[iDC] some thoughts on digital labor and populations

jeremy hunsinger jhuns at vt.edu
Mon Jun 15 11:02:02 UTC 2009

On Jun 15, 2009, at 12:44 AM, Michael Bauwens wrote:

> Hi Jeremy,
> Thanks for the precisions,
> I think we could debate this forever, I'm arguing that things have  
> changed, pointing to the evidence in the things that have changed,  
> and you to the fact that things haven't changed that much, for most  
> people, pointing to evidence in things staying the same.
> But I do not find this a very interesting debate. My approach would  
> be, we now have technical possibilities to globally coordinate small  
> teams to create very complex social artefacts, in ways that  
> outcompete traditional capitalist wage-labour formats, that increase  
> the level of autonomy in important ways.

ahh, i'd say they just as well limit autonomy.  as for the global  
small teams,  there has to the best of my knowledge been a  
transnational elite class capable of the actions you indicate for a  
very long time.  Sometimes they are very successful, sometimes not.   
Ancient Athens for instance had a whole class of such people, the  
metics.  Now the goal would be to establish that the new communication  
regime changes things for the transnational small team, which it does,  
speed changes everything... Virilio talks about that in Speed and  
Politics, amongst other places.  In Popular Defense and Ecological  
struggles though, he discusses one effect that capital and speed  
engines have on individuals and populations, specifically here I am  
thinking of the way capital transforms people into mobile slaves, the  
people 'look free' but they are in the end all working for capital as  
capital and capitalism... is not outside, it is integrated into the  
world.  I think this is somewhat similar to what Jacques Camatte  
describes in his work, but somewhat different also.

> How do we increase and protect that autonomy in the face of the  
> integration of those practices in new adapted forms of capitalism,  
> or even use them to go beyond those limits.

Why do we want to?   perhaps autonomy is just an ideological construct  
developed from the individualism of modernity.   I'd suspect that  
'autonomous workers' are ideal for capital, and we can see this in  
recent debates about mobility of workforces.  Why is it that  
governments want to create mobile autonomous workforces?  It would  
seem in the digital age that people could on the other hand work from  
where they want to live and telecommute to where there labor is needed?

> Alternatively, we focus on the recuperation practices and decide  
> that the 'adversary' has already won, and can return to our  
> comfortable jobs of being paid to be critical, or just leave all  
> those capabilities to others.

I'm not paid to be critical.
> I find the minorities that decide to be co-creative more  
> interesting, and this is the whole world, than those who prefer to  
> consume passively, oblivious of the new potential, and believe that  
> historically it is always such minorities that have caused change.
I've never known a minority that weren't co-creative.  Though... there  
are likely stable cultures,  perhaps the Sentinalese in the Adaman  
islands... I don't know.

> The labour movement of the 19th century fought hard for universal  
> literacy, public libraries and access to education, and I believe  
> contemporary organizers are doing just the same, they are not  
> waiting for a hypothetical OPLC, but using the tools at hand ...  
> Does that mean they are 'winning' ... of course not, not by itself,  
> but it is part of the toolbox of change ...
yes, but change for what.   Andrew Carnegie funded hundreds of  
libraries, what was his goal in that?  It was to benefit mankind, much  
along the way that a mobile workforce benefits mankind.  Education  
does help, but here we have the issue of... 'what education','whose  
education'.  Utah Phillips used to say that he was well educated, but  
there was a problem with that, because he saw that he was educated to  
see the heroes and paradigms of rich as the highest merits, they put  
in the buttons and levers that made him an ideal servant (i'm  
paraphrasing) and it was only after he had been in the world enough  
that he began to see there was another history, another set of  
narratives, that educations and libraries didn't contain, or if they  
did contain it, the presented it in ways that demeaned it.  That's why  
he claims he became a singer/songwriter, because the stories people  
needed to hear were primarily orally transmitted culture.

in any case, there is usually a bit of bias in the historical ideas of  
literacy and education....  They are not usually found to be tools  
that serve autonomy in any necessary way...  The usually do benefit  
people though (at least to my enlightenment ideals mindset). They  
could..., but here i find the story of the term 'literacy' to be  
somewhat informative, but that i think is a huge debate.

> Michel

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