[iDC] Immaterial Labor and life beyond utility

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Fri Aug 17 18:11:04 UTC 2007

davin heckman wrote:
> At the risk of sounding naive...

Well, no, this is one of the most interesting posts I've recently read, 
thank you. You capture the, shall we say, duplicitous nature of everyday 
life under the capitalist system just about perfectly, and in 
wonderfully commonsense language.

 > Utility or Subjectivity are not either/or propositions.   They can and
 > should be viewed side by side, building each other up, and expanding
 > the possibilities for moral action.

I have never read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations or his Theory of Moral 
Sentiments, but it seems that the side-by-side situation is exactly what 
he was looking for, by all accounts.

The problem as I see it is that the 5% of whom you speak conceive the 
situation neither in terms of usefulness or singularity, but rather in 
terms of power. What they seek to accumulate has nothing to do with 
utility or subjectivity, because, in the case of a guy like Murdoch, it 
so vastly exceeds whatever they could need or desire. By progressively 
accumulating such an immense, literally world-spanning media empire, 
Murdoch apparently wants to discover how many angels can dance on the 
head of a pin, by making us all jiggle at his will here on the cosmic 
pinhead of planet Earth. He seeks a godlike power.

Perhaps a good reason not to do any more free advertising for the charms 
of NewsCorpSpace?

best, Brian


> As I see it, the difference between "utility" and "subjective
> experience" (or "the everyday" or "the singular" or whatever) is the
> congitive frame in which the event is examined.
> The goal of framing an event as "utility" is to provide some measure
> of its worth.  The goal of framing an event as a "singular" experience
> is to prove the immeasurability of its worth.  The proclamation of
> subjectivity is an individual's way of asserting ownership over the
> event.  "Utility" is the means by which ownership of an event is
> categorized within a system.  In the capitalist system, capitalists
> seek to assert ownership of that property.
> The interesting thing is that people who accumulate capital along the
> boundary of these two competing frames, seem to want to insist two
> things at once.  The "singular" experience is real.  The right to own
> the aspects of these experiences that we call "utility" is real, too.
> This has the effect of outflanking the subjective experience and
> surrounding it by utility.  To use a material example, Disneyland
> operates this way.  Your experiences at Disneyland are your "own."
> But Disney owns Disneyland itself.  The subjective experiences are
> built upon the framework of utility at Disneyland.  And you pay for
> the right to enter into this framework.  Subjectivity becomes, in this
> context, a part of the system.
> And, so, we ask:  "So what?"  The individual gets subjectivity.  By
> day you work at Walmart, but at night you are a fairy princess...
> It's better than just working at Walmart.  (And then someday the
> collection agency kicks down your door and hauls off your belongings,
> and now you work at Walmart under court order to pay your creditors.
> Exiled from fairyland!).  Nevermind the billions of people who don't
> even have this much.  Meanwhile, a few people in some far off place
> gain significant material advantages that will provide real
> opportunities for long life, physical and legal security.
> I don't mean to appear to sound anti-capitalist when I say such
> things.  One way to look at this problem is that 95% of people are
> encouraged to ignore capitalism by the 5% who are slavishly obedient
> to it.  This small 5% measures everything and slams it into the
> category of "utility", and then insists to the other 95% that money
> doesn't matter, that nobody's counting, that our lives are priceless.
> (But they still send out monthly bills for some crazy reason).
> The 95% would benefit greatly by understanding the value of their
> work, by applying the same frame of "utility" to the world around
> them.  (But, alas, teaching poor people to be better capitalists is,
> to the 5%, just another word for communism).
> I'm not saying we need to take back the wealth accumulated by MySpace
> (It's not MySpace, afterall, it's theNewsCorporation'sSpace).  I'm
> just saying that we should be more mindful of the wealth we create and
> how we invest it.  Should we build "OurSpace" (and there are enough
> examples of communities/movements in web 2.0 that try this)?  Should
> we spend time planting tomatoes in a community garden?  In a consumer
> economy, I know it's bad to talk about the virtues of "thrift"...  but
> we need to reconceptualize this old-fashioned capitalist value in the
> new economy.  How can we preserve our capital?  Pass it on to our
> kids?  Give it to the needy?
> If we truly want to assert the primacy of subjective experience, then
> we should not be afraid of attempts to understand the various measures
> that are applied when it is shoehorned into utility.  Of course the
> things we do are useful.  They benefit us.  They benefit others.  They
> can harm people, too.  Without a notion of human agency and its
> ramifications, we cannot even begin to understand ideas like "freedom"
> and "goodness" and all the other things that we are supposed to care
> about.  As long as we ignore the ramifications of the "real" world, we
> cannot even begin to have "real" experiences.  And though
> "subjectivity" exists in our head, it is always applied in space and
> time and communicated through material phenomena to others.
> Utility or Subjectivity are not either/or propositions.   They can and
> should be viewed side by side, building each other up, and expanding
> the possibilities for moral action.
> Peace!
> Davin Heckman
> www.retrotechnics.com
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