- Species-Being, Labor, and Autonomy
Students of Karl Marx recognize that the difference between humans and animals is that humans have the self-reflexive ability to be conscious of their own life activity and to therefore be able to consciously use the labor-process to change the world creatively based on the ideas in their consciousness. In Capital, Marx wrote, “A spider conducts operations that resemble those of the weaver, and a bee would put many a human architect to shame by the construction of its honeycomb cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax. At the end of every labor-process, a result emerges which had already been conceived by the worker at the beginning, hence already existed ideally. Man not only effects a change of form in the materials of nature; he also realizes his own purpose in those materials. And this is a purpose he is conscious of, it determines the mode of his activity with the rigidity of a law, and he must subordinate his will to it. This subordination is no mere momentary act. Apart from the exertion of the working organs, a purposeful will is required for the entire duration of the work.”
Humanity’s conscious dynamic role, its species-being, rooted in a deep psychological need for autonomy and creative power, is therefore to translate our own goals into tangible results in material reality. This dialectical relationship between goals that reside in human consciousness and results that reside in the material world is mediated through human labor. Human creative labor is therefore the dominant role of humans and the class struggle for control over human labor and its various necessities, including the means of production, remains the primary driving force of human history.
All humans thus have the psychological need to perform autonomous human labor with tangible results, though the need for autonomy may vary between individuals. In this way, humans can satisfy their psychological needs. We can also see that humans have a certain psychological need to achieve their species-being that is not present in non-conscious beings, such as animals, which lack human species-being and therefore can be more easily psychologically compatible with “domestication”. Alienation from species-being, the consistent inability to satisfy this psychological need, leads to mental problems, including anxiety, depression, crass materialism, and poor self-image, even if the material needs of the individual are fully satisfied. Individuals who repeatedly fail to satisfy their need for autonomous and successful labor become defeatist, demotivated, and feel powerless due to their inability to actually exercise their creative potential to change the world. We can observe this process happening very clearly in decaying modes of production, where the decadent, non-laboring ruling class reaches a level of boredom, malaise, self-doubt, and hedonistic degeneracy (despite ample access to power over other people and to material resources) that contributes to some degree to their inability to combat the resistance of the laboring people.
Let me elaborate on what I mean by autonomy. If a structure with which a person does not identify hands down instructions from above to that person and that person finishes the task without any independent decision-making over any important details, they will not obtain the same satisfaction that they would get by satisfying their own goals. However, people do not need to fulfill their need for autonomy on an individual basis. For virtually all people, labor is a social enterprise and coordinating with other people as equals on a non-alienated small-group basis (making a joint effort for a meaningful goal without significant differentials of power within the group) is enough to satisfy the need for autonomy.
- The Real Domination of Capital and Species-Being
Under the real domination of capital, bourgeois control over the means of production compromises the ability to labor autonomously and thus the ability for humans to perform their conscious dynamic role. The anarchy of commodity production and capital accumulation under capitalism, which implies that impersonal and uncontrollable market forces direct the capitalist economy on a macro-level, means that proletarians labor inside an alienated structure in which the economy fluctuates out of all rational control. This means that they cannot truly labor autonomously, but rather are at the mercy of economic forces that dictate what must be produced and how it must be distributed. At the same time, on a micro-level, proletarians lack power over their managers and overseers, which must make all of the day-to-day decisions in the workplace due to the separation of mental and manual labor engendered by capitalism and the complexity of technological management under capitalism.
A large portion of this form of alienation is unavoidable under the real domination of capital, because this system of disempowerment allows for specialization that is necessary for the efficiency of capitalist enterprise, which cannot but prioritize the efficiency of their capital accumulation above all other goals. This is not to mention the fact that increasing the mental-manual labor division also prevents sections of the working class from becoming educated enough to want to overthrow the system. Because of this alien structure, humans have their lives controlled inside the workplace by impersonal forces of capital and capital’s human representatives. Therefore, capitalism is inherently alienating and thus psychologically damaging for all workers. Capitalism is even alienating for the bourgeoisie, whose decision-making process is also heavily restricted by the dictates of competitive capital accumulation and all kinds of government regulations that attempt to help society maintain long-term accumulation of capital. However, members of the bourgeoisie can rarely ever develop a proletarian consciousness from this kind of alienation because they simply benefit too much from their class position vis-à-vis capital.
- Surrogate Activities
As a result of alienation from their species-being, humans participate in “surrogate activities”, which are artificial goals that those who otherwise lack the ability to otherwise labor productively and autonomously can undertake. Participating in surrogate activities gives the human the imitation of going through the process of autonomous labor, to provide for itself an otherwise-lacking sense of fulfillment. What I mean by surrogate activities includes things such as political activism, accumulating wealth, shopping sprees, consumption of mass media, excessive focus on personal appearance, obtaining promotions at work, striving for popularity and status, drug use, research work, charity work, exercise, hobbies in general, and other activities that are not a basic human necessity, yet play the role as a surrogate for meaningful labor in alienated classes and non-laboring classes. These surrogate activities are largely artificially generated by capitalist media and other forms of capitalist psychological manipulation.
Elaborating on the role of capitalist media in generating surrogate activities, Jacques Camatte stated in The Wandering of Humanity, “Advertising crassly reflects the fact that capital is representation, that it survives because it is representation in the mind of each human being (internalizing what was externalized). Advertising is the discourse of capital: everything is possible, all norms have disappeared. Advertising organizes the subversion of the present for the sake of an apparently different future… Enjoyment is allowed but is never possible. Man becomes a sensual and passive voyeur, capital a sensual and suprasensual being. Human life ceases to be a process and becomes linear. Aspired by the process of capital, man can no longer be ‘himself.’ This aspiration evacuates him, creating a vacuum which he must continually satisfy with representations (capital). More generally, capital in process secures its domination by making every process linear.”
No matter how much labor humans might devote themselves to their surrogate activities, they can never get the full sense of fulfillment that they crave. Surrogate activities are not a perfect replacement for actual productive and autonomous labor, (1) because they are artificial goals transmitted to the individual by external forces, not internally driven goals and (2) because the individual knows on some level that whatever goal they are putting effort into attaining is a wholly artificial goal, not a real and productive one. As a result, humans are constantly disassociated from their species-being and have to repeatedly chase after that feeling of fulfillment as their expectations for what they consider to be success continue to grow higher and higher. Like being on a treadmill that adjusts according to the runner’s speed, no matter how fast they run, they stay in the same place psychologically and can never fully satisfy that need for fulfillment that they crave. This chase is to the benefit of capitalists, which can maintain capital accumulation by selling more and more products to feed people’s surrogate activities.
Ultimately, very few successfully fulfill their surrogate activities but instead either continue to pursue them more and more vigorously until death or grow frustrated and either regress into depression or switch into a new surrogate activity. For some minority of people, these wholly artificial surrogate activities are enough to keep them occupied and happy. However, the vast majority of the population finds themselves continuously unsatisfied and alienated as a result of a lack of a sense of fulfillment from meaningful and autonomous labor. We can see the mid-life crisis of emptiness and purposelessness that most people in capitalism endure as a symptom of this disease.
- Estrangement from the Self and from Other Humans
Another psychological need of human beings is that of authentic interactions with other human beings, as well as authentic interactions with the self. The vast majority of matured human beings need to be in romantic relationships for some portion of their life, at least a few close friends throughout life, and at least some amount of less-close friends and acquaintances throughout life. We need the face-to-face encounter and the intimate encounter with other human beings in order to satisfy our own desires as a social being. We need these relationships to be more than superficial and not based in some external motivator but on mutual interest between us and the other person in the relationship. We also need a healthy self-relationship to maintain a stable self-image and ego. However, capitalist technology and culture undermines the ability for us to undertake authentic relationships.
Capitalist technology creates inauthentic relationships between people, because screen-to-screen encounters replace to a large extent face-to-face encounters. We do not interact fully with other people on a human level but instead limit ourselves to the text on a computer or phone screen, or the voice from a telephone. Obviously, such relationships are less satisfying than actual in-person relationships, but the appeal of such technology is that it is much easier to arrange an online or phone encounter than it is to arrange an in-person encounter. These technological relationships also damage the development of social skills at important junctures of personal development, leading to high rates of social dysfunction among those whom technology influences from an early age. Such detached modes of communication thus come at the price of a deep feeling of social alienation among technologically capable members of society.
