Patrice Riemens on Thu, 1 May 2014 16:41:36 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective, In the Facebook Aquarium Part Two,

The previous installment of FBA II did not make it the list for some
reason. Hence a somewhat longer piece this time, with, for the sake of
easier reading, a slight overlap with the previous one.
cheerio, p+5D!
Long Live 1st of May!

In the Facebook Aquarium, Part Two

Libertarians - or a short history of capitalism on steroids
(section 2, to end.)

Of course, praxeology [*#] is a bit more complex in the writings of the
Austrian School's authors than in our present rendering. Yet, like all
theories pretending to hold absolute validity at all times, at all places,
and for all people, praxeology displays a number of irreducible
contradictions. Yet we need to pause on one particular aspect it shares
with the anarchist American individualistic tradition: absolute
subjectivism. According to classic economic theory, especially the english
one (and that includes Marx also), there exist such things as objective
values, from which an axiology may be derived [5]. But according to
Austrian praxeology no such thing as objective value exists. Economic
transaction could, no - should - be equally advantageous for both parties;
if was this not the case then the axiom of whole maximization of
individual benefit in as little time as possible would collapse. This
entails that a good has a value that differs according to the individuals
involved. Therefore, it is possible to arrive at distributed profits while
at the same time underwriting unlimited growth, and this thanks to errors
due to a wrongly estimated 'objective' value being avoided [#].

But this generalized expansion of individual, /economic/ well-being, which
(is made to) coincide(s) with freedom /per se/, is only possible in a
situation of absolute (economic) freedom, without any interference from
(the side of) institutions, which are by definition oppressive, as they
seize private properties, manipulate consciousnesses, anaesthesize the
senses of individuals who are by nature able to strive for the swift and
total satisfaction of their immediate needs, and to project themselves
forward in a fresh action in order to satisfy new desires, and this ad
infinitum. Hence, this is the absolute reference point of individualism:
the individual, (as) absolutely posited absolute subject, demands freedom
absolute. sHe needs to be liberated - in the most literal sense - of all
ties (/absolutus/ - absolved).

The nation state, whether it is in a capitalist or socialist guise, is
clearly the enemy shared by the Austrian School and American individualism
alike; and the more so since the Federal Government and all its
institutions which claim to regulate the capitalist marketplace are
basically shrinking individual freedom. (Yet) not all libertarians are in
agreement about the absolute necessity to abolish the state. Nowadays, the
best known standard bearer of anarcho-capitalism is David Friedman, a US
economist who favors the gradual cutting down of government tyranny.

The whole anarcho-capitalist discourse can be subsumed in one single word:
privatization. Privatization can and should be extended to all sectors of
society - from firms to common law. If the individual is set to triumph,
no mediation whatsoever should be tolerated. But then, who is this
putative individual? Needless to say, the same critique as the one we
applied to digital social networks applies equally to anarcho-capitalism:
the crucial question remains the relationship between individual and
collective identity. So long as humans develop their individuality within
a social context, and there only, it does not make sense, even
theoretically, to consider the individual as a given, absolute identity,
unchanging in and separate from the social, biological, and cultural
environment within sHe is embedded.

To put it more precisely: philosophically speaking, absolute subjectivism,
from which springs the economic theory linked to anarchist individualism,
is in open opposition with the radical relativism which is the commanding
feature of our (type of) research. Our ambition is not to describe social
network 'as they really are' , following the method of mainstream
technological determinism which asserts revealing a technology's true
essence. We can even less accept the idea that it would be possible for
someone to really know everything about human nature, and hence to be able
to deduce without fail from it the essence of society as a whole. This
would entirely lack in realism,  as well as being totally defective.  The
fact that there are 'realities' outside ourselves does in no way mean that
'the world' could vouch for the authenticity of a belief. True, some
descriptions of the world are more appropriate than others, but only
because they enable us to act better, not because they represent the world
better than other descriptions. And going for radical relativism does not
mean that all viewpoints (analyses/descriptions)  are  equally valid. On
the contrary radical relativism enables one to take a position that
robustly reflects one's (particular) standpoint on issues, and this
precisely because one knows that in reality there is no such thing as an
ultimate, inherently valid truth [6].

