7.29.2011

Networks, Capitalism, Corporations, & The Promise of Local Pants

This may seem obvious to you. But I'm a bit slow witted so bear with me.

The anti-monarchy revolutions — the French Revolution, the American Revolution, etc — were bourgeois revolutions. The emerging business owners wanted a piece of the pie, a pie owned by royalty through inheritance. It seemed like a big jip that they were left out. So off with their heads!

In order to mobilize this revolution, they cast it in terms of the everyman — freedom for all, equality for all. But capitalism is not built on equality for all; it's built on exploitation: you work for me. Wealth flows upwards.

Of course, the promise of capitalism is that anyone can become the exploiter, the point of capital condensation. This sounds pretty good, even if silly. After all, the system could not work if everyone was an owner. Nevertheless.

And so culture moved from a hierarchy — a pyramid — to a network, a distributed system that flows multiple directions. This network, which is today quite prevalent, seems to hold the promise of those revolutions of yesteryear: everyone participating, all nodes equal.

But this network is not an emergent force of culture; it is not a contemporary phenomena. The network is capitalism.

Which means the network is not composed of equal nodes. Some nodes are points of concentration. This is as it should be, no doubt: the more compelling content develops a bigger audience and hence becomes a more prevalent node. No problem.

The problem is when this game, this network, gets gamed — when the rules are rigged beforehand so that certain nodes are more privileged. Enter: the corporation.

The corporation is itself a networked entity, a composite of a sort: it gathers many individuals under one name, one agency. It is only possible post-monarchy, post-pyramid.

But it becomes more than just another node in the network; it becomes hedger, game-rigger, of the flows within the network. Rather than capital and resources being able to flow every which way, the corporation ensures capital flows towards it. It is vehicle for the ready concentration of wealth and power. (How? Well, the corporation can buy up smaller businesses. This may seem like a right but it is quite strange: How can something that does not exist per se — namely, a corporation — buy anything? The rights for a corporation to buy anything came from the 14th Amendment — prior to those Supreme Court cases, a corporation was not allowed to buy things. So corporations systematically eliminate competition by either squashing it or buying it.)

So while the corporation is a product of network culture, it works against the promise of the network, the promise of equal nodes (or the equal opportunity for all nodes). And yet it continues to spout the same promise: participation for all and by all!

The Big Dupe is that the game was rigged from the get go. The revolution was always a bourgeois revolution. It was not the rise of the everyman; it was the rise of the owner who convinced the everyman that the revolution was good.

All this network freedom — all this blogging and Facebooking and tweeting — is the oligarchy's propaganda.

And yet the network may have a structure and possibility that belies the oligarchic interest. There is a rise of decentered nodes of production — local makers of goods, of food and clothing and soaps and entertainment.

Two modes of the network, then, at work: the anti-capitalist tendency of the corporation to monopolize, to game the system, to concentrate wealth. And the tendency of the arty individual to grow his own food, make and sell beautiful pants, to serve local communities.


2 comments:

drwatson said...

I'm just getting home from a gig, which means two things a) it's late and b) I've been drinking.

I say that to say this. Remember when I asked about the use of "network?" To me this is the post that I want to push that further. To say the network is capitalism is confusing. I mean i can sort of see it the other way: capitalism is networked.

In a larger point this is where my split philosophically happens. I talk about politics without hardly ever referencing the philosophers I like so much. I'm so much more concerned with simple, on-the-ground realities.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Ah, yes, but as Foucault — among others — notes so well: we are always already enmeshed is discourses. Everything we say, everything we think to say, everything we assume and question constitutes this discourse. There are flows that exceed us, flows from history, from law, from desire, from capital, from dreams, from death.

When I say the network is capitalism, I am trying what I think is a radical move: rather than think, as you suggest, that networks exceed capitalism, I want to suggest that everything we love about the network is capitalist propaganda. And that — true or not — blows my mind in the best possible way.