Commodification now means not the appearance of a world of things but the appearance of a world of information about things, including information about every possible future state of those things […] – @mckenziewark
Algorithms and data aggregation refined brand’s control over their supply and demand chains in spite of the real world human aspects of a labor and capital-based marketplace while also acting as an agent or representative for music and creatives. Media brands through platform capitalism have repurposed the use-value of music to fit the lifestyle and productivity of young millennial white collar or freelance workers in an increasingly tech industry influenced work/life environment. – @dfnbrown1
Meanwhile, deindustrialization of industry and the financialization of the economy has led to the massing of young people in urban centers as jobs dry up elsewhere. Dance music’s rise in popularity has mirrored that post-recession population inflow, becoming the soundtrack for a gentrified nightlife in the process. – @gabeastralplane
You are not a gadget. But you need a gadget. Somewhere, a gadget needs you. It is a nightmare from which we can only awaken, I believe, by holding on to one another more, and gadgets less, in real life.
Like the Australian bird mimicking the squawk of an air raid siren, or Colin Stetson playing acoustic music that sounds electronic, we now interact socially as if we were algorithms, emulating post-capitalist currency and circulation, gathering information about one another not out of genuine interest, but rather, in an effort to premediate — mediate every possible future state of — our professional and personal relationships. The outcomes, however, are not capital but cultural. We no longer make love or even desire love. We cannot stand to face one another. Instead, we process each other in the midst of an all-pervasive melancholic longing. (See High Maintenance, Season 4 ep 2.)
The devil cares not if you believe in him. Your limited credence or understanding is irrelevant. Your personal perception of late-capitalism — whether to view it as a wonderful, liberating force, or Marx’s worst nightmare mutated, or a compromise of the modern world that you and I are more or less willing to make — is itself regulated by the social, media, and technology bubbles that late-capitalism produces and propagates. Frictionless, we can see a person on Twitter recommend a book about political philosophy, a book that aligns with our own views on political philosophy, which in due course shapes our perception of that particular Twitter user, and of Twitter in general, and so forth. Others’ activities spur us to action, and our respective actions in the virtual-public sphere in turn stimulate others’ productive impulses — producing and reproducing capital and information, and if not, then arranging, rearranging, and parsing capital and information. And this post is part of the problem masked as part of the solution.
There is something worse than capitalism: Control.
Here, we must posit (remember) something else, a force beyond and more powerful, more pervasive, eviler, for lack of a more elegant term, than capital. (But fuck elegance!) We must acknowledge and confront Control as Burroughs and Deleuze and Galloway understood it. Control is Control. There is nothing in- nor outside of it. Remembering Control — i.e. noting it, recording it — is the perpetual project of reawakening. Relinquishing Control — i.e. sharing it, making it more equitable, smashing capital’s control over Control — is the communist project.
Yet, I might submit that there has never-not been capital. (Never-not as distinct from always-already in that it precedes the conception as well as perception of phenomena.) We have never-not placed value upon things. Those things include material thing-things like laptops and bicycles and lawn furniture, but also immaterial things like time, labour, ideas, and information. Necessarily, those values fluctuate, have proven uneven, artificial, contested. Exceptionally though, capitalism equates value with capital and capital alone.
Communism did not “lose” the 20th century’s ideological battle, because communism has yet to exist. Communism is not a system of economic organisation or governance or evaluation or vector that stands in opposition to value itself. It is meant as an ethical system that redistributes value and capital along moral rather than capitalist vectors. We do not need to redefine communism to conform to hyper-capitalism. Nor must we invent new jobs for ourselves pinpointing and sub-partitioning capitalist energies — jobs that we’ll have inevitably lost anyway, to someone else in a fundamentally privileged position. We need only reiterate and oppose over and over the capitalist impetus to quantify and wring out and even invent all forms of value within any given economic system, rendered as surplus value for the elite few. A common misperception is that we ever even had communism — in the early part of the 20th century, in the Soviet Union. Or national socialism in Nazi Germany, for that matter. Rather, what we still have, what we have always had, is global capitalism, full stop.
“The evil genius of the postbroadcast-era media is that it not only holds our attention, it also records it. A lot more information can be extracted as to who we are, what we like, and which punk rock goddess we want to be.” (Wark) Information technology and data collection is not a new category of commoditising. And cultural criticism is indeed just as much a part of the political economy — often just as subject to similar legitimising institutional forces. That value’s maximum extraction is automated and honed on information and data in the 21st century is the logical if not natural progression of Control. We might prefer Patti Smith or Kim Gordon. Or Viv Albertine. But we all need to be some punk goddess now.
Control seeks to eradicate the rare. This is why the binary, on-off, either-or logic of the digital world is the best metaphor we have for it, and why Galloway chose to write about Control’s existence (persistence) into the virtual. At the time of Galloway’s writing, it still seemed as though the virtual-online world could prove to be a portal of liberation, a means of transcending the old, institutional disciplinary forms: family, school, church, prison. Other Control-affiliated institutions and infrastructures arose meantime: the shopping mall, the movie theatre, the food court; the trade conference, the festival, the rave; NASCAR, Oprah Winfrey, Late Night With David Letterman. Donald Trump. What we now see in hindsight (it is 2020, after all) is that, after broadcast media, the decentralised internet was precisely the “stack” that Control was looking for. Like any good needle. It could sink into the hay, recede into the interface, beneath the screen’s glossy veneer, behind the breezy urban lifestyles of mobile devices, the seamlessness of apps, the natural authenticity of streams, the weightlessness of clouds, the internet’s interconnectedness.