Mass capitalist culture also undermines the ability for humans to undertake authentic relationships. Instead of living our own lives to the fullest, we instead live vicariously through images presented to us by our mass media. We live through the lives of celebrities in movies, TV shows, advertisements, and magazines, which alienates us from our authentic relationship with ourselves. We are thus living through the lens of a fantasy instead of our own material reality and this damages the self because (1) our own self cannot live up to the images seen on screen, creating emptiness and self-esteem issues, and (2) we neglect our own self-improvement by living in media-generated fantasies. We compare our relationships with other people to the lives of celebrities and this creates a deep sense of dissatisfaction that the capitalist system exploits to sell more products to the middle classes. We also watch pornography, which debases our own bodies, serves as a poor substitute for intimate relationships with real people, and serves as another form of alienation from ourselves, because we live through the eyes of a pornographer’s camera and the fantasy that they try to create, instead of our own real lives.
Media also shapes our social preferences as to what kind of people we are attracted to, what kinds of surrogate activities we should partake in, and what kind of way we should interact with our friends. Again, we do not autonomously determine the direction of the capitalist media and its images and thus it causes our relationships with other people to be a plaything of alien forces, because impersonal and external forces mediate most of our personal relationships. Most of this alienation is subconscious and the average person does not realize the extent which mass media alienates and subverts their relationships with other people, making them lose their autonomy.
- Social Disruption and Species-Being
An additional way that capitalism estranges us from our species-being is through massive social disruption in our lives beyond our control that undermine our sense of power over our surroundings. Under capitalism, society evolves according to the anarchy of commodity production and capital accumulation, as well as the haphazard technological development that they imply. The real domination of capital, which has subjugated humanity under the despot of technology, means that the motions of capital are no longer under rational human control but develop according to their own internal logic. Camatte wrote in Against Domestication, “The domestication of humanity is closely bound up with another phenomenon which has intensified even further the passivity of human beings: capital has in effect ‘escaped’. Economic processes are out of control and those who are in a position to influence them now realize that in the face of this they are powerless: they have been completely outmanoeuvered. At the global level, capital’s escape is evident in the monetary crisis; overpopulation, pollution and the exhaustion of natural resources.”
This problem can only accelerate as the rate of technological development accelerates. We cannot predict the effects of new technology and new corporate decisions in advance and thus the autonomization of capitalist technology continuously generates new and unforeseen problems. For example, all of the problems associated with communications technology that I pointed out would not have existed unless (1) capitalism invented those means of communications and (2) those means of communication were in the hands of the bourgeoisie’s bureaucrats and impersonal market forces. We can also add stress-inducing problems such as the progressive disintegration of the traditional family and local community structures starting with the Industrial Revolution (and furthered by the constant atomization of human existence that technology drives), continuous population overgrowth and overcrowding due to greater medical technology, disruption of tranquility through noise-generating devices, increasing levels of pollution from various forms of industrial development, the threat of terrorism due to better developments in Fourth-Generation military technology, the threat of nuclear war and nuclear plant meltdown from the development of nuclear technology, and the uncertainty of employment due to massive disruption in the workplace from technological automation. Again, impersonal forces like bureaucracies, laboratories, and markets impose these changes, instead of them being generated through autonomous will, so it damages the human psyche.
Human labor needs to be productive to be psychologically meaningful and therefore validate our species-being. However, the chaos of capitalist development and the fact of bourgeois control over the means of production entail that there are an increasing number of problems over which we have absolutely no control. Our livelihoods depend on the fluctuations of the market, the (to some extent, media-created) threat of terrorism, the supposed infallibility of capitalist-created potential disasters such as nuclear weapon possession and pollution, the stability of our local community structures, and so on. All of these things depend on the will of bureaucrats, technocrats, and scientists, the bourgeoisie they serve, and the dictates of capital accumulation and commodity exchange which the bourgeoisie serves, which are all things over which we have nearly no influence over in capitalist society. As a result, we cannot satisfy our goal of security no matter how much labor we put in and no matter how much we care. Thus, this leads to a sense of powerlessness and frustration, just like the sense of frustration from having no meaningful goals to pursue.
