Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. August 2006

1.2. Gesellschaftliche Reproduktion und kulturelle Innovation. Aus semiotischer Sicht
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Jeff Bernard (Institut für Sozio-Semiotische Studien ISSS, Wien)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Global Crisis and Social Earth

Matko Meštrović (Zagreb)


The central contradiction of globalization is not that between capital and democracy as such. It is much broader and it concerns the degree to which neo-liberal globalisation is serving to generate a crisis of social reproduction on a world scale, a crisis that is ecological as well as social (Gill). Social development can no longer be simply geared to material aims and achievements but must include nonmaterial dimensions. It can no longer be anthropocentric but encompasses the planetary ecology. It’s meaning may be summed up as a collective learning process and humanity’s self-management (Nederveen Pieterse).The learning process is the life and the activity of all complex systems, regardless of whether they were once conceived as organisms, machines, cultures or economies do not proceed in isolation, but leak into and cross-infect each other as they converge on their virtuality (Plant).


1. Illusionary sociality

In many respects, Gill (2000) considers, the 1990s represent a counter-revolution. It specifically involves the extension of the process of commodification and alienation based on the intensification of the discipline of capital in social relations. It also involves imposition of a new constitutional political and legal framework of the operation of strategic macroeconomic, microeconomic and social policy, and with regard to the state. That is what Gill calls new constitutionalism - with long-term mechanism forming a liberal constitutional structure of the global political economy.

Public policy has been redefined so that governments seek to prove their credibility, and the consistency of their policy according to the criterion of the confidence of investors. The indirect power of market forces is not enough to ensure the reproduction of capital. Direct power is also needed in the form of state action to ensure social control, to secure the protection for property rights and investor freedoms on a world scale as a part of a liberal constitution. The precise form that such initiatives will produce varies in and across different state and civil societies, Gill concludes. Or as Wendy Larner (2005) suggested these processes are premised on a distinctive understanding of the current context, and operate in multiple spatialities and temporalities.

According to Leslie Sklair (2000 a) the global system at the end of the twentieth century is not synonymous with global capitalism, but the dominant forces of global capitalism are the dominant forces in the global system. Its building blocs are the transnational corporations, the characteristic institutional forms of economic transnational practices, a still-evolving transnational capitalist class in the political sphere, and in the culture-ideology sphere, the culture-ideology of consumerism.

The cultural-ideological project of global capitalism is to persuade people to consume above their "biological needs" in order to perpetuate the accumulation of capital for private profit, Leslie Sklair explains. The culture-ideology of consumerism proclaims that the meaning of life is to be found in the things we possess. To consume, therefore, is to be fully alive, and to remain fully alive we must continuously consume. People are primarily consumers; the system does not even pretend to satisfy everyone in the economic or political sphere, Sklair remarks (344-345).

The cultural-ideological practices are the nuts and bolts and the glue that hold parts of the system together. Therefore any attack on capitalist consumerism is an attack on the very centre of global capitalism. It is the capacity to commercialise and commodify all ideas and material products in which they adhere, not the ideas themselves, that global capitalism strives to appropriate (Sklair, 2000 b: 68-69).

Communication technologies, from the written word onward, have played consistent roles throughout human history, to preserve knowledge and create its monopolies, to maintain and expand centralised power, Philip Graham (1999) says. Each communication technology, like each faith has its historically unique form and content, but their intended purposes remain consistent, persistent and predictable throughout history: that of social control. Their actual, world-historical consequences are entirely different matter.

The propagated faith in Cybersociety is a purely proprietary concern, Graham argues, mentioning the fact that less the one-tenth of one percent of the world population owns a computer. The illusory system of monetary value is Cybersociety’s organising principle. Its hypercapitalist knowledge economy is fuelled almost entirely by speculation. The relations of production in Cybersociety are relations of abstraction, expertise, and valorised illusions. Credit derivatives exemplify the commodity-forms of thought that sustain the knowledge economy, and the valorised social relations within which they are produced.

The monetary system easily insinuates itself everywhere, precisely because of its impenetrable, circular logic. Simultaneously, it obscures itself from its source: human imagination. Once sufficiently obscured, it takes up a trajectory that appears to be objective and independent of people, history, and circumstances. ‘Anything that is not reified, cannot be counted and measured, ceases to exist’, Graham reminds us of Adorno’s insight.

The Internet feigns interactivity, an ostensibly social phenomenon, but it is intrinsically individualising, repressive, and self-valorising, Graham resumes. It apes the extension of the whole human consciousness, but it is merely an extension of the authoritarian grasp and gaze extended in the most intimate aspects of its user’s consciousness. The Internet shines upon inner relationship between individual desire, decision, and action; it exposes these most personal processes in a system of numerically ordered profiles, perfected for marketing.

