toy

A couple of thoughts that sound naive when I think them but keep bothering me. MOOCs and communes

I often wonder if how we radicals can play a useful role with regard to fights where we seem to be on the losing side of history. I keep thinking of debates over early capitalism smashing peasant communes, e.g. in Russia. Marx thought that capitalism in that era was historically progressive with respect to feudalism, so we should not mourn the peasant communes overly much; I’ve heard a number of folks who take Marx seriously lately criticizing him on precisely this point. Federici, for example, saying that capitalism was not historically progressive; it was always barbarous.

Of course resisting MOOCs may be ethically even more murky and seemingly less worthy of high stakes. If sub-elite research, comprehensive, and regional public universities in 15 years offer many lower-level, required courses in the form of MOOCs, employing fewer teachers to teach these courses, that is less optimal education than offering the courses, fully staffed, but how does it compare to offering the courses only half the time (which I take to be the status quo in many places)? Do we try to change the macro-political discourse through social movements that have a hub in the university? Do we mourn what is lost, with all its contradictoriness, and probably get smashed? What are the ethics of taking or not taking that stance? Or do we embrace innovation without embracing the (neo-)liberal techno-futurism of some versions of it; with the altermondialistes, is another MOOC possible?</span> (Of course this is just one example ... one which has been on my plate recently.)

A much bigger question lurking here is whether capitalism still has “progressive” (whatever we take that to be) developmental potential or whether late capitalism is just an evolution in the rottenness of capitalism. The theory of late capitalism was always that capitalism has reached a point at which its development is just rot, but that seems hard to square with contemporary reality unless you take a pretty technophobic stance. (Not to mention ignore developments in social structures of gender and sexuality, which, while far from uniform, are certainly not uniformly negative or static.)
(Anonymous)
Late capitalism while always seeking new levels of barbarism also keeps revealing new potentials. It is and remains a revolutionary force. What seems apparent however is that the ecological support structures on which our civilization is based are starting to collapse under its weight. It is not so much capitalism as the earth itself that has rotted through. The data keeps coming in and the models keep getting revised worse and worse. It is unclear what if anything could ameliorate this. Probably the only thing would in fact be potentials unleashed by late capitalism if if it proved capable of achieving new levels of global coordination and of developing ever new categories of advanced technical 'fixes' and remediations. An effective global sovereignty under pressure from an emerging global proletariat(?) enabled by late capitalist communications technology might be capable of addressing systemic global issues. Not saying that I think that is the most likely scenario just the only one I find plausible and that doesn't end in total ruin. Which leaves a politics of what? Cross your fingers and hope Hardt and Negri are right I guess.

More generally it does seem to me that the left has yet to come to terms with the significance and impact of the modern communications revolutions. There are many reasons for this that I can think. First it has crept up on us in our sleep. How did it get so pervasive, so insidious so quickly? The way I spend my day, how I interact with friends and other humans more generally, even how I think and my sense of myself have radically altered over the course of the past decade or two. Like the adage about boiling a lobster in a pot, hard to notice each degree but at some point you're cooked. The left that came out of the sixties was also prone to a lot of anti-technology and anti-science romanticism which went along with the tenor of the times. I think this experience blinded them to looking at technology and what it was doing in any deep way. There is also the 'mixed' character of these developments which adds to their obscurity. The development of this technology has been key (in fact hard to understate how central) to neoliberalism, advanced finance capital, 'globalization', automating away the old industrial proletariats, the emerging society of control - all would be impossible without it. Yet as we have seen in the past few years it also seems capable of facilitating the emergence of powerful new mass subjects, even if it is unclear how stable or lasting this phenomena will prove. It has smashed the old and has brought forth the new, but what is the balance? I don't know and it seems to soon to say, except to say that it is of a world-historic character, though how much longer world history may itself have is also a question.

-dave x