One other manner that modern capitalist society erodes our sense of control is by seeking to manipulate every aspect of human behavior from above through totalitarian means (bio-management), under a mask of “liberal democracy”, preventing people from meeting their need to meet their goals autonomously. The difference between “liberal democracy” and “authoritarian dictatorship” under capitalism is that the bourgeoisie largely uses psychological means for the former (through ideological structures) and physically coercive means (through repressive structures) for the latter, all for the same end of social control and the reproduction of the capitalist mode of production. However, wait until a crisis situation in which people riot for lack of the basic necessities for existence, and we will see even “liberal democracies” roll out the tanks to protect the property of the bourgeoisie against the masses.
Camatte wrote in The Wandering of Humanity, “Capital becomes autonomous by domesticating the human being. After analyzing-dissecting-fragmenting the human being, capital reconstructs the human being as a function of its process. The rupture of the body from the mind made possible the transformation of the mind into a computer which can be programmed by the laws of capital. Precisely because of their mental capacities, human beings are not only enslaved, but turned into willing slaves of capital.”
Capital’s ideological structures and their messages, including advertisements, government-sponsored announcements, so-called experts, the education system, and mass entertainment, pour out large amounts of social directives that push people into being as obedient as possible and to become ideally functioning and artificially happy members of the capitalist economy who keep the economy going by producing and consuming, despite all the psychological damage that capitalism inflicts. These ideological structures also seek to mask capitalism as the source of this psychological damage by moving the source of people’s anger to either a completely different target, like immigrants, or a shallow symptom of capitalism that only middle-class people experience, such as consumerism. Capitalism in middle class environments even co-opts resistance to capitalism in this similar manner by turning counterculture and anti-consumerism into consumer products, merely another product to buy or another fad to follow for the alienated middle class.
As a result of capital’s real domination over the human being, the human being is essentially nonhuman, reduced to machinery to be programmed or animals to be trained. Camatte wrote in Against Domestication, “Underlying all this is a profoundly important phenomenon: all human life, from the very beginning of its development within capitalist society, has undergone an impoverishment. More than this, capitalist society is death organized with all the appearances of life. Here it is not a question of death as the extinction of life, but death-in-life, death with all the substance and power of life. The human being is dead and is no more than a ritual of capital.”
Ultimately, this bio-managerial psychological manipulation, and thus loss of autonomy, of the middle class and the proletariat is unavoidable under capitalism. The regulation of our lives (through psychological and physically coercive means) by the bourgeoisie and its various bureaucratic-state and ideological structures is a necessary portion of the superstructure. Without regulating middle class behavior, capitalism would fall apart because the bourgeoisie requires the middle classes to develop surrogate activities through its advertising, buy its products to keep itself in business, and keep working to manage the parts of the capitalist infrastructure that are socially acceptable for the middle classes to work on. Without regulating proletarian behavior, capitalism would fall apart because it needs discipline in the workplace to meet profit margins, as well as a healthy population that can happily reproduce the next generation of laborers.
Any mode of production that does not reproduce itself daily would disintegrate in an instant. Capitalist society must maintain the middle classes’ functions as managers, intellectuals, scientists, and petty bourgeoisie by inserting all kinds of educational propaganda containing the language of typical petty bourgeois entrepreneurial spirit, and the simultaneous glorification of commodities and masking of capitalist productive relations to keep its best intellectual stock on a route towards technical achievement, consumerist goals, and economic placement in the right sectors of the productive system. It must also maintain the proletariat’s position in subservience by pushing out all kinds of religious and social propaganda that maintain obedience to superiors, commodity worship, and the illusory hope of personal success under capitalism or in the afterlife. In addition, under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, it is members of the technocratic power elite (the bourgeoisie) and its loyal bureaucrats, technicians, propagandists, and priests that create and enforce such propaganda and regulation from above, not the masses, further disempowering them.