Social and ideological fragmentation makes the business of commodifying social intimacy all the more easy, Graham argues. Written literacy allows an ostensible split between the thought and the thinker, and the exchange system of money allows an ostensible split between the product and its value. Because Cybersociety’s knowledge economy operationalises both these illusions at once, knowledge commodities can be seen as the ultimate consumer good.

The logic of technologically mediated linguistic exchange is simultaneously the logic of alienation. Exchange value has become the fundamental use-value, the abstract definition of success and social inclusion. It is the source of self-production and -reproduction, physical, psychological and social. Therefore knowledge commodities are wholly social in their source, significance, and impact. Philip Graham suggests warning: we have traditionally viewed technology as the highest expression of our humanity; however, we are yet to recognise the implicit terrorism of this illusion.


2. Wholeness in development

Wholeness in development should not be expected from a shortcut towards an undivided whole in a divided world, but should be sought in a new balance: a combination of wholeness and difference. The paradox of wholeness, Nederveen Pieterse (1998) explains, is the powerful and demanding materiality of life and the immaterial nature of the full realisation of life. Wholeness includes "life beyond", but there is no life beyond without life within. The materiality of life makes transcendence possible and at the same time constrains it, casting a spell of material life that is shattered only at life’s edge - in peak experiences or in the face of death.

In a mechanical phenomenon the whole is equal to the sum of its parts and therefore capable of being understood by analysis. Biological phenomena are however "wholes" (Drucker, 1989: 262). They are different from the sum of their parts. Information is indeed conceptual. But meaning is not; it is perception.

The skin of a living organism cuts off an outside from an inside (Brown, 1972). By tracing the way we represent such a severance, we can begin to reconstruct the basic forms underlying linguistic, mathematical, physical, and biological science, and can begin to see how the familiar laws of our own experience follow inexorably from the original act of severance. The act is itself already remembered, even if unconsciously, as our first attempt to distinguish different things in a world, Spencer Brown reminds us.

The membrane boundary enveloping each biological cell comprises the structural basis of a biological processor system (Lipton, 2001). As a processor, the cell’s membrane receptors scan the environment for signals. While the environment is in a sense "chaotic," with hundreds and thousands of simultaneously-expressed "signals," the cell can selectively read only those signals that are relevant to its existence.

The first phase of evolution of life concerned the development and refinement of the individual biological computer 'chip', the primitive bacterium. The size of these primitive organisms is constrained by the fact that they posses a rigid outer skeleton, called a capsule, Lipton explains. The capsule physically supports and protects the cell’s thin membrane from rupturing under the strains of osmotic pressure. The bacterial capsule limits the cell’s evolution since there is a cap on the number of units of perception the membrane can contain.

Limitations upon individuals increasing their awareness led to bacteria living in loosely knit communities. By transferring copies of their "learned" DNA, they share their "awareness" with the community. The resistive and protective nature of the biofilms enabled these communities to be the first life forms to leave the ocean and live on the land.

It was the origin of multicellular organisms that represented an alternative way to expand the membrane surface area (i.e., awareness potential) beyond the limitations of the single cell. Rather than increasing awareness of the individual eukaryotic cell, the third phase of evolution was concerned with the ordering of individual eukaryotic cell 'chips' into interactive assemblies.

In a series of events redundant to those that occurred in the previous two cycles of evolution, human evolution continued through a process of assembly and integration of individuals into a multi-"cellular" community. In this community known as humanity, Bruce Lipton points out each person's role is analogous to that of a single cell in the human construct. In the global view of the Earth as a living organism (Gaia), humans are receptors and effectors in the Earth's surface membrane. Integrated into patterned networks (community) they receive environmental "signals" and serve as switching mechanisms of the planet's membrane gates.

Fractal mathematics emphasises the relation between the patterns seen in the whole and the patterns seen in parts of that whole. If one is aware of the pattern by which a cell is functionally organised, than one is also provided insight into the organisation of a human, Lipton anticipates.

Cell membranes, the first biological organelle to appear in evolution, are the only organelle common to every living organism. Cell membranes compartmentalise the cytoplasm, separating it from the vagaries of the external environment. In its barrier capacity, the membrane enables the cell to maintain tight "control" over the cytoplasmic environment, a necessity in carrying out biological reactions (Lipton, 2001 a).

By strict definition, a receptor-effector complex represents a fundamental unit of perception. Protein perception units provide the foundation of biological consciousness. Perceptions "control" cell behaviour, though in truth, a cell is actually "controlled" by beliefs, since perceptions may not necessarily be accurate. This is one of the most curious and significant remarks Lipton made.

