Andre Gorz on the Immaterial

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* Book: Andre Gorz. L'Immateriel.


An attempt to understand the era of 'cognitive capitalism', by one of the pre-eminent ecological thinkers in France.


From the reading notes of Michel Bauwens, 2005:

"Gorz distinguishes, following Husserl, 'lived experience', i.e. the pre-cognitive direct intuition of the lifeworld, from, 'knowledge about objects', which is socially validated through institutional learning. A society must be judged by how it uses the latter to enhance the former, i.e. the quality of life. These ideas were influential on the environmental movement, which should also be seen as a defense against the appropriation of the lifeworld, and not as a mere defense of 'nature'.

Gorz also distinguishes the logic of capital from the logic of science, they are both separate even though allied; he sees transhumanism, i.e. the desire for the full liberation from the limitations of the human and nature, as the ultimate essence of the logic of science.

He references Sloterdijk's distinction of auto-technics, for self-production, from hetero-technics, change imposed from the outside; as well as Illich, who distinguished convivial tools, those that do not program their users, while heteronomous tools do program and determine their users. Sloterdijk had argued that in the 'era of matter', the relation was one of dominance, nature had to be 'raped' as it were, and humanity used these allo-technologies. Now, in the 'informational era', we know that matter contains information, with an inherent potential. Thus, there is potential to switch to 'homeo-technologies', based on cooperation with nature. However, it is clear that the techno-scientific mentalities have not changed yet."

I. Immaterial Work

Knowledge is becoming a crucial production factor, but Gorz insists it is not just formal knowledge, but also passion, creativity, expression, engagement, qualities which are 'beyond measure'. Abstract labour is no longer the determinant, though industrial modes are still co-existing along with the newly emergent.

Here are 3 quotes that set the tone about the changes in work culture and management styles:

- “Le travailleur ne se présente plus comme possesseur de sa seule force de travail hetero-produite (ca.d. des capacités inculquées par l’employeur, mais comme s'étant produit et continuant à se produire lui-même." (Yann-Moulier Boutang, cited by Gorz, p. 18)

- “Ce ne sont pas les individus qui, intériorisant la ‘culture d'entreprise', c’est plutôt l’entreprise qui va désormais chercher à l'extérieur, c.a.d. au niveau de la vie quotidienne de chacun, les compétences et les capacités dont elle a besoin.” (M. Combes & B. Aspe, Alice #1, 1988, cited by Gorz, p. 19)

- “En devenant la base d’une production fondée sur l’innovation, la communication et l’improvisation continuelles, le travail immatériel tend finanlement a se confondre avec un travail de production.” (Gorz, p. 20)

Work has become the management of a flux of information and productivity is therefore no longer measured in time spent but in overall coordination and the capacity of the nodes to communicate. Fordist workers were requested to loose their previous knowledge; postfordist workers are hired for their general intellect and capacity for expressive/cooperative work. Required then were 'objective' 'machines', while today full subjectivities are demanded.

The new postfordist workers produce themselves through subjectivation of the collective inheritance of common culture.

The detailed and hierarchical division of labour is virtually abolished in networked work, and the means of production become collective through the use of the computer as a universal tool. Nevertheless, because self-production is subsumed to capital, but not totally, the worker retains a private sphere. Thus to obtain total mastery of such workers, this sphere has to abolished: everyone has to become self-entrepreneur, responsible for their own human capital and its continuous renewal. Hence capital wants to abolish the salary, and replace it with marketable services where individuals compete against one another.

-All your life has to be managed as a business. For example, workfare falls under this logic: the unemployed period is seen as a period where the job is to search for a job, and/or acquire better competences. The universal wage is an answer to the precariousness of the situation, if it can create a sphere that is separate from exchange value, but it can also exist in a neoliberal context where it justifies productivism.

II. Immaterial capital

Knowledge, and not abstract labour, is now the main determinant of value. But the characteristics of knowledge are 'beyond measure'!

