[iDC] New Network Theory Post-Conference Thoughts

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Tue Jul 10 07:50:44 EDT 2007

tiziana wrote:

> My thought experiment was thus this (anybody who would like to repeat it 
> can do so but some  knowledge of French might be needed)
> a. read benkler's book the wealth of networks...
> b. get hold of foucault's lectures from 1978/1979 ...
> c. have a look at Maurizio Lazzarato's Les Revolutions du Capitalisme...

Hmm, well, I have been doing that experiment for about 2 years now! But 
I had to throw in Ulrich Beck's The Risk Society...

Lazzarato has a utopian vision of the multiplicity of possible worlds. 
But his book has a sub-chapter entitled "Capitalism and ignoble modes of 
life." He writes: "The different lifestyles, the proliferation of 
possible worlds [offered by the corporations] are, in reality, a 
variation on the same thing: capitalist modes of living produce a 
homogenization of individualities, not a singularization. The creation 
of possibles is not open to the unpredictability of the event, but is 
codified according to the laws of capitalist valuation."

The question is, why does a networked economy based not on discipline 
and repression, but on cooperative invention, still reproduce the same 
rat race as fifty years ago? Or in other words, what are these laws of 
capitalist valuation, and how do they transform the potentially 
cooperative, potentially multiple individual?

Foucault suggests that just a little over fifty years ago, a long 
tradition of individual self-governance, which begins with the 
Reformation, was decisively remodeled by the neoliberals: i.e. the 
Chicago-based followers of von Mises and von Hayek. They reinterpreted 
the individual concern with finding the best modes of self-conduct as a 
monetary economy, a calculation of one's most profitable behavior. And 
in times of crisis - in postwar Germany, Pinochet's Chile, or 1980s USA 
- they conceived new market frameworks to facilitate this calculation. 
Every social investment (wages, retirement, health-care, security, and 
even marriage, child-rearing, etc) is to be calculated in terms of 
individual risk and reward. In the risk society, what really happens is 
that individuals are entrusted with the anguishing task of creating a 
totally predictable and therefore totally secure world.

It's still possible for law professors or philosophers to write utopias 
of eventful cooperation, but economists now see only one thing: 
predictable self-interest. This is their only measure, gradually applied 
by state policy to everything. The conflicts in the developed world no 
longer unfold between proletarians and capitalists, but between those 
who accept to calculate their self-interest within markets structured to 
that end, and those who deliberately create heterodox frameworks for the 
enjoyment of cooperation. Such conflict is particularly obvious in the 
shifting socio-technical forms deployed on the Internet.

Too bad there are so many more calculators than cooperators! Pursuing 
the security of self-interest, they have made the world such a risky, 
dangerous place. But that's because the neoliberals had such functional 
and convincing measures. What's called utopia is really another 
yardstick for existence. The Fouriers of the networked society are yet 
to come.

best, Brian

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