Let us repeat. The cell membrane is an organic information processor. It senses the environment and converts that awareness into "information" that can influence the activity of protein pathways and control the expression of the genes.

This new perception on cell control mechanisms frees us from the limitations of genetic determinism. Rather than behaving as programmed genetic automatons, biological behaviour is dynamically linked to the environment Lipton emphasises.

The results of the human genome project overturn a foundational core belief embraced by conventional science. Scientific attention as to what "controls" biology is shifting from the DNA to the cell's membrane. In the economy of the cell, the membrane is the equivalent of our "skin." The membrane provides an interface between the ever-changing environment (not-self) and the enclosed controlled environment of the cytoplasm (self). The embryonic "skin" (ectoderm) provides for two organ systems in the human body: the integument and the nervous system. In cells, these two functions are integrated within the simple layer that envelops the cytoplasm. Perception protein complexes "control" cell behaviour, regulate gene expression and have been implicated in the rewriting of the genetic code.

It is now evident: the expression of the cell is primarily moulded by its perception of the environment and not by its genetic code. Social organisations of cells resulted from an evolutionary drive to enhance survival. The more "awareness" an organism possesses, the more capable it is of surviving. Nature favours the assembly of cells into communities as a means of expanding awareness, Lipton continues. The structural plans to create these interactive communities and differentiated cells are written into the genome of each cell within the community. While you might consider yourself as a single entity, in truth you are the sum of a community of approximately 50 trillion single cells.

As important as instincts are to our survival, our learned perceptions are more important, especially in light of the fact that they can over-ride genetically programmed instincts. Since perceptions direct gene activity and engage behaviour, the learned perceptions we acquire are instrumental in "controlling" the physiologic and behavioural character of our lives. The sum of our instincts and learned perceptions collectively form the subconscious mind, which in turn, is the source of the "collective" voice that our cells "agreed" to follow.

The learned perceptions acquired by an individual begin to arise in utero. The foetus simultaneously experiences what the mother perceives in regard to her environmental stimuli. Once the new environmental feature is recognised, it is coupled with an appropriate behavioural response. The coupled input (environmental stimulus) and output (behavioural response) program is stored in the subconscious as a learned perception.

By the time consciousness evolves to a functional state, most of the fundamental perceptions about life have been programmed into the hard drive. In consciousness, we have the ability to review the script and edit the program as we see fit, just as we do with open documents on our computers, Bruce Lipton says. However, the editing process in no way changes the original perception, which is still hardwired in the subconscious.


3. Biophilosophy

Together, the principle of life and the boundaries of articulation are the two methods through which the West has ceaselessly reinvented its thinking about life, Eugen Thacker (2005) remarks. There is an inward-turning and an outward-turning aspect of this thinking. If the outward-turning aspect is that which posits the individual organism as distinct from its environment, therefore enabling an instrumental relationship, a standing reserve, what then is the inward-turning aspect? - Thacker asks. We would assume, he continues, it is the whole spectrum of understanding about that organism -- its biological, physiological, cognitive processes. But isn't each of these really a nested, outward-turning aspect in itself? What are the systems, networks, and pathways of the organism if not nested layers of the outward-turning aspect?

Whereas the philosophy of biology proceeds by the derivation of universal characteristics for all life, biophilosophy proceeds by drawing out the network of relations that always take the living outside itself, Thacker asserts.

The approach of the philosophy of biology, the approach of soul-meat-pattern, centres and raises up the concept of the human so that it is not only isomorphic with life, but so that it may rise above life ('life itself' as the pinnacle and 'mere life' as the base or foundation). This has a number of effects on our thinking about life, for it simultaneously places the human at the top of the Great Chain while also reserving a qualitatively distinct, non-animal place for the human.

Biophilosophy, Thacker resumes, implies a critique of all anthropomorphic conceptions of life. But is it possible to think this non-anthropomorphic life? The problem is the very relation between 'life' and 'thought’. But the trick is to undo conventional biological thinking from within, he suggests. Biophilosophy focuses on those modes of biological life that simultaneously escape their being exclusively biological life. It abandons the concept of 'life itself' that is forever caught between the poles of nature and culture, biology and technology, human and machine. Instead it develops concepts that always cut across and that form networks: the molecular, multiplicity, becoming-animal, life-resistance...

The philosophy of biology poses the question, 'what is life?' In doing so, however, it rarely asks the inverse question, 'what is not-life?' - Thacker comments. Certainly death is not-life. But so is the rock, the chair, the clouds. What about the computer, lunch, or a nation-state, are they not-life as well? What about a doll? Memories? There is a whole negative classification of not-life implied in the positive question 'what is life?'

