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Post-Paul Mason's Post-Capitalism: Don't Lose Your Head

It is inevitable there will be both reactionary pro-capitalist critiques of Paul Mason's theory of PostCapitalism, along with anti-capitalist views frothing in his support. There are too many beneficiaries of the system in the first case, and too few articulate anti-capitalists around, after all, in the second. 

To me his theories are devoid of specifics for mid-wiving an otherwise laudable post-capitalist vision, and therefore, more resembles dreaming, not to say fantasy, than prescription. I have real concern over his giddy optimism, and facing the daily capitalist grind of body and soul, I am tempted to say distracting optimism, bordering on 'laissez-faire' delusion—the revolution is already in progress, ye workers of the world, he seems to be saying, techno-determinism has replaced.dialectical materialism, just sit back and enjoy the ride. I'm afraid throwing in a few 'we must do this' and 'the state must do that' hardly mitigates this giddy obfuscation of class war and the more sanguine approaches to overthrowing capitalism. Hoping nicely, what dear Mason seems to be doing, albeit emphatically, doesn't bring about change any more successfully than anything else that has previously failed.

Ask the capitalist machine if they are ready to give up property, monopoly, and extractive profit for a network of peers and a 'project zero' transformation. Ask the governments they own, their wholly or partially owned subsidiaries pretending to act for 'the people,' whether they will not shoot you dead in the street rather than allow the dissolution of capitalism, bloodless or otherwise. As for his 'new man' notion, this seems to me the self-serving 'be the change you want to see in the world,' (something Gandhi never said, by the way), which egotistically and vainly supposes that personal lifestyle choices somehow mysteriously aggregate into social determinism, a fantasy to be sure.

 Structure is deterministic, and without structural change nothing else broadly changes, or stays changed. That is why capitalism must be felled, it will not fall without tearing down, and certainly will not roll over for Mr. Mason's Project Zero proponents. It will co-opt his Project, as it is already co-opting free software (via teaser free versions and full-featured paid versions, for example, or promotional Wikipedia entries you can't amend.) (For the latter, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bYAQ-ZZtEU). Software for the greatest part remains firmly, if not viciously capitalistic, gumming up machines with sneak trial installations little better than malware.

And if you ever believed in the so-called 'sharing economy,' forget it. If it is not a poison pill, a call to self-exploitation in effect, it is simply re-packaged capitalism with a new set of phraseology. See, "The Sharing Economy is dead—and we killed it." http://www.fastcompany.com/3050775/the-sharing-economy-is-dead-and-we-killed-it

Mason's 'new man' transcends his socio-economic conditioning, but such new men and women have been around since long before any of us, and technology as we know it. Such 'new men' are the exception not the rule, however, and always have been. The 'new man' may be or become a revolutionary leader (granted, like Mr. Mason), and collectively such men and women may be or become an enlightened minority and a driving force for social change. Or, on the other hand, they may choose escapism in a techno-cult of 'capitalism done right' as far too many in the tech space presently do (ask anyone who works for Google or the like), but they can never of themselves achieve a transformative critical mass.

Nor is info-tech itself a surrogate for tearing down omnicidal social and economic structures and contexts, nor is it a substitute for building up sustainable ones. It is at best a means that may be consciously exploited, not the death knell of capitalism in and of itself, as Mr. Mason unfortunately seems to assert. That is an abstract and academic notion, and a potentially distracting, counter-revolutionary one. We do not need yet another palliative 'hope' for eventual, far-away relief from the insufferable daily oppression of capitalism, a relief that Capitalism itself will grant to us because we point out the wisdom of it, or the moral rectitude, or the intellectual superiority of it. We need to take it down, aggressively, however we can.

Info-Tech workers of the world unite, to be sure, but unite for a general strike, in close coordination with labor generally, to bring capitalism down. No such thing will magically happen via a freeware consciousness network patting themselves on their 'Project Zero' back, which would seem to be Mr. Mason's postcapitalist evangelical mission. All of the old 'industrial' school Marxist approaches to organization, resistance, opposition and revolution still do of strict necessity apply. We are yet an industrial society, and a capitalist society, even in a world of digital printers and robot servants. Egalitarian tools do not control capitalist culture, the culture controls the tools, and will not likely give them up even to the inexorable reasoning of a supercomputer.

As appealing as the idea of an ongoing 'gradual revolution' by sub-cultural osmosis may be, it is doubtful that's going to happen of its own accord in the next 200 years. The onset of climate disaster is far more likely to catalyze a postcapitalist world than the zero-cost effects of technology itself in that time-span, arguably the only time-span that matters.

And let us not overlook digitally facilitated surveillance and repression—with an efficiency exponentially greater than any security apparatus that has previously existed in human history (http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/17995). I believe an equally compelling case can be made for technology leading us toward a 'post-democratic,' techno-fascist state, where defensive monopolist repression is the rule and 'Project Zero' freebies are criminalized along with anything else that is threatening.

I believe top down and bottom up actionism coordinated together offer the best chance for effecting post-capitalism, both 'occupy' actions from within and 'overthrow' actions from without, with clear strategy and objectives working broadly above-ground and narrowly underground. To hypothesize one exclusively over the other as a panacea is simply to supply a dogma that is not up to the entrenched, monolithic power we are facing. There is no discernible actionism attached to this zero-value theory of postcapitalism, however, which seems to say, look what we can build with tech, why can't we build a decent economy? Well, that begs the whole question of property and capitalism. There's a man with a gun over there, sir, who says we can't, and he is deaf to all moral or intellectual pleas.

Supercomputers, on the other hand, I agree should prove useful to our struggle, along with revolutionary software (and hacking), and these not-so futuristic ideas may be the best ones in Mr. Mason's scheme of things. (I am biased, however, since they are among the best ideas in my own scheme of things—on the fiction side, in <i>An Epiphany On Wall Street</i>.)

The question remains, however, how do we get power over these tools? How does a present day 'postcapitalist-wannabe' arrive at access to the tools in primis, and beyond that all the research and planning needed for their effective use, much less the political implementation of post-capitalism? Indeed, will post-capitalist 'evolutionaries' ever be properly organized or capitalized for the stupendous task before them? Won't they need the 'old school' pitchfork and barricade to get at the tools?

In short, there is little that is truly prescriptive or pragmatic about Mason's Post-Capitalism theory. Read it if you are sufficiently strong minded not to fall for its giddy and naive optimism {http://www.amazon.com/Postcapitalism-Guide-Future-Paul-Mason/dp/0374235546/). It is an academic treatment of a potentially transformative force that exists within the dominant capitalist culture. Well done at that, but nothing actionable there. Don't lose your head.

On the other hand, Mr. Mason is a passionate and talented speaker, who should himself go much farther than this theory does. As someone who sees the role of government as 'transition motor,' I'd vote him into office any day.

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Noam Chomsky: On Power and Ideology

 

Noam Chomsky discusses the persistent and largely invariant features of U.S. foreign policy — in the words of U.S. planners, "the overall framework of order” — and its intimate relationship with U.S. domestic policy.

The U.S. foreign policy issues raised in his speech are explored thematically in book two of the Nine Inch Bride series, Suited For War.

 

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