So long as capital remains autonomous, humans exist to serve capital and not the other way around. In that respect, capital must indirectly manage the health and happiness of entire populations to best ensure profitability, through the political actions of their property-owners – the bourgeoisie. It does so through bureaucratic and technocratic changes from above that are necessarily outside the control of the masses, such that it provides for the needs of people to increase their dependency on the bourgeois state when it is convenient for the system to temper down political consciousness. I call this phenomenon the cybernetic welfare state, a fundamental component of bio-management. I will also point out that under bio-management, even though material needs may be satisfied, the human need for autonomy never will be and therefore neither will species-being be fulfilled.
As a result of the cybernetic welfare state and other innovations for reproducing capital, there is a fear that these problems that I have raised will be insufficient to cause the overthrow of capitalism, because capitalism is simply too adaptable and can psychologically manage most people from above well enough to avoid its own collapse. Though capital itself can only respond to short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability, the bourgeoisie as a class has proven time and time again to be extremely capable at navigating between capitalist crises to ensure the long-term survival of capitalism. The bourgeoisie can even provide small handouts of autonomy to people (within the framework of bio-management) as a glimmer of hope within its decadent infrastructure, through worker co-operatives, self-management, and referendums. However, even the autonomy of referendums is highly debatable, because referendums occur on the scale of thousands to hundreds of millions of people, which is too large of a group for one person to feel that they exercise their own personal autonomy. (Of course, the state pumps out various propaganda pieces convincing people to keep voting since their vote supposedly matters.) This autonomy is of course strictly limited, because anything that interferes too much with the profit motive is incompatible with capitalism’s governing rules of capital accumulation.
That being said, capitalist society’s constant regulations through bio-management consistently generates a large strata of people who resist the norms of capitalism, as there are far too many for them to reasonably follow. As a result, capitalism generates resistance among the middle class (which, in the absence of a proletarian revolutionary movement, easily gets co-opted into apolitical apathy, suicide, explicitly pro-capitalist agendas, cult agendas, the Activist Left, or even worse, into fascism) in the form of those who exit “mainstream middle-class” society as rebels, mental patients, or dropouts. Among the lower stratum of proletariat, capitalist alienation generates lumpenproletarian degeneracy through gang recruitment, petty-crime, as well as the refusal of labor and thus life dependent on the cybernetic welfare state, and the bio-management of entire populations that entails.
Due to the fact that people who drop out of capitalist society become useless to capitalism as an economic system, the bourgeoisie and its loyal scientists have had to keep up with the development of technological capitalism by inventing better and better ways at staving off this rebellion (and also perfect the manipulation of more loyal sections of the population), which naturally occurs under the stress of capitalism and will only get worse as capitalism approaches the complete alienation of technological singularity. Surveillance technology (Our lives are constantly being watched by the NSA, CIA, FBI or other government organizations), associated with greater effectiveness of the physical coercion of the state’s repressive structures, and propaganda (I have discussed this in length earlier and there are many other texts on this topic) are of course mainstays of standard management technique under any kind of regime in history and they of course get stronger as social forces as capitalist development marches forward.
However, what is also important about modern capitalism is the bio-managerial development of more disciplinary and personal forms of psychological manipulation to perfect the bourgeoisie’s social control over the masses. The subjugation of humanity has become a science in its own right. Camatte wrote in Against Domestication, “By simply having interiorized the social base on which it is built, capital has become autonomous, from which point it has then been able to make its escape. The headlong plunge of its development over a number of years has now let loose grave dangers for humanity and for the whole of nature. Not even the keen-witted experts and the droning old bores can remain aloof any longer from the dangers that now confront us. To a certain degree, they are even obliged to join in the company of those who talk in terms of an apocalyptic future. The apocalypse is fashionable because our world is nearing its end, a world in which human beings, in spite of all the evidence of their weakness and degradation, had always remained the norm, the reference point of the world. But having been presented with the fact that God is dead, we now hear the proclamation of the death of the human being. Both God and humans yield in turn to science, which is at once the goddess and servant of capital: science presents itself in today’s world as the study of mechanisms of adaptation which will assimilate human beings and nature into the structure of capital’s productive activity.”
