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

64: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part IX:
Capital as a Social Relation

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         Capital is often thought of as static: the assets available for use or wealth in the form of money or tools. However, in the same way that modernity is better thought of as a power relation, capital is better thought of as a social relation. There are three trends associated with the transformation of labour in the capitalist postmodern world that highlight this changing social relation: 1) is the increasing importance of the immaterial part of the product (Q1); 2) the feminization of work (Q2); and 3) the increasing need for migrants (legal and illegal) to supplement the local labour force (Q3).
         In the past capitalist accumulation had primarily been derived from expropriating the surplus labour of the workers; today it is derived increasingly from the expropriation of the common. First in the extraction of natural resource with little or no benefit to the societies in the geographic area. Secondly and more importantly by expropriating the surplus common value created by the transformation of labour in the postmodern world (Q4).
         As examples of the postmodern expropriation of the commons consider firstly the immaterial part of production: as more companies claim excessive copyrights, patents and trade secrets creative and improved expression becomes harder and sometimes impossible. The authors' prime example is the production of scientific knowledge which for best results requires open access to research, ideas and methodology as well as the uninhibited and uncensored cooperation between scientists(Q5).
         Consider secondly the feminization of work: in particular the increasing precariousness of most jobs. “...precarity is a mechanism of control that determines the temporality of workers, destroying the division between work time and nonwork time, requiring workers not to work all the time but to be constantly available for work....Precarity might thus be conceived as a special kind of poverty, a temporal poverty, in which workers are deprived of control over their time.” Free and leisure time is necessary in building the commons (Q6).
         Lastly consider the structures (both social and physical) of exclusion that are set up to separate an increasing number of social strata.(Q7) The authors call this a poverty of space. At some points in the past capital created a virtuous cycle of improvement and accumulation (virtuous in the sense that everyone's life and wealth improved – the last time ended in the 1970s); today capital is predatory and is consuming itself without improvement for the multitude because we have reached a stage in which too much of the common has been expropriated and the cycle of production does not have enough common wealth to be virtuous. Private property (or more precisely capital) has always needed the common but the common does not need private property.
         The importance of the common for the private is easily seen in real estate. The location of a building will determine its value far more than the actual materials, design and construction of the building. How much will a building's price vary if it is 1000 km from anyone or in the centre of a large city; in a bad neighbourhood or near lots of amenities? The externalities are the common wealth.
         It seems that people have a deep fundamental need to escape excessive individualism and be in communion (in the common sense of the word communion) that is we want to be in, part of, and take part in various forms of the common. However the common is always adjusted and often constricted by the prevailing economic system. Consider the three most popular common institutions in our society: the family; the corporation; and the nation.
         The family is where the common is mobilized first and often psychologically deepest. However, capital has also corrupted the family's commonness by imposing hierarchies, restrictions, and distortions (Q8). The corporation is another institution for the mobilization of the common which is corrupted by hierarchies and regimes of control that force the production of private property and thereby expropriate the surplus wealth created instead of making it common (Q9). Lastly, the nation can be forum of common expression and government but it seems that today the nation is an institution of control and exploitation.
         Q1 A typical mass produced object is less and less valued by its use value or its exchange value; rather it is more and more valued according to its image value. In practice we are being recreated as new subjects such that we make judgments on feelings and images created by others. Do you see this happening today? Does this mean that we are being taught what to like and dislike? Are we actually buying into this?
         Q2 The authors mean “feminization” in three senses: the increase of women in the workforce; the increasing amounts of informal work, irregular hours and multiple jobs prevalent in the economy; and the increase demand for employees that can preform affective, emotional and relationship tasks on demand. Is the work place becoming feminized? How do you feel about having to sell your affective, emotional and relationship skills as a condition of employment? Are we becoming prostitutes or networking specialists?
         Q3 Temporary, rootless, interchangeable workers are becoming the norm and a permanent underclass. Do you see this happening? What would the benefits of this kind of worker be to the employer class?
         Q4 The tragedy of the postmodern commons is that common forms of immaterial wealth such as language, knowledge, information, images, affects, social relationships etc. are more and more being privatized and taken out of the common resulting in our collective impoverishment for the benefit of a small few. Do you see how copyrights, patents and some newer working conditions contribute to the privatization of the commons? Do you believe that private property requires common property to exist but common property does not require private property to exist? Would you agree with the statement: The mad rush to privatize the commons is analogous to a mad rush up the mast of a sinking ship?
         Q5 The P3 hospital project in Kingston is currently under suspicion of being a financially bad deal. However the information to confirm or dis-confirm is being withheld from the public by the entities most likely to benefit from the P3 hospital. This strikes me as an example of restricting information that should be common and which could be used to make better informed decisions. Do you believe that we are poorer as a result of information hording and the privatization of knowledge and research? Any other examples?
         Q6 Is this notion of a poverty of time meaningful – that is, is it really, or should it be a concern for you? When you go to work, do you have to get ready mentally – is the wind up and an unwind time a necessary requirement for work and play or is it better to be always “wound up”?
         Q7 Border security is tight but more importantly within nations the categories of legal and illegal residents discourages cultural and social mixing. People are not encouraged to mix with people outside their socio-ethinc-economic or professional group because the myth says we would not have anything in common therefore we would be awkward and awkwardness is something that must be avoided at all costs. Do you believe awkwardness should be avoided and do you believe you have very little or nothing in common with members of other socio-ethnic-economic or professional classes? Who benefits from maximizing the separation of peoples and groups?
         Q8 Consider the family in ancient Sparta; Islam with polygamy; Tibet with polyandry; and our own preindustrial extended families. In every society you have very different family structures (meaning there is nothing natural about any of them) but in all cases the family is a machine of gender normativity which in our society tries to shut down alternative gender roles, locks all acceptable relationships into a strict family model, creates and promotes inter-family competition and serves as the tool of intergenerational private property transfer. Is the modern nuclear family natural? Considering the popularity of catamites throughout history can we say that pedophilia is a crime because it does not fit within the nuclear family as an acceptable love relationship? Is capital benefiting from the modern nuclear family model? If so how?
         Q9 The corporation is an excellent model for amazingly vast wealth creation however it is corrupted by funnelling the value of production disproportional to the owners rather proportionately to the community. This sounds like ideal communism; what do you think? Could the world work with such corporations?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren