Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Figures of the Common: Species Being, Transindividuality, Virtual Action

Paper was originally presented at the Futures of the Common conference at the University of Minnesota in 2009. Some of this has been taken up into my current work, and some of it has been abandoned. I am posting it here for the gnawing criticism of digital mice. 

The common has become a central term for political action and philosophical reflection. At first glance this would seem paradoxical; after all, Marx argued that capitalism confronts us as immense accumulation of commodities, as a situation in which all that exists, exists as a commodity, as private property. The attention to the common would then seem to be the worst sort of nostalgia, a lost Eden before the fall of primitive accumulation. Proponents of the concept, however, argue that the term does not just shed light on the origins of the capitalism, on the destruction of the agrarian commons that constituted the necessary condition for the emergence of labor power, but reveals its current function, as capital appropriates not just the commons in terms of land and resources, but the common, understood as the collectively produced and circulated knowledges, habits, affects, and concepts that produce our cultural life.[1] It is worth noting, however, that this distinction between past and present, material commons and the immaterial common, is not that rigid. 

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Contradictions at Work: The Task for a Philosophy of Labor (with Hegel, Marx, and Spinoza)

Draft of Paper Presented at University of Memphis

The current economic crisis has returned the economy to the center of politics. The economy no longer functions as the silent backdrop of political contestations over rights and responsibilities, but has itself been politicized, at least in terms of rhetoric. Central to this new rhetoric of politics is the status of work, albeit in an ambiguous and contradictory manner. Occupy Wall Street, and the various occupations around the globe, framed the question of work, to the extent that they addressed in, in terms of a divide between Main Street and Wall Street, a divide between those who work, producing goods or at least services, that could be useful and beneficial to society, and those who only exploit this labor, whose elaborate and complex formulas for generating debt, and thus have no productive value or worth in society. It is a division between productive labor and unproductive labor, workers and parasites. This division is mirrored, which is to say reflected and inverted, in the rhetoric surrounding various government programs for austerity, cutting social services and programs, which are almost always framed in terms of “putting people to work” of ending the “entitlements” which have coddled the retired, disabled, or lazy, allowing them to parasitically live off of the hard work of others. We are no longer haunted by the spectre of communism, but by the spectre of the free-loader, but the identity of this free-loader is shifts across the political spectrum. Work is thus the basis for a left populism or right populism, in each case “work” represents the people, the masses, the majority, whose interest and efforts need to be defended against a parasitic minority of either venture capitalists or state employees, the unemployed, and retired. Between this war of competing populisms there is the social and technological transformation of work, the growing realization that the jobs, especially those that sustained the idea of a “middle class” jobs that provided a degree of comfort, security and stability, might be gone for good, replaced by some combination of technology and outsourcing. (When the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat imagines a world without work things have gotten very weird). Work is placed at the center of political life, defining the people, and the exact moment when its technological and political conditions are radically changing.