Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams on Our Present Situation

This is the introduction to Srnicek and Williams’ Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work.  It’s an elegant summary of our present situation, and a fine antidote to the techno-utopianism of the Right or Liberal-Centre.

“Where did the future go?  For much of the twentieth century, the future held sway over our dreams.  On the horizons of the political left a vast assortment of emancipatory visions gathered, often spring from the conjunction of popular political power and the liberating potential of technology.  From predictions of new worlds of leisure, to Soviet-era cosmic communism, to afro-futurist celebrations of the synthetic and diasporic nature of black culture, to post-gender dreams of radical feminism, the popular imagination of the left envisaged societies vastly superior to anything we dream of today.  Through popular political control of new technologies, we would collectively transform our world for the better. Today, on one level, these dreams appear closer than ever. The technological infrastructure of the twenty-first century is producing the resources by which a very different political and economic system could be achieved.  Machines are accomplishing tasks that were unimaginable a decade ago. The internet and social media are giving a voice to billions who previously went unheard, bring global participative democracy closer than ever to existence. Open-source designs, copyleft creativity, and 3D printing all portend a rejuvenate economic planning and give us the ability to direct economies rationally in unprecedented ways.  The newest wave of automation is creating the possibility for huge swathes of boring and demeaning work to be permanently eliminated. Clean energy technologies make possible virtually limitless and environmentally sustainable forms of power production. And new medical technologies not only enable a longer, healthier life, but also make possible new experiments with gender and sexual identity. Many of the classic demands of the left—for less work, for an end to scarcity, for economic democracy, for the production of socially useful goods, and for the liberation of humanity—are materially more achievable than at any other point in history.

“Yet, for all the glossy sheen of the technological era, we remain bound by an old and obsolete set of social relations.  We continue to work long hours, commuting further, to perform tasks that feel increasingly meaningless. Our jobs have become more insecure, our pay has stagnated, and our debt has become overwhelming.  We struggle to make ends meet, to put food on the table, to pay the rent or mortgage, and as we shuffle from job to job, we reminisce about pensions and struggle to find affordable childcare. Automation renders us unemployed and stagnant wages devastate the middle class, while corporate profits surge to new heights.  The glimmers of a better future are trampled and forgotten under the pressures of an increasingly precarious and demanding world. And each day, we return to work as normal: exhausted, anxious, stressed and frustrated.

“At a planetary level, things appear even more ominous.  The breakdown of the global climate continues unabated, and the ongoing fallout from the economic crisis has led governments to embrace the paralyzing death-spiral of austerity.  Buffeted by imperceptible and abstract powers, we feel incapable of evading or controlling the tidal pulsions of economic, social and environmental forces. But how are we to change this?  All around us, it seems that the political systems, movements and processes that dominated the last hundred years are no longer able to bring about genuinely transformative change. Instead, they have forced us onto an endless treadmill of misery.  Electoral democracy lies in remarkable disrepair. Centre-left political parties have been hollowed out and sapped of any popular mandate. Their corpses stumble on as vehicles for careerist ambitions. Radical political movements bloom promisingly but are quickly snuffed out by exhaustion and repression.  Organized labour has seen its power systematically taken apart, leaving it sclerotic and incapable of anything more than feeble resistance. Yet, in the face of these calamities, today’s politics remains stubbornly beset by a lack of new ideas. As crises gather force and speed, politics withers and retreats.  In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been canceled.”


Objectivism 4 – On Capitalism

I’ll begin by offering an interpretation of of Objectivism primarily sees in capitalism: it is the social system which best allows humans to freely practice virtues.  Objectivist writers repeatedly claim that the productive aspects of capitalism, the material benefits it provides, are of secondary concern when it comes to justifying capitalism.  The essay “Theory and Practice” even calls attempts to primarily justify capitalism on the basis of its ability to provide for the common good—which can only really mean to raise living standards—“naive and suicidal.”  Capitalism is first and foremost about the free exercise of virtue. In this sense, Rand portrays capitalism as the ultimate evolution of Aristotle’s polis: that which is founded for the sake of survival, but continues for the sake of the good life.

The citations are all from the kindle edition of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, in particular these essays: “What is Capitalism” (WC), “The Roots of War” (RW), and “Antitrust” (AT).  Other essays are cited by name.

Continue reading →

Jean-Luc Nancy on Responsibility

From the essay “Responding to the World” in A Finite Thinking.

“For what are we responsible? For the possible effects of the space probe that passes outside the solar system; for the fragile constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina; for the juridical problems posed by the Internet; for the transformation of the objects of African rituals into art curios; for the spread of AIDS; for the return of scurvy; for the invention of marine agriculture; for television programs; for public support of poetry; for poetry with or without support; for the memory and the explanation of all geno­cides; for the history of the West, now spread to the entire world, at least in Deleuze’s sense when he says that ‘we are not responsible for the victims but responsible before them.’ Ultimately, we are responsible for every­ thing that could possibly be said to concern action or morals, nature or his­tory; we are responsible—so we tell ourselves, and so, in any case, thinkers and writers tell us—for being, for God, for the law, for death, for birth, for our own existence, for beings as a whole. But which we? We, each one of us, insofar as we know where the individual begins and ends (and it is surely from the standpoint of responsibility that things are least deter­minable); but also we, all of us, insofar as we know what it is to be-together (and here again responsibility makes choice into a problem) . Knowing this, and the problems or aporias that follow from it, is our responsibility. As for knowing or thinking what is meant by a responsibility limited by nothing in space or time, limited neither by imputing subjects nor by fields of application, this is, again and above all, our responsibility, a responsibility, moreover, that faces no one but ourselves.” (pg 290)

Objectivism 2: The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

This is the second post on Objectivist epistemology.  This is more of a grab-bag of criticisms rather than a single sustained argument, but I think the criticisms together show how weak Peikoff’s essay is.  First, he sets up other thinkers as foils for his own position, but at the cost of badly misinterpreting or distorting these other thinks.  Second, he holds other thinkers to a standard of certainty that he himself does not achieve, given his account of how Objectivism’s fallibilism works.  Third, he flagrantly confuses the contingent and the arbitrary.  Finally, his account of identity simply misses the point of the problem of induction.

The citations are from Peikoff’s essay “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy” (AS) in the kindle edition of An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,

Continue reading →