Thus, knowledge work, and its products, are equally heterogenous and beyond measure. This creates a crisis in exchange value. Nevertheless, capital will try to incorporate it in its system.

Gorz distinguishes

   - 'savoir', i.e. unconsciously learned practical knowledge, taken from the commons (language, sports, body practices), from
   - 'connaissance', formalized knowledge which has been increasingly professionalized in the latter 20th cy, which also means an equivalent impoverishment of the common pool of 

Such a codification / professionalization can never be complete however. This is why good professionals are also still artists, with a transcending 'brand name'.

These qualities, based on self-production in a common culture cannot be considered to be 'fixed' capital. In the history of capital, knowledge was used against the worker, considered as a mere extension of the machine. And later, knowledge production itself was formalized as in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Already then, units could be produced at marginal cost, a situation that is now generalized in the immaterial economy. In this case, exchange value can only be maintained through artificial barriers, to diffusion and access, though only on a temporary basis. This is the role of IP legislation! As made clear in the citation below on free software, the immensely intensified productivity destroys value (unit price goes down) and creates an economy of abundance, that tends to gratuity (the example of the phone), and thus increasingly fails to create income. Hence Gorz concludes that the crisis of cognitive capitalism is a crisis of capitalism itself.

The double crisis is defined by the problem of creating income when products need diminishing labour, and how to create exchange value when products tend to be part of the commons. Next Gorz asks: how is the transformation into capital effected, drawing on Rifkin.

Describing the boom, Gorz stresses how it was based on consumer credit (future earnings), and speculation on future profits, the stock market reaching a value exceeding 100 times the value of the combined material capital. The logic of the net economy was to launch faster than others a branded product which had no measurable value and hence no limit. To achieve this, immaterial assets were detached, in the form of Nasdaq. In the context of contracting salaries for 80% of the working population of the US, the system survived by pushing consumer credit towards the top third of the consumers.

This is why Gorz thinks that the eventual creation of consumer money, with short circulation to avoid capitalisation and inflation, is inevitable to save the system's solvability crisis. Profits are now derived, not from knowledge, but on a monopoly of a certain kind of knowledge, , and on the symbolic-artistic 'uniqueness' of it, as reflected in brand names and franchising systems. Profits come from rents associated with such monopoly, and the cost of it, nd branding, usually far surpasses the original production of knowledge. Profits are no longer originating in material production and its labour, but in the service component, for which the material production is only a vector.

Cognitive capitalism has to produce subjects for its objects. This is the role of advertising which in a general sense is an incitement to individuals to produce themselves through the brands which become expressions of self. Knowledge 'capital', a misleading conceptualization, does NOT function as capital. It has intrinsic use value, higher if it is diffused broadly, part from its eventual exchange vale. For a modern workers, what he produces has value in itself, has meaning, independently from its sales. (example: the music of a musician has intrinsic value for the artist and music lovers).

Knowledge 'capital' therefore goes beyond capitalism, challenges it. Capital simply exploits this externality, just as it does with nature, and other common resources, thereby showing that it is only a secondary aspect, feeding off a primary total economy of human cooperation: commodification processes should therefore never be the primary social reality.

A quote from Andre Gorz:

- “'Cognitive capitalism' is the mode in which capitalism perpetuates itself when its categories have lost their relevance, it perpetuates itself by employing an abundant resource, human intelligence, to produce scarcity. This production of scarcity in a situation of potential abundance consists in erecting obstacles to the circulation and pooling of knowledge. "

French-language quotes on value in free software:

- “La valeur d'échange de la connaissance est donc entièrement liée à la capacité pratique de limiter sa diffusion libre. La valeur découle uniquement des limitations établies, institutionnellement ou de fait, à l'accès à la connaissance.” (Enzo Ruliani, cited by Gorz, p. 45)

- “La vraie nouveauté, c’est que la connaissance, séparée de tout produit, peut exercer par elle-même une action productive sous la forme du logiciel:

