Primitivism, Progress, the Transhuman & the Technological Avalanche

Adam Ford talks with John Zerzan about Primitivism, Progress, the Transhuman & the Technological Avalanche.
Why can’t we solve the problem of the progress trap with the use of technology?

It is through technology (i.e. computation) we really understand how fragile the environment is, approach understanding butterfly effects

Describe the incremental progress to Primitivism?
Were we ever purely biological? Without artifacts and instruments? Where do you draw the line…how primitive are we talking? where do you draw the line? what sorts of technology are ok?

is Primitivism an all or nothing approach? Can it co-exist with Transhumanism?
ability to encode ideals/philosophies with or without advanced language and recording?

Technological advancements in bio-engineering, nanotechnology, cybernetics, amongst others, have the potential to be progress traps, and the global scale of modern society means that a societal collapse could impact all of mankind.

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Video by C4SS: Property The Least Bad Option

C4SS Feed 44 presents ‘s “Property The Least Bad Option” read by Stephen Leger and edited by Nick Ford.

We would be much better off if we weren’t tormented by scarcity. There would be no conflict or potential for conflict over physical goods. This hypothetical world — one of superabundance or post-scarcity or infinite supply or infinite reproducibility or whatever you want to call it — is preferable to both options presented in the libertarian dichotomy. Superabundance would also obviate and overcome other undesirable corollaries of scarcity, including opportunity cost, supply and demand, and ultimately economy itself. Unfortunately, this world doesn’t exist.

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It’s Not the Technology That Causes “Technological Unemployment”

By Kevin Carson. Discussions of technological change in the media are generally coupled with discussions of technological unemployment and the increasing polarization of wealth. A good example is a piece by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times (“Tech Leaps, Job Losses and Rising Inequality,” April 15). Amid talk of all the technological wonders issuing from Silicon Valley, Porter observes that in recent years employers have seized on the falling cost of capital relative to labor that results from such improvements as an opportunity to substitute capital for labor.

The effect has been growing technological unemployment and the capture of most economic growth in the form of exploding wealth for the already super-wealthy.

The phenomenon of capital cheapening relative to labor should raise an obvious question, but of course it does not because we have been conditioned to think of work as something we are given by the owning and employing classes in the form of “jobs” rather than something we do.

About eighty years ago Albert Nock remarked on how odd it was, considering all the vacant land held out of use and all the unemployed labor available to work it, that work was viewed as something given by the employer. Today, likewise, when we hear that workers are unemployed because employers use radically cheapening production tools as a substitute for labor, the question that should — but doesn’t — automatically come to mind is “If the tools are so cheap, why don’t we just use them to work for ourselves and let the employers eat their money?” After all the reason for the factory and wage systems in the first place was a technological shift from cheap, general-purpose craft tools that individual workers could afford to extremely expensive large-scale machinery that only the rich could afford to buy, and then hire others to work.

Now six months factory wages will buy a shop full of open-source tabletop CNC machine tools that can produce goods that once required a million-dollar factory. Since we’re experiencing a shift back to a high-tech version of cheap, general-purpose craft tools, why do we need the wage system at all? Why not work cooperatively and organize our own horizontal mechanisms for pooling risk, providing mutual aid and insuring against sickness and poverty?

The answer is that a whole host of institutional and legal mechanisms exist precisely to keep us from doing so.

The term “technological unemployment” is a wrongheaded way of framing the issue. When technological improvement results in less work to produce the same standard of living, that’s a good thing. That’s why we have a standard work week of forty hours in the U.S. today, as opposed to 70 or 80 as in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

The problem is not that it takes fewer hours of work to produce what we consume, but that there’s not a proportional drop in the number of hours we have to work to pay for what we consume. And the ultimate source of that problem is not the technology, but who owns it; it’s the wrong people substituting labor for technology. Rather than workers substituting technology for our own labor in order to live better, what we have is those who own the technology and hire labor to work it substituting technology for the labor of those they pay wages.

An observation by Tyler Cowen in Porter’s article inadvertently gives this away.

…[H]e looks around the world to find the relatively scarce factors of production and finds two: natural resources, which are dwindling, and good ideas, which can reach larger markets than ever before.

If you possess one of those, then you will reap most of the rewards of growth. If you don’t, you will not.

Exactly. When we own all the benefits of increasing our efficiency, we celebrate anything that results in less work. A farmer who finds a way to grow just as much corn with half the labor, she doesn’t lament being “put out of work,” because all the benefits accrue to her.