How do we fight a force that resists representation, defies definition, eludes identification, subsumes its own opposition? Dissent is among Control’s in-built design features. Even the most disruptive form of protest — i.e. terrorism — is part of the architecture, the 21st century’s general ambience. Ideological death is the opposite of exceptional. Revolution at its most banal.
Our rarity is deleted in the performance of commoditised interconnection. In aspiring amongst ourselves, in public, toward unique cultural experiences, or nuanced political opinions, or marketplace tastes — performing those things that not long ago signified the modern, educated, cultured, western, enlightened, liberal, broadminded, individual, free (white) subject — we at once divide and subdivide our subjectivities and social relations and risk our diverse (racial, cultural, economic, linguistic, &c.) multiplicity by submitting ourselves to privatised repositories of information. The archive as weapon. Anyone who’s seen Schindler’s List knows that we test our ethical limits when human beings become raw data. We are susceptible to the awfullest abstraction and vulnerable to violence’s ultimate manifestations.
First as conspiracy theory, then as Black Mirror episode, then as bare-naked reality. First as tragedy, then as farce, then as documentary series.
Totalitarian states, law enforcement and paranoiac fantasies once fueled the fear of surveillance. We were worried that our phones were being tapped, our rooms bugged, our movements recorded, to catch us revealing something incriminating during a domestic moment of intimacy and honesty. Corporations have far more information than any government ever dreamed of collecting, and most of it we have given up willingly, gleefully — on Facebook, Twitter, Google. Left and Right-wing media have all widely reported Edward Snowden’s revelations, the Cambridge Analytica leak, the Panama Papers. It’s not like we didn’t know.
For a long time, we have known and done nothing. We have lived with ambient violence since 9/11 but have mounted no revolution. The momentum of the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and various uprisings around the world (including the Maple Spring-student protests of 2012 across Quebec) has all but entirely dissipated. It is not enough to indict and convict ourselves for this. It is not entirely our fault. Dissipating momentum is part of the contingency budget that Control accounts for in advance. It is possible that these movements were, in addition to legitimate and spontaneous insurrections, highly informative data collection exercises to monitor and map the spread and circulation of potentially radical action. (How many of us confirmed our coordinates via an app, or posted social media updates from inside the protest?)
Most of us are not going to do terrorism, or infrastructural sabotage, or symbolically self-immolate, or anything remotely close. Nor are those viable strategies. (See Control’s contingency plan for dissipating momentum.) Most of us are not going to join blockades along Indigenous lands to halt trainloads of oil. Most of us might not vote or even sign a petition.
We-must-this! and We-must-that! is to 2020s critical theory as Did-you-ever-notice-this? and Did-you-ever-notice-that? was to 1990s stand-up comedy. A book like Capital Is Dead fits neatly inside its own tautological narrative — a book for its times, the time for this book. It needs to be published via a press like Verso with a cover in that font, with that kind of au courant design, for it to fill the necessary number of orders. (How many of us routinely purchase our hauls of anti-capitalist books from Amazon dot com, let’s be honest?) These signifiers validate the story both for us and the status quo, whom are implicated. The damned enemy certainly does not want to be immortalised within the back pages of some obscure blog post. Bestsellers or bust!
The difference between ordering your pile of radical literature on Amazon or directly from the Verso webstore is insignificant. It serves the same productive model. Your order will still pass through the “stacks”, that connective web — through your ISP, the cable plugged into the wall, the fibre optic line that runs to the end of your street, maybe underground, maybe over radio waves from then on. The order still gets filled in some warehouse, packed into a box and taped shut with a purchase order inside. It still ships and gets delivered to your doorstep by a driver earning a low wage for some delivery company or another. In all likelihood, taking this stand against The Man will cost you more capital than dealing with Amazon. The upshot is that Amazon’s finely oiled machine is never-not the ideal to which the independent bookseller must but never will measure up. UberEats and Skip The Dishes are rapidly replacing traditional urban food delivery models for similar reasons. (How can each restaurant be expected to have their own city-wide fleet of delivery drivers?) The choice between an independent bookseller and Amazon, or the local restaurant delivery versus UberEats, or Airbnb versus a hotel, or the buffet rather than the daily special, is made inherently political. But capitalism under Control shapes the fields of play and makes (and breaks) the rules of the politics game. Whichever choice you make, the game remains the same. It’s the old Coca-Cola-or-Pepsi routine for the 21st century.
It is not a case of identifying what iteration of the game we are forced to play at any given moment, but rather of remembering and re-remembering that it is a game, and the game is fundamentally the same rigged capitalist shell game it has always been. That is what Control does. Control controls. It seems so stupid to write down, to say aloud, and yet it could not be more profound! Whether we say, “this is not capitalism, this is something worse!” or “this is still capitalism and it’s gotten worse”, it is still much fucking worse, and there are few things Control would rather have us do than argue amongst ourselves whilst things worsen further.
Narratives like Capital is Dead or High Maintenance instruct us on how to navigate the playing field. They update us to the new rules of the same old game — the new terms and conditions, the new license — as would Apple with a new operating system or Microsoft with a piece of software. (This is the latest 2020 version.) Our attention is trained on deciphering the meaning, reading, critiquing, interpreting, getting to the heart of this inviting and familiar narrative. Familiar enough yet never-not strange, this seductive, instructive narrative. But deciphering Control’s terms is a misdirection of our potent critical energies. Assume terms! And assume that the terms are against you at all times, because they either are now or will soon be.
There are no alternatives to making things better. Dropping out is not an option. Escape is impossible. But trying is. The only thing within our control is what might be described as temperament, or timbre: our distinctive resonant vibrational colour — however harmonious or discordant — with Control. This is the opposite of a binary with-us-or-against-us relation. Upon this spectrum, there are infinite frequencies, infinite rhythms. And so, we always must dance.