Biology always begins from the individual. But what if swarms, packs, and so on are actually inversions of the organism? The process of individuation is central to thinking about life, whether it be about the 'building blocks of life' or the 'code of life.' But, Eugen Thacker remind us, there is a whole forgotten history of molecular biology which de-emphasises the search for 'the' molecules (proteins or nucleic acids), and instead focuses on the relationality of molecules, their network dynamics, their temporal existence on the 'edge of chaos' (biocomplexity).

A microbial life has nothing to do with scale (micro- vs. macro-), but is at once local and global, Thacker points out. Even the common biological processes of gene expression, cell metabolism, and membrane signalling routinely create linkages and relations (microbe-animal-human); or rather they produce univocity-through-assemblages. Wouldn't the limit-case of lifelike death be the point at which the organic can no longer be distinguished from the inorganic, the material from the immaterial? Are we not being reductive in our concept of life? As if life were only biological life and not social, cultural, economic, religious and political life as well?


4. Self-less and/or class-less subjectivity?

Foucault has effectively turned the history of Western philosophy on its head, challenging the notion that the truth alone will set us free, and that our access to this truth is mental, rather than spiritual, Stuard Murray (2005) observes. How are we to grasp the spiritual transformation of the self by the self? We cannot begin with conceptual knowledge, but rather with the prior relation of care.

The self-self relation is not a relation locked in an alternating dialectic of these two selves as temporal abstractions, the "now-self" and the "future-self", but the relation resonates further afield, not just in what is said, not in conceptual content, but in one's ethical comportment (ethos).

Language is not simply within the control of a pre-constituted and knowing subject, Murray is pointing out, but to the contrary, is the very force that constitutes her/his subjectivity in the first instance, constituting it as creative and mobile, not fixed. It is in this kind of language-relation, loosely understood, that we find the terms within which the self will relate to itself and to the Other.

By emphasising the mobility of the relation -- as a political power-relation, -- we free subjects from the imago of a fixed identity, opening instead a plurality of relations that characterises what Virno calls "the multitude", Murray refers to. It is in the shared commonality of the multitude that we can imagine a new kind of unity, an agency for social and political transformation that emerges from creative and mobile relations, an agency that does not have its source in an outmoded subject or in the sovereignty of the State. The multitude is a bio-social collectivity, a life form that is irreducible to its contents, which is to say, a form of life implicit in the form itself, and not in some abstract content or concept.

According to Lazzarato (2005), the remarkable novelty introduced by Foucault in the history of capitalism since its origins, is the following: the problem that arises from the relation between politics and the economy is resolved by techniques and dispositifs that come from neither. To govern means to ask the question of how to conduct the conduct of others. Liberal macro-governmentality is only possible because it exerts its micro-powers upon a multiplicity .

Society is not a reality in itself or something that does not exist, but a reality of transactions. It must be understood as the totality of juridical, economic, cultural and social relations, woven together by a multiplicity of subjects (of which classes are a part). Their juridical, economic and social dispositifs are not contradictory, they are heterogeneous. For Foucault heterogeneity means tensions, frictions, and mutual incompatibilities, successful or unsuccessful adjustments between these different dispositifs. The function of the strategic logic is to establish the possible connections between disparate terms that remain disparate, Lazzarato explains.

According to his interpretation of Foucault, government as the global management of power has always had the "multitude" as its object, of which classes (economic subjects), the subjects of right, and social subjects are parts. In the analysis of capitalism a line of discrimination is drawn between those techniques and knowledges that take as their object the multiplicity-population and those which focus on the classes. Marx tried to evade the very notion of population, in order to find again its proper form, no longer bio-economic, but the historical and political confrontation of classes and class struggle.

From the species to the public, however, there is a whole field of new realities and new ways of acting on behaviours, opinions, and subjectivities in order to change the ways economic and political subjects say and do things. The problem is to manage one’s life time rather than one’s labour time. In order to turn a worker into an entrepreneur and an investor, one needs to "step to the exterior of labour". There is a shift from the analysis of structure to the analysis of the individual, from the analysis of economic processes to an analysis of subjectivity, its choices and the conditions of production of its life. Which system of rationality should this activity of choice obey to? - Lazzarato tries to figure this out:

"A politics of growth cannot simply point to the problem of material investment, of physical capital on the one hand, and of the number of workers multiplied by the hours of labour on the other. What needs to be changed is the level of content of human capital and to act on this ‘capital’ a whole series of dispositifs are needed, to mobilise, solicit, incite and invest ‘life’."


5. Anepigenetic process

The learning process is the life and the activity of all complex systems, regardless of whether they were once conceived as organisms, machines, cultures or economies do not proceed in isolation, but leak into and cross-infect each other as they converge on their virtuality (Plant, 1996: 211).

