The Precarious Soul (Part 2)
by Franco "Bifo" Berardi
Within the aleatory regime of fluctuant values, precariousness becomes the general form of social existence. Capital can buy fractals of human time, recombining them through the digital network. Digitalized info-labor can be recombined in a different location, far from the one that produces it. From the standpoint of capital's valorization, the flow is continuous, finding its unity in the produced object. Yet from the cognitive workers' perspective the work done has a fragmentary character: it consists in fractions of cellular time available for productive recombination. Intermittent work cells turn on and off within the large control frame of global production. The distribution of time can thus be separated from the physical and juridical person of the worker. Social labor time is like an ocean of value producing cells that can be grouped and recombined according to capital's needs. Precariousness has changed the social composition, and the psychological, relational, linguistic, expressive forms of the new generations now facing the job market.
Precariousness is not a particular element of the social relation, but the dark core of the capitalist production in the sphere of the global network where a flow of fragmented recombinant info-labor continuously circulates. Precariousness is the transformative element of the whole cycle of production. Nobody is shielded from it. The wages of workers on permanent contracts are lowered and broken down; everyone's life is threatened by an increasing instability.
Ever since Fordist discipline was dissolved, individuals find themselves in a condition of apparent freedom. Nobody forces them to endure subjection and dependency. Coercion is instead embeded in the technicalities of social relations, and control is exerted through the voluntary yet inevitable submission to a chain of automatisms. In the U.S.A., the great majority of students need to obtain a loan in order to pay their courses and obtain a university degree. The cost of tuition is so high that this loan becomes a burden from which students can't free themselves for decades. In this way, the conditions for a new form of dependence are produced in the lives of the new generations.
The neoliberal values presented in the 1980s and 1990s as vectors of independence and self-entrepreneurship, revealed themselves to be manifestations of a new form of slavery producing social insecurity and most of all a psychological catastrophe. The soul, once wandering and unpredictable, must now follow functional paths in order to become compatible with the system of operative exchanges structuring the productive ensemble. The soul hardens, and loses its tenderness and malleability. Industrial factories used the body, forcing it to leave the soul outside of the assembly line, so that the worker looked like a soulless body. The immaterial factory asks instead to place our very souls at its disposal: intelligence, sensibility, creativity and language. The useless body lies flabbily at the borders of the game field: to take care of it and entertain it, we put it through the commercial circuits of fitness and sex.
When we move into the sphere of info-labor, Capital no longer recruits people, it buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and contingent bearers. De-personalized time is now the real agent of the process of valorization, and de-personalized time has no rights.
Meanwhile, the human machine is there, pulsating and available, like a brain-sprawl in waiting. The extension of time is meticulously cellular: cells of productive time can be mobilized in punctual, casual and fragmentaty forms. The recombination of these fragments is automatically realized in the digital networks. The mobile phone makes possible the connection between the needs of semio-capital and the mobilization of the living labor of cyber-space. The ringtone of the mobile phone calls the workers ro reconnect their abstract time to the reticular flows.
Thanks to the interconnection of its living parts, the social system seems to get more and more similar to a biological system. In 1993, in his book Out of Control, Kevin Kelly talked about vivisystems, artificial systems functioning according to the biorecombining paradigm of living organisms. The general horizon traced by this book is the Global Mind, where we find syntheSized biological organisms and digital networks. The global mind is a biodigital super-organism connecting brains, bodies and electronic networks. The model of the network is able to organize and direct productive energies in the most functional way. Therefore the model of horizontal integration tends to replace that of hierarchical decision, and the model of recombination tends to replace that of the accumulation of events and dialectic contradiction. Living systems are infinitely more complex than any system rhat could be interpreted according to the sequential model of mechanics and of rational and voluntary action. Technology led us to produce artificial living systems. This makes the method and episteme of modern politics, which was derived from a mechanical metaphor, irreparably obsolete. We need to rethink politics according to the metaphorical possibilities of a bioinformatics model.
This idea was largely popular in cyber-culture during the 1990's: the horizontal connection of networked systems gives human intelligence a superior power. Bur what is the principle that semiotizes this power? And who really benefits from the empowering of the collective intelligence? In Out of Control, Kevin Kelly writes:
"As very large webs penetrate the made world, we see the first glimpses of what emerges from the net-machines that becomle alive, smart, and evolve-a neo-biological civilization. There is a sense in which a global mind also emerges in a network culture. The global mind is the union of computer and nature-of telephones and human brains and more. It is a very large complexity of indeterminate shape governed by an invisible hand of its own.'"
In Kelly's vision the obscure yet superior designs of the global mind are manifested through automatic mechanisms of global inreractive decision making. The multitude can speak hundreds of thousands of languages, bur the language that enables it to function as an integrated whole is that of the economic automatisms embodied in technology. Seized in a game of mirrors of indeterminacy and precariousness, the multitude manifests its dark side and follows automatisms that turn its wealth into misery, its power into anguish. and its creativity into dependency.
