The question of technology and our relationship to it is one that has preoccupied me for some time now. It is separate from us as a concept – technology is not, so to speak, human – and yet it is deeply intimate in so many ways, so much as to make us think that our existence is dependent on it, as is our identity; Winner’s formulation of technology as a Wittgensteinian form of life (as I wrote about in my recent thesis) appears to me to be an appropriate joining of the human being and our technology, like Kevin Kelly’s ‘technium’, a kind of skin. But just as it becomes more deeply insinuated into our lives, there is something discomfiting about it, something unnatural, something foreign. Something alien, perhaps.
Property, and – as philosophers might refer to it – the claim to possession and ownership of externalities, has long been a source of some disquiet. Jean Jacques Rousseau in the Second Discourse (The Discourse on Inequality) begins the second part with the dramatic opening line ‘[t]he first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.’ Plato before him and Marx later both advocated collectivisation, but Rousseau was no communist. The reality of what man had become made such reconstruction impractical. Yet the concept of property has led to inequalities that threaten capitalist society. Slavoj Zizek suggested that ‘…today’s global capitalism [may] contain antagonisms which are sufficiently strong to prevent its indefinite reproduction…’ including what he called ‘…the inappropriateness of private property…‘ especially intellectual property. Rousseau’s prescription was The Social Contract, and the abstraction of the General Will, an investiture of political legitimacy in the sovereign.
Shoshana Zuboff’s ‘Big Other’ and ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ as Future Economic Models
Shoshana Zuboff’s recently published article on what she has termed Information Civilization is a compact and helpful analysis of the kind of internet economies that are emerging in the early twenty-first century. This blog post is a commentary on that text. She takes Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian as her foil, referencing his two articles Computer Mediated Transactions (2010) and Beyond Big Data (2013).
Paul Mason‘s imminent book ‘Postcapitalism’ is plugged this weekend in the Guardian with an extended essay on the subject. Accompanied by some excellent graphics, some of which I’ve reproduced here, the broad thesis is that capitalism as we know it is ending, and that we are moving into a ‘sharing economy’, but at its heart is a Marxist argument about information and power. Mason goes so far as to argue that the changes we are witnessing herald the arrival of a new kind of human being, a sort of cocktail of Marxist proletarianism, social Darwinism, and Kurzweilian posthumanism.
Ireland has had a well documented, rather turbulent recent economic history. Following on from the bursting of the property bubble and the attendant banking collapse, an extraordinarily myopic political decision to nationalise the exposure of the banks led to a sovereign debt crisis, and, ultimately, a bailout from the troika of the IMF, ECB and European Commission. Apart from the loss of money, there was plenty dramatic wailing about the loss of National Sovereignty, and references to the War of Independence and the heroes of 1916 and ‘is this what they died for?’ rhetoric. There was even a nuance to the sovereignty question, in that the country had lost her economic sovereignty, whatever that meant.
Now, politics has always had an uneasy alliance with the propriety of language, bending it to its will as any situation may have seen fit. The distinction between economic sovereignty, and other sovereignty, one supposes, is that while we’re not necessarily allowed to award pay rises to civil servants, we are still permitted to invade England. At least we have that, I guess. Of course, the extent to which we are – truly – permitted to invade England is limited in exactly the same way as our freedom to spend money has been limited. It is not a flat prohibition on action through coercive or other power that has limited what Ireland as a State can do; it is the threat of exclusion from international systems upon which we have become irrevocably dependent that limits our action.
Charles Moore’s article in the Telegraph yesterday caused something of a stir. Equality, he said, was not really a good thing at all. What’s that you say? He must be an elitist! How uncool is that! Well, essentially he was arguing that in the context of women in the army, and in particular on the front line of the army, that it was one step too far. Women just are not as strong as men, and therefore shouldn’t be there. His argument weakened when he extended it into civil partnership, defining marriage in terms of the legal structures for its dissolution, which appears to me to be something of a non sequitur. In essence, Moore misses the point that ‘unconventional’ couples are not seeking access to the institution, but rather to its attendant rights; indeed, they are seeking to fundamentally alter the institution, and make it more inclusive, rather than simply more equal.