   - Elle peut organiser et gérer les interactions complexes entre un grand nombre d’acteurs et de variables
   - Concevoir et conduire des machines et des systèmes de productions

- Le coût marginal des logiciels étant très faibles, elle peut économiser beaucoup plus de travail qu’elle n’en a coûté, et cela dans des  proportions gigantesques. Elle détruit immensément plus de valeur qu’elle n’en crée." (Gorz, p. 47)

Facts about Immateriality

Symbolic content of products is now primary, and this is where profit comes from:

       - 1/3 of machinery is now rented ('use it, don't own it')
       - 80% of infrastructure is rented
       - 1/3 of industry outsources more than 50% of their production
       - material production only counts for 1/3 of the stock exchange value

Firms are no longer re-engineering, but creating a new division of labour, whereby 'material production' is completely outsourced. This production is carried out as cheaply as possible, while profits come from the sale of branded products at higher prices. Gorz argues that brands like Nike function like feudal lords, forcing their partner companies to intensify exploitation, by continually renewing their contracts.

III. Towards a society of intelligence

Because of its cultural and social contradictions, the system is in permanent crisis.

The April 2001 ('internet') crash showed the difficulty of 'monetizing' the networked innovation. Efficiency maximization no longer works and productivity measurement becomes obsolete. There is a contradiction between the need to control and dominate, vs. the need to have a learning organization based on self-organizing networks. Human resources are changing from a means, to an end in itself. Within the system it is 'human capital' itself who is the agent of change towards a society 'beyond capital'. Hence the emergence of digital dissidents, in the heart of power, is itself of great importance. Like the downshifters, digital hackers exemplify a new ethic of life and work, where the latter is based on passion and desire, in view of producing something socially useful in cooperation with others. Gorz speaks of a 'really existing anarcho-communism', which is not a vision, but a practice ('the program is the practice').

Next comes a discussion of the universal wage, which has the potential of creating a large alliance, provided it is not adopted in its neoliberal format. Because everybody contributes to the general welfare, and because such contribution is beyond measure, such a wage is justified and necessary.

Gorz stresses the 'unconditionality' of the 'revenu suffisant garanti', as it should lead to the possibility of a life where action is the 'wealth for itself', and not done 'in exchange for'.

- Une société dans laquelle le plein épanouissement de chacun est le but commun a tous , se définit essentiellement comme une 'société de culture’.

Box: USA 'Cognitive' Class Composition Statistics

- 0.5%, i.e. 843k families possess 56.2% of the means of production and 37.4% of the financial assets

- 4% top professionals, 'symbolic analysts', 3.8m get as much income as 51% (49.2m) of the population

- 20% of the population, the knowledge class accounts for half of the GDP

- 80% of working people have lost income in the last 15 years ()90% of new income has gone to 5%)

- 35% of university graduates are hired below their level

- Peter Glotz says there is a neo-proletariat, i.e. 30% of the population, who are voluntary downshifters.

Box: French-language quotes from Andre Gorz

“Il n’y aura pas de révolution grâce au renversement de système par des forces extérieures. La négation du système se répand à l'intérieur du système, par des pratiques alternatives, dont les plus dangereuses sont celles dont on ne peut se passer.” (p. 97)

“Le capitalisme ne peut fonctionner que s’il existe des sphères d'activités dans lesquelles les comportements humains s’affranchissent de la logique capitaliste. Le succès capitaliste n’est possible qu’avec la pérennité du communisme chez la pluspart des chercheurs.” (Pascal Jollivet, cited by Gorz, p. 97)

“Quand une proportion croissante des forces de travail n’est plus utile ni nécessaire à la production de ‘valeur’, l'activité peut et doit s'épanouir hors des rapport du capital et contre eux … Non pas le plein emploi, mais le plein emploi de la vie.! (Gorz, p. 101)

IV: Towards a post-human society ?