And besides, the very idea of a subject that is totally free from any link
with the outside world, and whose sole purpose is to act as rapidly as
possible in pursuance of his purely economic interests is manifestly at
variance with the concrete life experience of human beings, and of that of
living beings in general. (On the contrary), we constantly create and
maintain links and relationships for no apparent economic reason at all.
(Equally), we do not always act in line with the maximization of our
personal benefit. We even sometimes prefer to defer (or even to forfeit)
the satisfaction of a personal  desire or need, not only to please other
people, but even simply to enhance our margins of liberty, in an elaborate
game of weighing the pros and the contras. To recognize the positive value
of one's limits is an inherent part of human life experience (as far as
body and language are concerned), and this despite the pain it causes us
to discover our finitude in both space and time by becoming aware that we
are endowed with limited psychic and physical resources, in the same way
as our common earthly horizon is circumscribed. Personal autonomy is a
process, not a state of nature or something given once and for all. The
interaction between human individuals (and even non-humans) with the
products of digital technology, for instance, and also with the many
objects in our everyday world, are not immutably pre-ordained and cannot
be reduced to axioms from which rules of conduct could infallibly be

Therefore, one needs not to be an anti-capitalist anarchist to understand
that libertarianism is grounded on a remarkably anaemic and warped
definition of (the concept of) liberty, and this only in order to condone
pure greed  [7]. Here, we will not spend time contesting this doctrine
item by item, but will rather state a radically different viewpoint on the
underlying big idea of anarcho-capitalism: that of freedom. The sphere of
freedom is far wider and more complex that the simple freedom of the
capitalist 'free market'. A positive definition of freedom (meaning one
that adds rather than substracts) and which still carries, even in our
days, a revolutionary impact, is Bakunin's famous formula:

"I shall be truly free only when all human beings around me, men as well
as women, are equally free. The other person's freedom, far from being a
limit or a denial of my own freedom, is on the contrary its very condition
and confirmation. I become truly free only through the freedom of others,
so that, the more numerous are the free people around me, and the greater
and more encompassing is their freedom, the deeper and broader my own
freedom becomes (...) Hence, my own freedom, when confirmed by everyone
else's freedom, becomes infinite" [8].

An individual is not born free by nature, but becomes free through
manifold collective processes of liberation. If we want to contrast the
two formulations as slogans, we could say that according to anarchists,
freedom starts there we the freedom of others (also) begins, whereas, in
the liberal view (whatever its hue), freedom needs to be separately
constructed for each and every individual: therefore freedom ends where
the freedom of others begins. Nothing could be further from the anarchist
conception of liberty, which is relative and needs constant recalibration,
than the purely economic concept of freedom such as proponned by

Libertarism, starting out from an economic theory morphed into a political
philosophy today comes to the fore in the guise of groupings and
(political) parties, something totally incompatible with anarchism, and
even with anarcho-capitalism in the strict sense - even though some of its
adepts have gone to defending it in legislative assemblies. There is a
libertarian party in the United States competing for seats in Congress:
The Libertarian Party [9]. Its candidate came fourth (4th) in the 2008
presidential elections. The US Libertarian Party draws significant support
and funding from numerous prominent business people, university professors
and politicians. Magazines and think tanks openly claim libertarian
leanings and (thereby) consider themselves to be the most radical and
authentic representatives of (true) American tradition [10]. In a way, one
could say that the libertarian world view starkly reminds one of the myth
of the white man, all alone in a hostile environment - but fortunately
with a gun - setting off to conquer the Far West. Libertarian parties and
institutions share a minarchic orientation: they all want a minimal
government, geared exclusively towards the protection of existing rights.
Any interference would lead to an attempt at changing or abolishing the
state. They are in fact very close to the /Tea Party/.

There also exists openly libertarian political parties in Argentina,
Canada and Costa Rica. Libertarism is far less represented in Europe, at
least at the level of official politics. Diminutive libertarian parties
can be found in both the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, and there is
a libertarian movement in Italy. Though the political agenda of quite a
many other (right-wing) parties contains distinctly libertarian elements,
it remains true that outside the United States, Canada and the UK, it is
somewhat difficult (for most people) to figure out what this ideology
stands for.