The multitude does not manifest itself as autonomy rather as dependence from the automatisms that biopower builds and activates in everyday life, in our sensibiliry and psyche: we become a swarm. According to Eugene Thacker, a swarm is an organization of multiple, individuated units with some relation to one another. That is, a swarm is a particular kind of collectivity group or phenomenon that may be dependent upon a condition of connectivity. A swarm is a collectivity that is defined by relationality. This pertains as much to the level of the individual unit as it does to the overall organization of the swarm. At some level "living network and "swarms" overlap. A swarm is a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, but it is also a heterogeneous whole. In the swarm the parts are not subservient to the whole-both exist simultaneously and because of each other.
The swarm has no political soul, only an automatic and relational soul.
The effective exercise of politics (that is to say of political goverment) presupposes a conscious possibility of elabotating of the information collectively shared by the social organism. But the information circulating within digital sociery is too much: too fast, too intense, too thick and complex for individuals or groups to elaborate it consciously, critically, reasonably, with the necessary time to make a decision. Therefore the decision is left to automatisms, and the social organism seems to function ever more often according to evolutionary rules of an automatic kind, inscribed in the genetic cognitive patrimony of individuals. The swarm now tends to become the dominant form of human action. Displacement and direction are more and more decided by the system of collective Displacement and direction are more and more decided by the system of collective automatisms that impose themselves over the individual.
In Business @ The Speed of Thought, referring to the general biologic form that the process of digital production is assuming, Bill Gates writes:
An organization's nervous system has parallels with our human nervous system. Every business, regardless of industry, has 'autonomic' systems, the operational processes that just have to go on if the company is to sutvive [ ... ]. What has been missing are links between infotmation that resemble the interconnected neutons in the brain [ ... ] You know you have built an excellent digital nervous system when infotmation flows through your organization as quickly and naturally as thought in a human being and when you can use technology to marshal and coordinate teams of people as quickly as you can focus an individual on an issue. It's business at the speed of thought.'"
In the connected world, the retroactive loops of a general systenlS ;; theory is combined with the dynamic logic of biogenetics in a post-human vision of digital production. The model of bio-info' production imagined by Gates is the interface that will allow bodies to integrate with the digital circuit. Once it gets fully operative, the digital nervous system can be rapidly installed on a new form of organization. Microsoft deals with products and services ' only apparently. In reality, it deals with a form of cybernetic organization that-once installed-structures the flows of digital information through the nervous systems of all key institutions contemporary life. Microsoft needs to be considered a virtual memory that we can download, ready to be installed in the bio-informatics interfaces of the social organism: a cyber-Panopticon installed inside the bodily circuits of human subjectivity, a mutagenetic factor introduced in the circuits of social communication. Cybernetics finally becomes life or - as Gates likes to say- information is our "vital lymph."
Biotechnologies open the way to an ulterior evolution of this scenario, allowing us to connect individual bodies and the social body with mutagenic fluxes produced by bioengineering: medications, artificial organs, genetic mutations and functional reprogramming. In a sense, even information technologies occupy the mind with mutagenic flows, invading our attention, imagination and memory. Informatics and biotechnical technologies allow bodies to connect in a continuum ruled by automatisms.
In the disciplinary society whose epistemic and practical origins were discussed by Michel Foucault, bodies were disciplined in a repressive way by social and productive rules that required consensus, submission and conscious interiorization. The law imposed by rhe modern state over individuals had an exterior character with respect ro the conscious human organism, represented by the citizen.
The society of control, as discussed by Deleuze, is instead installed beginning with the wiring of bodies and minds, innerving automatisms of a techno-linguistic kind, thanks to mutations induced according to the finalities inscribed in the technological device. Refined technologies are active on a molecular level, they are nano-factors of mutation. Therefore they create the conditions for the control of the agent-subject through techno-linguistic automatisms and techno-operations. The minds of conscious individual organisms are connected by muragenic flows of a semiotic kind: they transform organisms into terminals for the global mind and the bio-digital super organism.
Darwin thought that the process of selection worked on the extremely long times necessary to the natural evolution of the species. In the span of one generation we cannot perceive anything significant in this sense, and selection is manifested only in a cumulative way, throughout many generations. Little, almost imperceptible modifications are cumulated throughout extremely long temporal cycles. But is this still the case in the modern epoch? Isn't technology a factor of incredible acceleration in the mutational processes that in nature were so slow, and hasn't it now acquired its results within one or two generations? Isn't the mutation occurring under our eyes spreading from the technological level (digitalization, conectivity to the social, cultural aesthetic, cognetive and psychological one? Can't we see already in action the mutation of the emotional system, desiring regimes, territorial dislocations, modalities of attention, memorization and imagination? Aren't we beggining to perceive a possible psychological mutation in the organism, induced by biotechnology?
Therefore it is true that the environment has a determinant function on the choices made by human minds, yet human minds are part of the environment. For this reason, the conclusions that liberalist theory elaborated from the premises of social Darwinism follow a pseudo-logic. It is true that biology dominates human action, but human action also determines biology. The question is to understand which choices (epistemic, technologic and finally instinctual and aesthetic) a conscious human mind will make.
excerpt from the book: THE SOUL AT WORK/ FROM ALIENATION TO AUTONOMY/ Franco "Bifo" Berardi
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