On the other hand our maldistribution of wealth results from who currently owns both the natural resources and the ideas. But neoliberal economics treats that pattern of ownership as a fact of nature, and the laws of economics as a neutral means by which market-clearing prices are established under any circumstances regardless of the pattern of ownership. So to address the problem we have to look at the structure of the economy, not as something that just happened, but something with causes — and motives! — behind it.

Capitalism is not some universal phenomenon of nature governed by neutral rules. It had a beginning in history. And that beginning was far from spontaneous or inevitable. For example, the concentrated ownership of natural resources and arable land that Cowen talks about results from a process of violent robbery in late medieval and early modern times in Europe, and more recently in the colonial world. Before the Industrial Revolution most arable land of Britain had been enclosed by landed elites, and the peasantry transformed into a propertyless proletariat with no alternative but to sell their labor on whatever terms were offered by the owning classes.

In settler societies like North America and Australia, states preempted ownership of land and then granted it to land barons who fenced it off and charged rents to those who would work it. The Enclosures were reenacted in the Third World in colonial and post-colonial times, with tens and hundreds of millions of peasants evicted from land that is now owned by local landed elites and used to grow cash crops for export.

The oil and mineral wealth of the world, likewise, was enclosed by colonial authorities and then doled it out to Western-owned extractive industries. The mineral wealth of southern Africa, for example, and the oil fields of Nigeria and Indonesia that are protected from the local population by death squads hired by Shell. Or the federal lands that passed directly into the government domain from France and Mexico, to which extractive industries like oil, mining, lumber and ranching now have preferential access.

Cowen’s other category, the “ownership” of ideas, is especially key to the corporate enclosure of technological progress as a source of rents. “Intellectual property” is the reason that a Windows or Office CD costs $200, as opposed to Open Office or Ubuntu for $5, and a pill that costs Pfizer a dime to produce costs you five bucks. It’s the reason most of the price of your consumer electronics and appliances comes from embedded rents on patents, rather than labor and material.

Patents and trademarks play the same protectionist role for global corporations today that tariffs did for national corporations a century ago, only they operate at the boundaries between corporations and the rest of the world rather than the boundaries between nations. But just like patents, they restrict who has the right to sell what in a given market. It’s only because of “intellectual property” that Nike can outsource all its actual production to independently owned sweatshops for $5 a pair and charge a $200 Swoosh markup in Western retail chains: Nike has a legal monopoly on the right to decide who produces a certain kind of sneakers, and a legal monopoly on disposal of the product.

Both the absentee ownership of land and resources that were not acquired through direct labor, and the ownership of ideas, are examples of the same phenomenon: Artificial property rights. Franz Oppenheimer argued, in The State, that economic exploitation was possible only when all independent access to productive opportunities had been enclosed, so that employers no longer had to compete for labor with the possibility of self-employment. Having erected these toll gates, the propertied classes are able to charge tribute for access to the basic means of production and subsistence, and charge a monopoly markup on the necessities of life.

The natural outcome of a free and competitive market, when it comes to the fruits of technological progress, is communism. Competition causes the productivity and efficiency benefits of new technology to be socialized in the form of imploding consumer prices and shortened work weeks. Artificial property rights in ideas, on the other hand, enable corporations and plutocrats to enclose these benefits as a private source of rents. And artificial property rights in land and natural resources — like, for example, the Enclosures in Britain 250 years ago — close off competing opportunities for self-employment and comfortable subsistence and leave people with no alternative but to compete for the dwindling supply of jobs that is left.

So the question is not whether technological progress is beneficial, but who owns the benefit: A state-allied class of parasitic rentiers, or us?

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Transhumanism and Anti-Imperialism: Why Technoprogressives should say ‘U.S. hands off Syria!’

By B. J. Murphy. As President Obama has continuously sound off the war drums against Syria, and as the people anxiously wait for a response by Congress as to whether or not another U.S. war against a sovereign Middle Eastern country is ethically desirable, the technoprogressive left of the Transhumanist movement has all but declared a voice in this debate.


Do we stand with the status quo and declare that U.S. imperial intervention is necessary, or do we draw a line and declare opposition to any imperial war moves by the U.S. govt. in respect and solidarity to Syria’s right to self-determination and sovereignty?

Where do we stand?

As Technoprogressives, we stand for the rights of workers, immigrants, LGBTQ and post-gender, nonhuman persons, etc. What differentiates us from the rest of the liberal and revolutionary left, though, is that we also stand for the rights of sentient beings in whatever form they take, which includes robotics. We stand for the individual’s right to choose how long they wish to live and subsequently when they wish to die and how.

The problem though is: War is death. No matter which side of the conflict – whether they are a nationalist authoritarian govt. or a group of religious fundamentalist terrorists – death is an inevitability for each during a time of war. The innocent are caught in cross fire as men, women, and children – combatants and non – are killed by means of gunfire, bombings, and chemical weapons.

Where are these individuals’ right to choose how long they wish to live, or when they wish to die and how? Do we even have a real say in the matter that doesn’t result in further fatal conflicts?

During internal conflicts, as being witnessed in Syria, matters such as that aren’t up to those of us looking in from the outside. The conditions of each country is only understood by those who live within those conditions and have a viable grasp in deciding what their own peoples’ path should take. The U.S. govt., on the other hand, has decided that the Syrian people have no right in declaring which path they take, whether it’s with an Islamic fundamentalist ruling or a secular nationalist one. Instead the U.S. govt. feels that, regardless who is using chemical weapons – a question that has yet to be answered by the United Nations who’s recently finished an investigation on the matter – it is the Assad regime that must be overthrown.

It doesn’t matter if the Syrian people feel the same way, or the contrary, the U.S. govt. knows best for Syria – just as they supposedly knew best for Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Never mind the repercussions of igniting another pointless, disastrous war, fueled by a profit-driven foreign policy of imperialist adventurism – the U.S. govt. knows best for Syria.

A right to not be killed by a foreign govt.(?)

We must make it an important matter to say that we are against imperialism! We may not be the deciders of civil wars in foreign lands, but we are the deciders of whether or not our own govt. should ignite war as well and for what purpose. When the U.S. govt. had entered WWII, it was only after we’d been attacked by Imperial Japan and it became obvious to us that Nazi Germany was on a war path for global dominance.

Are we in a similar position today? Has Syria become a threat to the U.S. and its inhabitants? No. The civil war being waged within Syria is just that – a civil war.

Where the Syrian people on both sides are witnessing destruction, death, and mayhem, they do not deserve having to face an equal hand in such by a foreign govt. This also includes economic sanctions – an overt means of economic strangulation in which harms the targeted country’s peoples more so than its govt. Do the Syrian people not have a say in what happens to their own country, and consequently to themselves, especially in the hands of foreign govt.’s?

Where do our efforts belong?

The trillions of dollars going into imperialist war efforts is much needed money that isn’t going into more important programs – programs that us technoprogressive Transhumanists have declared our own struggle to ensure and improve, such as education, energy distribution, healthcare, etc. Where money is being funneled in for war efforts in Afghanistan, and here soon Syria, nearly 20% of our scientists have openly stated they’d leave the country due to budget cuts.

As our country continues to rely on fossil fuels for energy, our students aren’t getting a good education without massive federal debt, medical care still being withheld from millions of our citizenry, and our own space program – NASA – is being ignored by our own govt., having to rely on nonprofit efforts like Penny4NASA, we continue declaring war and death the right of the global people. This is unacceptable.

We fixate on troubles occurring overseas, but completely ignore our own faults. Today, here in the U.S., we run the largest prison system in the world, with the vast majority of its prisoners coming from low-wage Black communities – a community that only makes up 12% of the entire U.S. population. Where unemployment is still affecting over 7% of the population, and underemployment 15%, overemployment is negatively affecting the working class, in which over 2/3 have declared they’d opt for less hours even if it meant less wages. As automation continues progressing in the workforce, we’re leaving those with no jobs on the streets and the rest working in jobs that are gruesomely paid little with hardly any benefits. We’re stuck having debates in Congress over whether or not we should go to war, when instead we should be having debates in Congress over whether or not our people should be granted a Basic Income Guarantee!

This dilemma we find ourselves in is the result of remaining voiceless. We hide in the shadows, hoping that our lack of action is seen as being sufficient enough to be taken serious by mainstream America. The consonance of Transhumanism and anti-imperialism is a long overdue calling card of the technoprogressive left! A war with Syria isn’t just a death sentence of foreign peoples who have witnessed nothing else but death, but is a death sentence of our own people as well.

Here which lies before you is a socio-economic system that profits not on human rights – let alone cyborg and post-human rights! – but on the declaration of the right of the people to misery and death. So long we continue waging wars, the more we continue neglecting our own peoples’ rights, freedoms, and lives.

If we are to declare war, let us declare war on poverty, not the poor; let us declare war on oppression, not the oppressed; let us declare war on death, not life!

U.S. hands off Syria!

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