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[ox-en] Re: Empire-discussions (was Re: [rox] Invitation / Einladung 2. Oekonux-Konferenz)

On Sun, 22 Sep 2002 alan wrote:

Secondly Jamie King has recently written an intersting essay that ties
parts of the debate around copyright enclosure and the italian
immaterial labour/general intellect debate together: Towards an Army of
Ideas - Oppositional Intellect and the Bad Frontier

I've been arguing with Stefan Mz over similar ideas to the ones in this
essay, so I might as well further my reputation of disagreeing with
everything and being the odd one out ;-)

I liked the use of Winstanley. But as well as his general ideas quoted
in the essay he also had ideas on what would now be called IP - starting
from the idea that 'Kingly power hath crushed the spirit of knowledge
and would not suffer it to rise up in its beauty and fulness' to a 
concrete program for education, science and an alternative to the patent
system (in The Law of Freedom).

So what are the equivalent concrete ideas in this essay? As I read it,
it says we need to drop defence of the 'information commons' (the
goal of 'left-liberal-lawyer lobbyists, NGO gonks, and wild-eyed info
egologists' - alas poor Lessig - 'necessarily failing and doomed'), and 
replace it by a more active strategy of 'constituting a shared community
of ideas that, expecting such co-option and acting in prescience, 
deliberately designs itself to appear, perhaps, palatable, but to be
in fact poisonous [to capital]'. And this poison pill is to be
'a return to Artaudian insanity via Burrough's 'language virus''.

Well, the first problem for me with this is just the language. Stefan
mentioned that the language of the German translation of Empire is 'ugly'.
I doubt if it's any uglier than the original; and I have real problems
reading or taking anything seriously that comes out of the whole
Deleuze/Guattari tradition just because of this. Winstanley had a much
better way of writing - clear, immediately understandable to everyone (ok,
he uses religious phraseology - but that was intelligible to everyone when
he wrote). I simply don't understand what a return to Artaudian insanity
is (reminds me of the old Beatle's song 'all you need to do is change your
head', but I hope it isn't..)

More importantly, the whole idea here seems to be wrong. The 'poison pill'
already exists: it's free software, and everything associated with it.
People defending the 'information commons' are part of the defence of that
too; Lessig and others are allies, not 'wild-eyed gonks' or whatever.
The article is asking us to desert our allies, when we need to be helping 
them. Free software is still something that can potentially be destroyed;
every ally we can get to stop that is a plus.

So how do two people defending the same basic set of ideas arrive at
such opposite conclusions (he asks, rhetorically...). This is the bit
that repeats my argument with Stefan Mz:

Jamie quotes in apparent agreement 'the intellectual activity of mass
culture, [is] no longer reducible to simple labor, to the pure expenditure
of time and energy', which I would also agree with. But then how can it be
that: 'The expected huge increase in the value of intellectual labour is
occurring'? I think the two statements contradict one another.
Intellectual labour has no more value than it ever had; an economy based
on it is not one based on value. It can only be forced into the mould of
value by the most extreme contortions, arbitrary laws, etc. 

When Marx wrote about the 'general intellect' it was in exactly this
context - trying to guess how the contradictions of value would eventually
drive capitalism to a point where it could no longer reproduce itself
successfully. As it happens his preferred solution was a very roundabout
one via fall in profit and terminal crisis, rather than the direct one
that is actually happening - but in either case the point is that value is
not eternal, nor is capitalism a self-perpetuating system (an Althusserian
orrery) but a finite one. One the one hand mass piracy is a sign of that
end from within, on the other free software is the sign of an alternative.
Not a magic alternative appearing from nothing, but one produced from the
system itself. So it can't be co-opted.   

That's quite enough for now - hope that wasn't too rude a welcome to the 
list-en mailing list! looks an interesting site; I didn't
know it... :-)



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