What is now described as an ‘order-emerging-out-of-massive-connections’ approach defines intelligence as an exploratory process, which learns and learns to learn for itself. Intelligence, Sadie Plant makes clear, is no longer monopolised, imposed or given by some external, transcendent, and implicitly superior source which hand down what it knows but instead evolves as an emergent process, engineering itself from the bottom up (204).

The virtuality emergent with the computer is not a fake reality, or another reality, but the immanent processing and imminent future of every system, the matrix of potentiality which is the abstract functioning of any actual configuration of what we take as reality (206). By an inexorable extension, something which might once have been defined as ‘the sum of human knowledge’ is no longer confined to bodies, volumes and disciplines, but becomes an immense self-organising program of evolutionary, intellectual, and technological processes which are neither simply human nor merely knowledge based. They are not organised as if from elsewhere, nor can they be taught as if from above (211).

Distinctions between the human, the natural and the artificial are scrambled, and whatever was once said to belong to each of them find a new basis on which to connect in the dispersed and connective processes which link them all, Sadie Plant says (213).

To clarify this new understanding we should remind us of the fact that the evolutionary and social development of the human is conditioned by techniques (Malik, 2005: 44). With the human the process of development of life is 'exteriorised' from its biological determinants. Because it is taking place technically and thereby effectuates a mnemic trace that is external to any one individual, that development is socialised. It is an epigenetic process. For any generation the tools of its predecessors are ‘already there’.

The system of meaning that constitutes life is altered by instrumental maieutic of techniques through the human. The human, more exactly, the human brain and its society, is the site of information. Information is not then external to the interest of the human. It is rather another name for its continued development, and the development of (its) meaning, as a complexly constituted phylum (45).

Instrumentality, therefore, is intrinsic to the constitution of organic life, anthroponoetic operation, and social (dis)structuring. It is information that alters, and continues to alter, the mnemic organisation of living and social systems. It informs life in general (47).

Although it is argued that the process of informatic-epigenetic constitution described runs from pre-cellular-organic to post-industrial-social conditions, this ought not to be confounded with developmental continuity between them, Malik underscores (46). This conceptual continuity is instanced in each and every case differently because of information's (and therefore meaning's contingent) situatedness.


6. Macrothinking

It is doubtful therefore that any culture can ever be identifiable simply as what takes place within its spatial limits. Space (both as a mythical-scientific-philosophical notion and as a material, "lived in" territory) is a cultural product, shaped by human beings, technologies, and the "earth itself". The Earth too is social and socialises us (Menser / Aranowitz, 1996).

There is no privileged scale: global and molecular cultures cut through the middle grounds of states, societies, members and things. There is nothing exclusively human about it: culture emerges from the complex interaction of media, organisms, weather patterns, ecosystems, cities, discourses, fashions, populations, brains, markets, dance nights and bacterial exchanges. There are eco-systems under your fingernails. You live in cultures, and cultures live in you. They are everything and the kitchen sink, as Sadie Plant wrote some ten years ago (1996: 214).

Although technology and science may be everywhere, there is no determinism anywhere, if by determinism we signify a one-to-one correspondence between the causal agent and its effects, Menser and Aranowitz maintain. Rather technology permeates, or inheres in, all this regions, practices, and ideologies. Consequently, cultural studies must critique determinism in all its forms - political, economic, philosophical, religious, technological, scientific - including the language of causality and must, as an alternative, construct a theory of complexity, they believe.

Complexity, however, is not a return to system thinking since the systems approach tends to be apolitical, Sohail Inayatullah (2002: 229) remarks. It generally assumes that subsystems are interest-free or that analysis of the future can be done in a neutral fashion. The inattention to how system approaches themselves embody a particular type of politics, and a particular language, leaves it handicapped. It has been able to contain politics as yet another system (differentiated from the economic or the environmental). It has been oblivious to the contention that each system has interests, embedded in values.

General systems theory has now been reborn as general evolutionary systems theory, Inayatullah argues. It includes chaos (non-linear dynamics) and complexity as part of its central hypothesis. But tied to the Western analytic tradition has not managed to include epistemological perspectives of other traditions in terms of the shape of the future, nature of the self and ways of knowing. There can be no single all encompassing cause, theory or myth of the future. Alternatives cannot be morally neutral (300). The vertical gaze invites back ethics, it invites back authentic interest. Ethics is a call for finding some shared meaning in a fractured world.

How we conceive of humanity, both the collective force of it and the individual unit consciousness that constitute it is central to how we understand and enact critical futures studies, Marcus Bussey (2002: 305) considers. Similarly our sense of what it is to be human will shape how we constitute any possible future development of this discipline. We have to pay close attention to the language of conception, with all its emotional and cultural resonances, when we look at our selves and our practices.

Critical spirituality, as Bussey argues, brings mystery within the boundaries of method, embracing it as part of human experience. Mystery is as much an empirical as a spiritual reality. It is now made possible through neo-humanist method to make some sense of mystery seeking to grapple with the awesome array of forces at work in our lives (306). A meditative act opens up a reflective space and empowers the practitioners to ‘see for themselves’. The development of a spiritual rationality supplies the epistemological anchor for all other intellectual activity (307). Meditative empiricism engages the consciousness at such a fundamental level that the gap between thought and action decreases, thus greatly expanding the possibilities of image becoming activated reality (311).

Advances in technology without corresponding advances in moral/ethical capacity only exacerbate the current dysfunctional imbalances in our culture Richard Slaughter (2002: 352) is calling our attention to. But one thing is clear: growth-based economics remain dominant and no competing paradigm has yet become mainstream, he observes. The short-term thinking is one of the most dangerous perceptual defects that we have inherited from the recent past. It is not a culturally necessary attribute, but Western civilisation has adopted a contradictory stance: transform the world beyond measure and do not stop to consider the consequences.

A foresight culture is an organisation or society whose view of the world is imbued with futures awareness, Slaughter is reasoning. It is a culture in which the present is consciously mediated from a clear understanding both of the past and a range of possible futures; in which much efforts are devoted to creating the capacity within individuals, groups and organisations to engage in this kind of ‘big picture’. The foresight cultures can be expected to stimulate the development of society-wide futures awareness. Never before have whole societies developed and applied this awareness. The most potent sources of inspiration could arise from a sustained engagement with humanity's 'higher self’, with the deep wells of spiritual insight and transpersonal realisation (355).

Instead of that, it seems that the dominant trends in the world lead directly and unambiguously to an unstable future characterised by global inequity, a rapidly deteriorating environment and the short-sighted, too-rapid unleashing of a series of technological revolutions that humanity lacks the wisdom or means to control. Prudence, foresight, compassionate awareness are not the dominant forms of motivation now operating on planet Earth, and this fact casts a dark shadow across our collective future, Slaughter says bitterly (362).


7. Labour process and the era of informatisation

Most of culture lies hidden and is outside voluntary control, making up the warp and weft of human existence. Even when small fragments of culture are elevated to awareness, they are difficult to change because people cannot act or interact at all in any meaningful way except through the medium of culture (Hall, 1973: 69). Humanity today is on the threshold of self-transfiguration, of attaining new power over itself and its environment that can alter its nature as fundamentally as walking upright or the use of tools (Ferkis, 1973: 204). No aspect of man’s existence can escape being revolutionised by this fundamental fact - all his self-consciousness that we call culture, his patterns of interaction that we call society, his very biological structure itself. At the same time there are certain patterns of human institutional and personal behaviour that are almost as resistant to change as those of the lower animals and the social insects.

A political theory of nature has to find a way of expressing the inevitability and creativity of the social relationship with nature and the very real project of domination embodied in the capitalist mode of production (Smith, 1996: 49). As Donna Haraway (1991) says, the labour process constitutes the fundamental human condition. Through labour, we make ourselves individually and collectively in a constant interaction with all that has not yet been humanised. Neither our personal bodies nor our social bodies may be seen as natural, in the sense of existing outside the self-creating process called human labour (51).

The actual problem of political organisation relates to the overlapping spheres of labour and life within post-Fordist, networked settings (Neilson and Rositer, 2005). It's becoming increasingly clear that multiple forms of exclusion and exploitation within the media and cultural industries run along the lines of gender, ethnicity, age, and geography. New forms of class division are emerging whose locus of tension can be attributed to the ownership and control of information.

It is precisely the informatisation of social relations that makes political organisation such a difficult undertaking for many. Without recourse to traditional institutions such as the union, new techniques of organisation are required if the common conditions of exploitation are to be addressed and transformed.

The widening of the global income gap between the top fifth of the world's population the richest countries and the bottom fifth in the poorest, has gaped dramatically from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 74 to 1 in 1997. Over the same period, aggregate global growth rates fell from 3.5% for the decade of the 1960s to just 1.1% for the 1990s. These statistics support the assertion that neo-liberalism is a political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites (Holmes/Harvey, 2005).

The IMF and the World Bank are centres for the propagation and enforcement of 'free market fundamentalism' and neo-liberal orthodoxy. In return for debt rescheduling, indebted countries were required to implement institutional reforms, such as cuts in welfare expenditures, more flexible labour market laws, and privatisation. 'Structural adjustment' has been increasingly impelled through mechanisms of uneven geographical development.

