Brian Holmes on Thu, 14 Jun 2018 19:12:46 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Paul Mason: Trump is a symptom of the new global disorder, not the cause

Mason really captures the intensity of the breakdown, not only of neoliberalism, but of the post-WWII interstate system. He also manages to keep Asia in the picture, which is essential, because it is the emergence of the China-centric economy that destabilized the former Trilateral hierarchy of the US, Western Europe and Japan. However I have always found Mason's prescriptions incoherent, and in this case he goes off into some fantasy about Keynes that is totally invisible on the actual political landscape. Except maybe in the UK itself? If that's true, as David suggests, it would explain what I don't get about the article. It would be really great to hear more detail about the Corbynites' analysis of the international situation and how they translate that into a domestic policy program (Barbrook, where are you?).

In the US there is no broad discussion about the need for what Alex calls a "new pact," and the reason for this is that, quite unlike the situation in the 1930s, the economy is currently booming and there is (as yet) no credible threat of authoritarian control over the prosperous sectors. The professional-managerial types of the digital economy, yesterday's "new class," have firmly hitched their fortunes to the rising oligarchs, and there's far more interest in the sales of Elon Musk's flamethrower than in any transformation of the social order. We cannot currently produce anything on the order of Keynes, much less Marx, because the macro-level breakdown of the postwar system has really been caused at the micro level by the ethical-political decay of the science-based professions that Felix has analyzed. The emergence of the professionals as a force in their own right, based on education and therefore distinct from the capital-accumulating bourgeoisie, lent the consistency of a quest for objective truth to all the properly political discussions about how to organize a complex society. Neoliberalism dissolved that ethical component of technocratic society by encouraging professionals to abandon the state and any notion of public service, in favor of entrepreneurship with its self-interested disruption of legitimate rules and norms (something that Paolo Virno analyzed perfectly over 20 years ago in his text on Opportunism, Cynicism and Fear, which in English is tepidly called The Ambivalence of Disenchantment).

Alex writes:

 to stave off nationalism, racism, authoritarianism we need a new social pact (similar to fordism in its macro elements) that distributes the productivity of machine learning to all - a pact between the forces representing the female and multiethnic precariat and those of digital oligopoly

Alex, I totally agree about the new pact but I think the reason it's not happening lies precisely in the description of its potential partners. The precariat as theorized in the 1990s and 2000s totally ignored the impoverished industrial workers outside major metropolitan areas and the agricultural sector, paying only lip service to migrant farm workers. It had nothing to say to the former artisanal and commercial middle classes whose "included" status was shattered by the opportunistic disruption of business models and the retreat of the state from anything to do with social reproduction. Unlike Fordism, it offered no productive pathway toward membership in any kind of social pact, but only dangled the promise of a redistribution of financial wealth whose spigot has now dried up. It is true that machine learning will unleash a new flood of industrial productivity comparable to that released by the cynical relocation of Fordist industry to Asia during the neoliberal period. But without any corresponding form of productive inclusion, that flood when it comes will only drown people in more meaningless and abusive products, exactly as the flood of cheap Asian "goods" - which should be called "bads" - has destroyed the social fabric in the US and led to things like the opioid crisis and the election of Trump. Let me be clear that this was no fault of the Asians, but instead, it was down to the owners of capital who sought a fast buck, and to the politicians who enabled them. The evil twin of precariat theory in the US was nothing other than Clintonian entrepreneurialism, which appealed to the vote of women and minority sectors in order to increase the agency of bankers and the emerging digital oligarchs.

Anywhere you go in the world, the contrast between the glittering metropolis and the toxic countryside is now obvious. It is underwritten everywhere by equally stark divides within the metropolitan order, which remain invisible to people who move only between their jobs, their entertainment palaces and whatever they call home (from cheap flat to luxury penthouse). The thing that has now started and happening and is about to intensify radically is not just labor instability and household debt. Instead the cheap flats, decayed middle class houses and rural shacks are going to start getting massively destroyed by climate-change phenomena, as they already have been in places like Puerto Rico or during the flooding in India. The real opportunity for collective investment and a new form of productive citizenship lies in eco-technics, by which I do not mean AI or centralized geo-engineering but instead, dispersed transformation of the energy and agricultural systems accompanied but pervasive reworking of the patterns of inhabitation and entirely new forms of ecological stewardship, based on the logic of ecosystem services (which needs to be amplified by a new concept of human services to ecosystems). Keynes has no blueprint for this situation. Neither do any of the anarcho-libertarian theorists of more recent years, including the Accelerationists with their absurd rallying cry of luxury communism.

I actually think there's a theoretical/practical emergency unfolding before our eyes, except it's still dinner hour below decks on the Titanic, and most people are just anxiously wondering how low they can go on the tip to the waiter. At least Paul Mason went up for a look-see at the ocean.

Although we all surely disagree from the get-go, let's produce some converging ideas on the scale of the current planetary weather.

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