Note how Gorz counterposes a 'society of intelligence' to the posthuman scenario. He distinguishes intelligence, which incorporates the affective and the relational, from 'knowledge' (connaissance), which is only the cold knowledge of objects. Therefore, a 'knowledge society' is a impoverishing concept and he deplores its use. But most of all, our lifeworld is based on embodied, intuitive, experiential, pre-cognitive knolwedge. Hene, a balanced society needs both forms to be in balance. Formal knowledge has to be guided, and has to support, the needs and desires of the lifeworld. But we now have a contrary situation where 'knowledge' actively destroys intelligence. Technoscience destroys (human) nature.

According to Gorz, following Husserl, this can be traced back to the mathematization of nature. It has resulted in a instrumental reason divorced from feeling, needs, desires, etc ... This machinic reason then starts creating machinic realities. It also creates techno-science, as a system of pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake: an in-human process.

Just as with the logic of capital, the logic of science is the will to domesticate nature, to repress it, to eliminate it (birth without uteruses, agriculture without soil). The project of capital is somewhat different, through biotech it wants to control and 'industrialize' nature, by replacing natural species with engineered onces that it owns. We now have markets for sperm, for bellies, for genes and stemcells, embryons, and there is even a clandestine market for organs. In addition, now exists a possibility, tis is the posthuman scenario, for science to go beyond capital.

Homeotechniques vs Allo-technologies

Here Gorz explains the genesis of transhuman aspirations to go 'beyond the flesh', citing Bernal, Minsky, Moravec and Fredkin. They all assume the brain is a program which can be detached from the body, ignoring that it is a living thing in a living body, with needs and desires, able to give itself goals and to reprogram itself for them. But its belated and partial realisation did lead to the project of artificial life. Gorz says that this ultimate program of science, the total liberation from nature, has now fully come out.

Gorz then examines human genetic engineering and its program to enhance humans.

He stresses these are hetero-techniques and not human self-production. Thus these enhancements will be controlled and oered by 'experts' in a 'marketplace'. This is the key difference between a human self-produced strategy from a non-chosen environment, and robots, which are designed by 'others', for their purposes. This is the danger of cyborgism, i.e. that we become product of the machines. And children will become the willful and manipulated products of their parents. This could have devastating effects on the future self-image of such children. Humanity is reducing the realm of comprehensible language and extending a non-comprehensible exterior. Since the neolithic, says Gorz, citing Sloterdijk and Edgar Morin, we have entered an era of allo-technologies, in which matter had to be mastered and 'violated'.

But when it was discovered that matter contained not only energy but information, then a new possibility emerges: that of co-evolution, of letting things and nature be what they are are or what they can become by themselves, i.e. an era of homeo-techniques based on co-evolution:

   - “L’homeotechnique n’avance plus que sur le chemin du non-viol; elle doit miser sur des strategies cooperatives, co-intelligentes”.

But it will require time to change millenial habits.

Box: French-language quotes from Andre Gorz

- “La technoscience a produit un monde qui dépasse, contrarie, viole le corps humain par les conduites qu’il exige et l’intensification des réactions qu’il sollicite.”

- “Le divorce entre la connaissance et le savoir, entre la science et le monde vécu, a sa source dans la mathématisation de la nature, car elle permet l’autonomisation la plus radicale de la connaissance, par rapport à l'expérience du monde sensible … “Il libère la pensée de la <prison> du corps, dixit Descartes.”

- “Il faut éliminer la ‘nature intérieure' comme la ‘nature extérieure', et les remplacer par des hommes-machines et des machines humaines au sein d’une machine monde pré-programmé et autorégulée."

- “Le capital et la science se servent l’un de l’autre, dans la poursuite de leurs buts respectifs: l’argent et la connaissance théorique, indifférent à toute fin. L’un et l’autre se verrouillent par les techniques désubjectivantes du calcul, contre la possibilité du retour réflexif sur soi.”

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