"Neo-liberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neo-liberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism" says Harvey in his new book that Holmes is reviewing (p. 42). What we have seen in the last three decades is effectively a restoration of upper-class power, which now demands a concerted response. What transformation in the common language would be required to bring a word like "class" back to the lips of those who have been so concretely disempowered by the upper classes?

The disproportionate power of those in the highest ranks now appears as a radical offence to any belief in a viable future on the shared ground of this planet. For all the precision and power of its arguments, David Harvey's book may not yet have invented the complex cultural and affective languages? - Holmes asks himself. Or the renewed understandings of Polanyi's notion of "freedom in a complex society" that could help entire populations forge broad alliances against the nakedly clear effects of ruling-class power. But the contemporary multitude is radically dissimilar from the unity of "the people" and the coincidence of the citizen and the state, Virno/Branden observe. What kinds of creative organisation are specific to precarious labour in the era of informatisation?

Post-Fordism certainly cannot be reduced to a set of particular professional figures characterised by intellectual refinement or "creative" gifts. By "post-Fordism," Virno means a set of characteristics that are related to the entire contemporary workforce, including fruit pickers and the poorest of immigrants. Post-Fordism mobilises all the faculties that characterise our species: language, abstract thinking, disposition toward learning, plasticity, the habit of not having solid habits. It takes advantage of abilities learned before and independently of entrance into the workplace: abilities brought forth by the uncertainty of metropolitan life, by uprootedness, by the perceptual shocks of technological mutations, even by video games and the use of cellular phones. All this is at the base of post-Fordist "flexibility." These experiences outside the workplace become afterward, in the production system known as "just in time".

Migrants, precarious workers of every kind, border-labourers between employment and unemployment, seasonal employees at McDonald’s, customer support representatives on chat lines, researchers and information experts - all these people are, in their full value, the "general intellect" of which Marx speaks; Virno continues explicating this notion. That general intellect (knowledge, the subjective spirit of initiative, invention-power) that is at once the main productive force of post-Fordist capitalism and the material basis for bringing an end to commodity society and to the state as a sinister "monopoly of political decisions."

The discussion of forms of struggle is the most intricate, real benchmark of any political theory with a certain spirit, Virno confirms. The "what we want" - depend entirely on "how we can act" to modify the relations of force within this social organisation of time and space.


8. The Anthropic cosmological principle

Twenty-seven years ago Chris C. King (1978/2003) proposed the biocosmological thesis - that the form of life's origin and evolution is a consummating interactive process defined in cosmic symmetry-breaking at the origin of the universe. Central biomolecules are cosmologically abundant products of the gas clouds forming young stars. This process is described as a fundamental manifestation of non-linear quantum science, elaborating the fractal nature of fundamental force interaction.

Although biological structures are genetically coded in a vast variety of ways by specific nucleic acid sequences, many features of life as we know it on Earth are the product of selective factors which lead inevitably to specific traits. The rich diversity of structure in molecular systems is made possible by the profound asymmetries developing at the cosmic origin, between the nuclear forces, gravity and electromagnetism. Chemical bonding is a consequence of the non-linear inverse square law of electromagnetic charge interaction in space-time.

The Anthropic cosmological principle introduces the existence of observers as a boundary condition, effectively imposing the existence of life as a cosmological constraint. It asserts that fundamental properties of the universe may have been selected by the fact that only with such constraints on the laws of nature would there be a (complex biological) observer to witness the universe and examine its laws (Barrow and Tipler). Chris C. King invokes a particular form of many-universes explanation also involving collapse of the wave function, to induce space-time transactions consistent with a role for the conscious observer in forming a unique idiosyncratic historical process quantum mechanically in the macroscopic world - a process he is calling historicity.

Although fragile, on the cosmic scale of energies, the complexity of life is the supreme culmination in complexity of the interactive quantum process initiated in the quantum symmetry-breaking. Quantum interaction of fermions reaches its full interactive complexity only in the molecular assemblies of biochemistry and finally, in tissues, organs and organisms, the brain being the most complex expression of chemical non-linearities so far known.

Comparison of the evolution of the universe from the big bang and the evolution of life on Earth shows that life has existed for a full third of the universe’s lifetime and is a long-term, stable feature of cosmic evolution. Astronomical events, such as asteroid and cometary impacts and nearby supernovae have always played a major role in causing mass extinctions. However the advent of so-called human civilisation is threatening in the next century to cause a mass extinction more serious than the cretaceous-tertiary event that wiped out the dinosaurs.

This places upon us an awesome responsibility to care for the living Earth in space-time so that its future can flower regardless of the heat death or cosmic crunch which will await us far further down the track.

Survival of any species depends on endurance over evolutionary and thus cosmic time scales. All the indications are at present that humanity remains unaware of its increasingly perilous disruption of all natural long-term processes of evolutionary diversity and robustness on the planet in the naive belief in a technological quick fix after the damage has become inescapable. If we are going to survive, we need urgently to reinvest in our coherent relationship with the cosmos and interdependence with the diversity of nature.

© Matko Meštrović (Zagreb)


Branden, W. Joseph 2005: "Interview with Paolo Virno", Grey Room 21, Fall, The IMT Press, pp. 26-37.

Brown, G. Spencer 1972: Laws of Form - Evolution of consciousness, Julian Press, New York, Book Review by Bobby Matherne 1999

Bussey, Marcus 2002: "From change to progress: critical spirituality and the future of futures studies", Futures Vol. 34 No. 3/4, pp. 303-315.

Drucker, F. Peter 1989: The New Realities,Harper & Row, Publishers, New York

Ferkis, Victor C. 1973: "Technological Man - The Myth and the Reality", in: Brockman John and Edward Rosenfeld (eds) Real Time 1, A catalog of ideas and information, New York: Anchor Press, pp. 204-205.

Gill, Stephen 2000: The constitution of global capitalism, - 78k

Graham, Philip 1999: Cybersociety and hypercapitalism (Hypercapitalism: Political economy, electric identity, and authorial alienation), paper presented at Cybersociety, Northumbria University,

Hall, Edward T. 1973: "The Hidden Dimension", in: Brockman John and Edward Rosenfeld (Eds) Real Time 1, A catalog of ideas and information, New York: Anchor Press, pp. 67-69.

Haraway, Donna 1991: Simians, Cyborgs and Woman, New York: Routledge

Holmes, Brian 2005: "The Scandal of the Word ‘Class’", A review of David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford UP, 2005) ""

Inayatullah, Sohail 2002: Reductionism or layered complexity? The future of futures studies, Futures Vol. 34 No. 3/4, pp. 295-301.

King, Chris C. 2003: Biocosmology

Larner, Wendy 2005: Co-constituting ‘After Neoliberalism’: New Forms of Governance in Aotearoa New Zelannd

Lazzarato, Maurizio 2005: Biopolitics/Bioeconomics: a politics of multiplicity

Lipton, H Bruce 2001: Insight into Cellular "Consciousness", Reprinted from Bridges, 2001 Vol. 12(1) p. 5 ISSEEM (303) 425-4625

Lipton, H Bruce 2001a: Conscious Parenting,http: //

Malik, Suail 2005: "Information and Knowledge", Theory, Culture & Society Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 29-49.

Menser, Michael and Stanly Aronowitz 1996: "On Cultural Studies, Science and Technology", in: Aronowitz, Stanelyet al. (Eds) Techno Science and Cyber Culture, New York - London: Routledge

Murray, J. Stuard 2005: Rhetorics of Life and Multitude In Michel Foucault and Paolo Virno, CTHEORY Article 166

Nederveen Pieterse, Jan 1998: Critical development and the Tao of holism, Institute of Social Studies, Working papers Series No. 275, The Hague

Neilson, Brett and Ned Rossiter, (Eds) 2005: "Multitudes, Creative Organisation and the Precarious Condition of New Media Labour", Fibreculture Journal - issue 5

Plant, Sadie 1996: The virtual complexity of culture, in Robertson, George et al. (Eds) FutureNatural - Nature, science, culture,London and New York: Routledge, pp. 203-217.

Sklair, Leslie 2000 a: "Social movements and global capitalism", in Roberts J. Timmons and Amy Hite (Eds) From Modernization to Globalization- Perspectives for Development and Social Change, Blackwell Publishers, pp. 340-352.

Sklair, Leslie 2000 b: "Sociology of the global system" in Lechner, J. Frank and John Boli (Eds) The Globalization Reader, Blackwell Publishers, pp. 64-69.

Slaughter, Richard A. 2002: "Futures studies as a civilizational catalyst" , Futures Vol. 34, No.3/4 , pp. 349-363.

Smith, Neil 1996: "The production of nature", in Robertson, George et al. (Eds) FutureNatural - Nature, science, culture,London and New York: Routledge, pp. 35-54

Thacker, Eugen 2005: Biophilosophy for the 21st Century,

Thrift, Nigel 1999: "The place of Complexity", Theory, Culture & Society Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 31-69.

1.2. Gesellschaftliche Reproduktion und kulturelle Innovation. Aus semiotischer Sicht

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Matko Meštrović (Zagreb): Global Crisis and Social Earth. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005.

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 29.8.2006     INST