Now we have various tutoring programs and pedagogical tactics to ensure compliance among children to the bourgeoisie’s political agenda and values, and to make sure that each child knows their destined “place” inside the capitalist hierarchy. We also have therapy programs and counseling that teaches the values of capitalist civilization and instructs to those who become dropouts from the capitalist mode of production how to reintegrate into the capitalist world. In addition, we have various strengths of psychiatric medication to create artificial happiness and compliance to the system in those whose will has been broken by capital and its stringent regulations. Even for people who are relatively compliant to capitalism, the profit motive entails the need for further maximization of their efficiency through even more specialized psychological manipulation tactics in the workplace and in broader society as a whole to control human behavior and ensure a consistently high level of discipline in our technological-alienated society.
Bio-management steadily accelerates as technological development accelerates under modern capitalism. First, capitalist development allow the bourgeoisie and its psychologists and technicians to perfect obedience techniques and technologies, such that for the sake of profit margins, capitalist society becomes more and more regimented and counter to human autonomy, even as isolated pockets of resistance might spark up against these conditions. Second, the development of capitalism causes more and more massive potential resistance from greater regulation-induced and disruption-induced loss of autonomy, which then must be subverted or manipulated back into the system through further developments in capitalist population-management technology (including the strengthening of the cybernetic welfare state) and bourgeois disciplinary tactics. Third, the more complex technology gets, the more rules and regulations from repressive structures are needed by the bourgeoisie for society to run smoothly and thus technological development almost always causes two things: the diminishing of personal autonomy and the increase in the power of the elite. Uncontrollably accelerating technological development under capitalism leads to the acceleration of those two problems. Fourth, in the near future, with greater developments in bourgeois biotechnology, the loyal technological-staff of the bourgeoisie may be able to manipulate entire genomes and parts of the body to ensure perfect obedience to the system.
Thus, all roads coming from autonomous capital’s repressive and ideological structures reproduce capitalism and the perfection of social control under the development of technological-bio-managerial capitalism. Even if in the present we are not consciously aware of all of these social directives and forms of psychologically manipulative bio-management, the psychological weight of these forces still takes a large toll on the psyche. It is impossible for any person to follow all of the rules inputted into their eyes and ears every day from the various organs of capitalism and thus this leads to a sense of frustration and powerlessness in the face of loss of autonomy from constant manipulation. Even if a person were to be able to follow all of the directives of the bourgeoisie, that would be a regimented and mediocre existence in which few could possibly stand for long without developing psychological problems.
- The Effects of Technological-Totalitarianism and How People Cope
Even today, when technological-totalitarianism is still in its early stages, the combination of all of these psychological damages from capitalism creates a highly dysfunctional society where many are unhappy and those who are happy have a manufactured happiness created by capitalist media, medication, and buying products. We have skyrocketing rates of symptoms of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, insecurity, inferiority complexes, obsessive-compulsive behavior, addiction (to consumerism, alcohol, and drugs), hopelessness, loneliness, insomnia, child abuse, social dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, attention dysfunction, psychosis, paranoia, psychopathy, and rage, as well as the increasing toll of the ill effects on society that these create, such as high levels of crime due to drug addiction, alienation, psychopathy, psychosis, and anger. Our literature shows a deep sense of alienation, guilt, hopelessness, purposelessness, and despondence in the face of uncontrollable circumstances. Finally, as I stated before, we can look at the mid-life crisis as a particularly interesting symptom of the psychological damage inflicted by capitalism.
The proletariat and middle class adapt to capitalist alienation by immersing themselves as much as possible into the surrogate activities that capitalism puts out to dull out public consciousness. As a result, they hook themselves onto alcohol, drugs, medication, therapy, media, shopping sprees, and other such “hobbies” as a means of artificial happiness in the face of unchallengeable uncertainties, lack of meaningful relationships, lack of autonomy from bio-management, and lack of meaningful and autonomous labor. Submitting to the ideological structure of capital becomes necessary for most individuals. However much that this staves off depression, emptiness, and stress, this just strengthens capital by creating feedback mechanisms through the infusion of capitalist enterprise with consumer dollars and through public acceptance of ruling class ideology. For some people, their need for autonomous and fruitful labor exactly matches their ability to buy their way to happiness and thus they can stave off alienation permanently and reach a level of artificial happiness and low political consciousness created by the artificial goals generated by capitalism. For other people, they are too susceptible to capitalist media and therefore they cannot ever satisfy their artificially created material needs and thus remain alienated and unhappy. For others still, they have very little susceptibility to capitalist media or are conscious of the effects of media. However, this just sends them off into incredibly psychological dis-ease as they either feel the full force of capitalist alienation or see the capitalist alienation going on around them and feel powerless to change it.
Another “surrogate” that people often participate in to deal with the frustration and alienation inherent in capitalism is joining and/or identifying with large organizations. These could be nations, movements, political parties, companies, armies, clubs, churches, or charities. Identifying with such large organizations gives some sense of accomplishment if people end up contributing to the large organization’s successes. However, being part of a large organization is not enough to satisfy the need for autonomous and productive labor, because there is not enough autonomy in larger organizations to fully solve the psychological needs of individuals, especially in organizations with a rigid, bureaucratic structure in which decision-making at the bottom is at a minimum. In addition, all of the organizations I listed that people join/identify with as a result of capitalist alienation all are fully determined by the capital relation and thus serve the interests of capital and the reproduction of the system.
- The Future
As capitalism progresses towards the complete domination of the human being as a mere machine for reproducing capital, there will be a period of great strife in the next coming decades as those who refuse to be subjugated by capital rebel against the capitalist system. At the current moment, there is still potential for human autonomy and the becoming-human of revolution, as psychological and biological techniques for top-down control of entire populations have not yet reached their peak. However, scientists and bureaucrats are currently working on perfecting these techniques, and this gives us a limited window of time for a revolt against the capitalist-technological system before all of us are forcibly socialized into appendages of the alienated technological machine called capital.
What if there is no revolution? Camatte bleakly described in The Wandering of Humanity how the future (assuming the lack of any crisis of capital, the possibility of which will be explored in Disaster Communism) would look like under the real domination of autonomous capital, “At present there are three possible courses for the capitalist mode of production (in addition to the destruction of humanity – a hypothesis that cannot be ignored):
- complete autonomy of capital: a mechanistic utopia where human beings become simple accessories of an automated system, though still retaining an executive role;
- mutation of the human being, or rather a change of the species: production of a perfectly programmable being which has lost all the characteristics of the species Homo sapiens. This would not require an automatized system, since this perfect human being would be made to do whatever is required;
- generalized lunacy: in the place of human beings, and on the basis of their present limitations, capital realizes everything they desire (normal or abnormal), but human beings cannot find themselves and enjoyment continually lies in the future. The human being is carried off in the run-away of capital, and keeps it going.”
Let us take on each of the three scenarios.
The complete autonomy of capital resembles the technological singularity (“mechanistic utopia”) positively posited by technophiles. Unfortunately for the technophiles, the technological singularity is death for the vast majority of the human race. Though the people maintaining an “executive role” may still survive, the vast majority of human beings will be less efficient than machinery and will thus be liquidated by capital. The autonomy of capital means that it will reach a point where human beings are mere friction retarding the accumulation of capital.
The mutation of the human being is another possibility. As capital develops more sophisticated psychological and biological techniques for programming human beings, it is likely that capital’s drive towards greater efficiency will require it to remove humanity’s species-being at some point using said psychological and biological tactics. At that point, humans will truly be the living dead, nothing more than a cog inside the capitalist machine, a dead ritual of capital with no chance of revolting or ever becoming-human.
The last scenario described is perhaps the best out of the three, but it is still profoundly dehumanizing. Autonomous capital will not develop to the point of sublimating humanity’s species-being and human beings will receive all of their material needs, but humanity will be consistently spiritually empty due to the estrangement of their species-being. With the complete automation of production, humans no longer need to labor, but this lack of required labor simply means that all activities will have to become surrogate activities, leading to the complete dehumanization of humanity due to a complete disassociation from their species-being. It also means that life will be completely purposeless and meaningless for all individuals, leading to immense frustration and unhappiness due to the fact that “human beings cannot find themselves”.
