Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

61: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part VI:
The Multitude

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         The Multitude
         The multitude “ composed of a set of singularities ... that remain different.” We are all different and it is not in our interests to whitewash the differences – differences must remain different.(Q1) The multitude is “ active social subject, which acts on the basis of what the singularities share in common.” We act on what we share in common not on what unites us – unity is always a manipulative and exploitative fiction.(Q2)
         The crowd, the mass and the mob are composed of individuals that only have the commonalities of temporal and spacial proximity. The multitude may on occasion take the form of a crowd or mass but the multitude is a far larger concept because it is active in many more locations and times than a crowd, mass or mob. Further, the crowd, the mass or the mob need a leader to act and bring about positive political change – the multitude can have many sub-leaders or facilitators but they are not required. A supreme leader would be an anathema to the multitude.(Q3)
         The multitude is also not “the people”. “The people” is the name we give to a group that has been stripped of all differences in order to get at a unity for the purpose of creating an identity that can justify the exercise of sovereignty. The multitude does act in common but it is not united in the sense of achieving unity by eliminating or ignoring differences. The multitude is also a concept of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social-economic class, religion and any other identifying category without regard to difference as an excuse for exclusion. All these categories are included and they do not matter (unlike “the people” in which none of these categories are included but are sometimes used to exclude).(Q4)
         The multitude's source of agency is not unity or identity rather it is commonality. We must not think of others as “just the same as us but different” or “different but similar”. These two perspectives harbour a standard of difference and sameness with which we often judge and use as a tool of exclusion and is always used as an implicit judgement of worth. However, an ethic of difference must recognize that we are all different beyond measure in our own way without reference to any absolute. By removing the absolute from our judgements of others we become more open to the commonalities that we share. This change of perspective allows for the elimination of the “us/me verses them” mindset (which leads to exclusion and war) and opens the possibility of a “we” mindset (where differences are acknowledged but not judged) such that our true political interest are more clearly seen and our productive common wealth is expanded.(Q5)
         One example of what we would be able to see more clearly is that we live in a global apartheid system: a global division of power over a global division of labour that creates and maintains hierarchies of in-groups and out-groups for the purpose of the exploitative confiscation of wealth from the out-groups to the in-groups. We of the Canadian middle class are lucky to be relatively high on the hierarchy but still we belong to more out-groups than in-groups – where there should not be any in- or out-groups because although we benefit more than most people in the world we are still worse off being in the hierarchy of exploitation than being outside it.(Q6)
         Another example: we live in a transitional period in which the domestic laws of nations are proving inadequate in a globalized world and in which supranational law has not yet been uniformly backed by force. The shape of this new international regime is in flux. So now is a critical time to determine whether it will be in the interests of the great majority of human beings or for the advantage of the very few at the top.
         A third example: private property may be necessary for modern life but so is common property. We have always lived in a world were common property gets privatized to some extent. Today, however, this process is in full overdrive mode. Patents and copyrights are being used more and more to stop the creation of new creative work or to steal new creative work rather than to benefit all of humanity. Consider the ownership of genetic material (often by entities in the north even though the material comes from the south). Consider the ownership of traditional knowledge: the legal system recognizes only formal scientific activity as patentable labour. All other forms of knowledge production are considered the common property of humanity. Consider also the trademarking of language – language is the most common of property yet we can be prosecuted for using some of it.(Q7)
         Bringing forth the multitude is the bringing forth of democracy: the rule of everyone by everyone. This notion of democracy contrasts with all existing democracies that have leaders and followers; exploiters and exploitees; in-groups and out-groups; an inside and an outside. What do you think of the authors' definition of democracy?
         Q1 Is it really important to maintain differences between people and groups or is the notion of whitewashing differences better for your life and our community? Lyndon Johnson, believed himself to be voicing the ultimate respect for Martin Luther King Jr. by saying that King "is a credit to his race—the human race." From the postmodern perspective this was not very complimentary because the differences between MLKj and LBJ are not worthy of mention and we have to look to “human race” to find unity. Postmodernists would say he should have said words like: Even though King and I are of different races, social-economic classes [etc.] he is still worthy of great respect. These words do not ignore or whitewash the difference. Are the authors being nitpickers or is there real harm associated with one view point?
         Q2 The notion of a united people or group is a fiction for many reasons: 1) silence does not usually give consent (unless you claim a unity); 2) even within the committed members there may be limited levels of commitment that do not include some later course of action. Yet advocates of the people say that without the fiction of unity nothing would get done. Is it possible to act on commonalities we share without unity?
         Q3 Is an effective leaderless movement possible? How does the notion of a supreme leader as the destruction of a the multitude (by turning the multitude into a people or a union) strike you?
         Q4 Could you ever consider, look at, or live with people without judging their non-harmful habits and lifestyles (examples of 1. harmful habits: hard drugs; 2. lifestyles: working for arms maker etc.) as negative for them? How do you feel when some one admits to being gay/lesbian or transgender; working as a nude model or escort; living off welfare or social assistance?
         Q5 An “us/me verses them” mindset is used to create competitive behaviour. When the other side responds in the same way we find justification for the competitive behaviour and a fear is instilled in our minds that we cannot let our guard down (that is give up our “us/me verses them” mindset). The authors would have us believe that an “us/me verses them” mindset is a self perpetuating mechanism that keeps us focused on inessentials at the expense of what is really important for our lives. Do you agree or disagree?
         Q6 Do you believe there is a hierarchy of power and labour in the world? In your opinion is the Canadian middle class in the upper half of the hierarchy? The higher up the hierarchy you are the more you benefit from the hierarchy however only the people at the top really have an absolute benefit. The rest of us would be better off without the hierarchy because more of our wealth is expropriated than we expropriate. Do you believe that we lose more than we gain from the current world order? The authors believe that the regular attenders of the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland are the only ones who have an absolute benefit from the exploitation hierarchy. What do you think?
         Q7 Private property is corrupted when it should not be private; when it has been expropriated from the commons. There is a common assumption in some parts that in order to get the most benefit from a resource it must be held in private hands so the free market can determine what is the best use of it. However, the authors contend that there is no such thing as a free market and all private property as well as all development, trade and transactions need access to common property (however common property does not need private property). We ought to be more concerned with the protection of common property than with private property. Have we been short sighted in our demand for private property protection?

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