Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Auomation for the People

"All our invention and progress,” [Marx] argued, “seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.” That is, technology tends to dignify machines at the expense of people’s dignity. 

"In other words, good faith and political will prevents this future from degenerating into his last scenario, which Frase, adapting a term from E.P. Thompson, calls “exterminism”—a future in which automation makes workers superfluous, and climate crises make elites conclude the most efficient thing to do with the surplus population is eliminate it.

"...Though Frase doesn’t set out to be so pessimistic, it is telling that his exterminism scenario feels the most familiar. As with rentism, for which we have the already existing Internet of Things as a guide, exterminism comes with a playbook. Frase’s account shows how far along we are toward this future, detailing the “inverted global gulag” of “gated communities, private islands, terrorism paranoia, biological quarantines,” where elites build heavily guarded and well-supplied enclaves, and impoverished regions are left to the ravages of global warming, rising oceans, and dwindling resources. Militarized policing, the relentless expansion of the carceral state, and remote killing by drone complete the picture, seeming to chart a clear course to this most final of destinations.

"Frase’s descriptions of technologically facilitated genocide in a war of the rich against the poor are chilling, especially given the billionaire who is set to assume the presidency in the U.S. and who is eager to compile lists of people—Muslims, immigrants, flag burners, who knows who else—that he and his administration have deemed undesirable, deportable, expendable. Meanwhile, authoritarian nativist regimes all around the world are, at this very moment, maintaining power by dividing populations into “us” and “them.” Virtually anywhere you look—from the official statements of Presidents and Prime Ministers to the craven stenography of the mainstream media’s remnants to the opportunistic “fake news” posts that populate social media feeds—it is easy to see evidence of the post-truth nihilism that whets the appetite for expediency, and from there, as 20th century history has demonstrated, it is a short leap to extermination. The path to the more benign futures Frase outlines seem far more provisional, more reliant on science fiction rather than real-world examples of scalable human benevolence.

"...Frase takes pains to emphasize that all the futures he describes are interpenetrated with each other; they are all “dynamic and ongoing political projects,” which means the struggle to keep them on course is ceaseless. The often-voiced promise that technology will simplify our lives and make everything more convenient has the effect of making this struggle seem even more arduous. But technology never solves politics; it serves them. And the sites of struggle remain, despite any efforts to obfuscate them. No matter how abusive technology becomes in the service of power, it can never extinguish the possibility of political alternatives or better uses worth fighting for."

-Rob Horning, The End is Always Near, The New Inquiry

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