However, political movements presenting narrow links with libertarian
values are coming up throughout Europe, and they meet a remarkable degree
of success, especially among the younger generations. 'Pirate Parties',
for instance, are multiplying. The most important ones are the /Pirat
Partiet/ in Sweden, the /Piratenpartei/ in Germany, and the /Pirate Party/
in the UK. But there are also (smaller) pirate parties all over Europe -
in France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Netherlands etc. And the rest of the
world appears to follow suit. These parties want to see 'intellectual
property' abolished and are very much opposed to the dominant position of
business and (especially) multinational enterprises, in the digital realm
in particular. They also fight increased police powers and surveillance
through new technologies. Yet, essentially, they would like to see
individual freedoms coming about within an ideal technology-driven (free)
market: the Internet. There is quite a debate raging these days about how
to define, ideologically speaking, these pirate parties, but one thing can
be taken for granted: none of these parties, wherever in the world, has a
socialist orientation [11]. We shall return to the hookup between pirate
parties and libertarism further on, in the section discussing Wikileaks.

(to be continued)
Next section: Technological Darwinism from the Paypal Mafia to Facebook:
the resistible rise of anarcho-capitalism.

[*#] On reviewing this section, I was tempted - and fortunately so - to
check out my online dictionary on praxeology - which gave 'decision
theory' as translation. I was puzzled and called Wikipedia (what else? ;-)
to the rescue. WKP has both an entry for praxeology: ,
and for decision theory:  ,
which confirmed my feeling that they are not one and the same thing - even
though they are closely associated. Yet they are not even mutually
referred to in the respective entries - but this is avowedly more a WKP
problem than anything else. Further search unearthed an interesting
article making the juncture: , though there,
decision (theory) is equated with strategy ...
[5] A good has a defined value, or at least a value that can be defined.
This value can be arrived at in a objective way. In order for a
capitalist-type of economic growth to take place, there necessarily must
be winners and losers among the economic actors of any given transaction.
In the most simple ideal (or theoretical - transl) situation - a
transaction between two agents - if the good is worth ten units and is
being bought for eleven, the buyer will be the loser; if nine units are
paid for the same good, then it is the seller who loses out. From there
springs the possibility to calculate, profit, surplus value, and the like.
[#] A third theory is equally possible and constitutes the next, nice and
nonetheless inevitable, 'synthesis' of the above: what I dubbed 'Greek
Business', after reading an anthropological thesis on early 20th century
markets in Thessaly during my student days. There, both parties are always
the loser since at any given price the fact the transaction took place is
the very proof that /both/ have been 'had' (the seller could, and hence
should, have sold for more, or the buyer could, and hence should, have
paid less). Conversely, when no transaction at all takes place because of
disagreement on the price, both parties will feel samely slighted ('you
deny me of my needs'/ 'you deprive me of my bread-winning'). Call it the
lose-lose scenario - very Greek indeed ;-)
[6] According to constructivist theory it is impossible to give an
objective description of reality since we live in a world build up from
experiences, which themselves are the result of our constructive
behaviour. Cognition is a vital process, or to put differently: to live is
a process of cognition. Epistemological (pertaining to knowledge) issues
are without doubt ontological issues (i.e. they pertain to the
(life)experience of the knower). Yet this does not detract from the fact
that reality exists, irrespective and outside of our experience. (Hence)
we ourselves prefer to use the term radical relativism so as to underline
the fact that reality is relative to perceptions, meaning that it does not
reveal itself in an absolute manner, but 'in relation' to perceptions. See
on this Tomàs Ibañez, /Il libero pensiero. Elogio del relativismo, Milano,
Elèuthera, 2007 - first part, /et passim/.
[7] Cf the essay by moderate, liberal-democrat  journalist George Monbiot,
a specialist of environmental issues:
[8] 'Michel Bakounine' (Mikhail Bakunin), /L'Empire knouto-germanique et
la révolution sociale. Oeuvres complètes (1870-1871), T8. Leiden,
Brill-Champ Libre, 1982 p172-3.
(My own translation from the source, since I couldn't find any english
translation online. From the Anarchist Archives, Brill's edition would
appear to be the only one outside the Slav language area -transl)
[9] Its slogan is /Minimum governement, maximum freedom/ Its site, at feature a curious self-test where one can measure one's
 libertarian 'score'. It has been devised by a group called /The
[10] The Cato Institute, founded in Washington DC in 1977, may be
considered the paramount libertarian think tank in the US
( The Ludwig von Mises Institute is more oriented
towards economic studies (
[11] For a good take on this issue see:

Translated by Patrice Riemens
This translation project is supported and facilitated by:
The Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences
The Antenna Foundation, Nijmegen
( - Dutch site)
( - english site under construction)
Casa Nostra, Vogogna-Ossola, Italy

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