It is clear what the imperative for humanity should be: a revolution against the capitalist system led by the real movement of the proletariat and the dismemberment of all technologies that can be used against the human populace and the species-being of humanity, nothing less.
- Technological Skepticism
Marx theorized in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that the history of society was the history of the development of the productive forces. “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution… No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.” This passage profoundly reeks of teleology and technophilia, in that it reads history, even after the communist revolution, as the continuous development of the productive forces (technology). Herein Marx errs.
As Camatte put it in The Wandering of Humanity, “Historical materialism is a glorification of the wandering in which humanity has been engaged for more than a century: growth of productive forces as the condition sine-qua-non for liberation. But by definition all quantitative growth takes place in the sphere of the indefinite, the false infinite. Who will measure the ‘size’ of the productive forces to determine whether or not the great day has come?”
In contrast to Marx, I posit a technological skepticism, which questions the common perception of technology as a neutral instrument and the misguided claim that history consists of the linear development of the productive forces. Technological skepticism sees many forms of technology, especially under capitalist relations of production, as objective instruments for the domination and alienation of humanity, yet acknowledges that some technologies are a positive force for human freedom. Technological skepticism also sees communism not as the breaking down of all fetters to the expansion of technology but rather as the development of the material human community that stops the uncontrolled development of technology and chooses which technologies to accept as well as which to reject.
Technological skepticism should not be conflated with primitivism. Primitivism fails to see both side of the dialectic between Humanity and Nature. It is clear that some forms of technology, including a lot of largely superfluous modern technology, is alienating and dominating, yet primitivism fails to see the other side of the picture, in which technology is not only some monolithic force for evil but one of the ways in which human beings liberate themselves from the forces of nature. Technology allows us to conquer and understand the natural patterns such as weather and disease whose mercy we face in the absence of human innovation. Technology then increases human freedom, as we then are no longer as subject to nature’s restrictions on collective human action as we were before. Thus, the positive side of technology aids humans against the negative side of Nature and we need to flesh out both parts of technology and Nature’s dialectic instead of focusing on just one, as primitivism does.
Many forms of technology, however, are not compatible with the material human community of communism. The revolution will have to be against capitalism, but also against a large portion of capitalist technologies and techniques, which are either wastefully superfluous or actively dominating and alienating. How would the revolution salvage the FBI, the CIA, the police, and their surveillance and repressive gadgetry, for example? How would the revolution salvage all the psychological, social, and biological management techniques and technologies characteristic of our period of bourgeois history? How would the revolution salvage alienating social media or factories producing modern weaponry? How would the revolution salvage polluting technologies or machines that make the human being’s labor superfluous and thus preclude the attainment of human species-being?
The revolution cannot allow itself to be pulled into the lure of artificial intelligence, which poses a threat to human existence and dignity even under communism. This is a critique of “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”, which threatens to throw humans into comfortable prison cells. If human beings were to ever put themselves into a state of dependence on artificial intelligence, perhaps through the continued increase in the complexity of society and the intelligence of machines leading to a point where machine-made decisions were superior to human-made decisions, then the machines would effectively be in control, as humans would no longer be able to turn off the machines without destroying the entire technological system that they would be dependent on. Then who is not to say that the machines would effectively constitute both the new bourgeoisie and the new capital? The human being will again be subjugated to the autonomous development of the machine, just like under capitalism. With the full dependence of humans on the machines, this sets the stage for autonomous capital’s complete domination of the human being.
We should even question automation, because rendering human labor superfluous would turn all human activities into surrogate activities, as there will no longer be any productive labor for humans to perform. This is truly a despicable way for the human race to end up, as we would reduce ourselves to the position of decadent aristocrats, which is dehumanizing in its own right. As stated earlier in the sections titled “Surrogate Activities” and “The Future”, life would be “completely purposeless and meaningless for all individuals” due to the fact we would be completely alienated from our creative species-being, the conscious dynamic role of human beings to perform autonomous and productive labor.