist non-self is doubly alienated: from its biology and from the framing of desire in the repression of biology in its encounter with the social. Rather than freeing some original desire, the new need is constructed on this double alienation, as a satisfaction external not only to the self but to the social, in which satisfaction is no longer indefinitely displaced but imaginarily instantaneous, and the repression that forms desire in its image is itself repressed in favour of a compulsory orgy of consumerism. It is no surprise that the deracinated and doubly-alienated subject yearns for and validates the very connectivity that has created it and its demand for networks.

What then are these networks that we long to be connected with? On the one hand, they are the many-to-many constellation that has taken the place of community, a world of parties and holidays, friendships and love-affairs, in a community of the like-minded we catch glimpses of in adverts and celebrity lifestyle reportage. We want to be connected to an other place where people who would really appreciate me are already connected and waiting for me to join them. That is the fantasy. In reality, networks are immense technological infrastructures of optic fibre, server farms, satellites and transoceanic cables whose environmental implications are breathtaking. The internet, increasingly integrated with microwave links and cellphone networks, RFID tags and barcodes, credit and loyalty cards, is a network of physical networks. The remnant of a utopian movement towards autonomous self-governance remains, but the internet is physically built, owned and operated almost universally by corporations. The information superhighway realises Marx's fantasia on the construction of roads(Grundrisse, 532)

The peak moment of capital can be recognised when all social needs are fulfilled neither by communities nor by states but by capital. Roads are a social need, but they are also vital to capital when the falling rate of profit forces acceleration and massification not only of production but distribution, and by the same token demands intense speed-up of the physical act of exchange, which places accelerated demands on consumers likewise to consume more, faster and more efficiently. All those minerals and sub-assemblies in our computers and phones are nothing but costs until they have been sold: the faster they are converted back into money, the better. In the interests of maximising consumption of its necessarily permanently expanding production, Marx argued, capital would eventually take over infrastructural projects like roads and, by his time, railways and canals; and in our time communication networks. Needless to say, having paid the piper, capital calls the tune: networks which serve its needs are the highest priority.