Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hardt & Negri 1 (week 7)


  1. Hardt and Negri posit Empire as the paradigm which relates the political, social, and economic bases of a post-modern age—one which has a history evolved from and (partially) beyond the idea of the nation-state. Empire is concerned with a historical endpoint of perpetual peace, and this perpetual peace (as I understand it) redesigns the ethical tradition of the just war into something more all-present and exceptionally justified. This, the point of perpetual peace, seems fundamental to Empire, and for that reason, a point which I’d like to understand more than I do at present—because I think I’m meant to interpret peace differently, less in relation to war and a different type of constitution related to capitol. Everything with Empire for Hardt and Negri seems to hinge on an interrogation of the limits of the nation-state and rethinking of where the nation-state is in relation to its history—and how that history related to points of Empire’s coming into being. We’re led to believe we must look beyond old models of institutions perceived to form global powers, that Empire transcends the type of juridical formations indicative of the modern era; rather, reflects a globalized biopower which operates on a more broad spectrum of capital and culture and politics.

    "In the genesis of Empire there is indeed a rationality at work that can be recognized not so much in terms of the juridical tradition but more clearly in the often hidden history of industrial management and the political uses of technology." (40)

    For this reason, we must be able to separate certain mythologies which we’ve come to understand as natural or originary in order to interpret Empire as a workable paradigm (for them, workable means knowing how to act under Empire and “against” Empire as revolutionary action); we must also interrogate the relation of sovereignty to the nation-state—where power is and why the identity of the nation enables Empire by hiding capitol and culture within the mythology of the nation-state.

    "The precarious power of sovereignty as a solution to the crisis of modernity was first referred for support to the nation, and then when the nation too was revealed as a precarious solution, it was further referred to the people. In other words, just as the concept of nation completes the notion of sovereignty by claiming to precede it, so too the concept of the people completes that of nation through another feigned logical regression. Each logical step back functions to solidify the power of sovereignty by mystifying its basis, that is, by resting on the naturalness of the concept. The identity of the nation and even more so the identity of the people must appear natural and originary." (102)

    Hardt and Negri attempt to decouple Empire from the traditions which enable outmoded forms of sovereignty, so that we can come up with more appropriate relations of order:

    "We, by contrast, must de-naturalize these concepts and ask what is a nation and how is it made, but also, what is a people and how is it made? Although ‘‘the people’’ is posed as the originary basis of the nation, the modern conception of the people is in fact a product of the nation-state, and survives only within its specific ideological context." (102)

  2. So, here's my attempt at a comprehension check of sorts:

    If we take Agamben seriously & accept that we are in a constant State of Exception, then the rise of Empire is thriving within this void. How we get to Empire, with the historical transition within the types of power, isn’t all that different from Agamben’s interest in the law.

    Such a focus on the laws and the rigidity of rules is what Hardt & Negri call striated space. Imperialism was a driving force of these laws and distinctions, but it was too limiting for capital-- thus we get control or the permanent State of Exception. And what does the permanent State of Exception create? Smooth space, so capital can flow, flux, flow. Respecting the historical transitions traced by Foucault and Agamben, Hardt & Negri note that "the social institutions that constitute disciplinary society...are everywhere in crisis" (329). This is the justification for States of Exception. With this comes lessened boundaries for power, which translate to different expectations for labor. If our immaterial actions are now products that an "intangible, a feeling of ease, well-being, satisfaction, excitement, or passion," then the production of "social networks, forms of community, biopower" (293) are simultaneously problematic and possess potential (since the H.S. & the S.o.E. are slowly but surely becoming one-and-the-same). Constituting our identities as increasingly H.S., this may be connected to Hardt & Negri’s observation that capital now constitutes our subjectivities as “no identity and all of them” (332). Making labor this very maintenance of self as H.S. or in the permanent S.o.E., we find that “the more unregulated the regime of exploitation, the more work there is,” an increasingly efficient form of capitalism (338).

    To counteract this, we’ll need the poor, the multitude, the homo sacer to get this act together & act upon the fact they have little to lose but everything to gain, right? I’m honestly unsure right now because these seem to fit together too cleanly for me, so there must be something wrong. Of course, I’m not necessarily saying Hardt & Negri have the same philosophical system in place as Agamben’s mythical style, but the State of Exception and decline of the nation-state seem to go hand-in-hand!

  3. Hardt and Negri’s conceptualization of Empire bears striking resemblance to Foucault’s biopower in numerous ways (something they admit repeatedly). Empire is decentralized from any one nation-state (xiv). Much like biopower, resistance to Empire is also encompassed by Empire, there is no outside to Empire. Indeed, “Empire presents the paradigmatic form of biopower” (xv). I tend to agree with many of their conclusions. It seems strange to acknowledge at first, but in these times communication has been co-opted by global capitalism to reinforce the regime. “Communicative production and the construction of imperial legitimation march hand in hand and can no longer be separated. The machine is self-validating, autopoietic” (34). The narratives of all the counter cultures have been converted into cultural and monetary capital. It is nearly impossible to find any narrative that does not feed somehow into the capitalist regime. It seems counter-intuitive, but the calls for localization in response to globalization are surely “both false and damaging” (44). This kind of nationalist thinking leads eventually to fascism. Even the seemingly righteous nationalist causes of subaltern states are only “progressive functions” insofar as “the nation remains merely a dream” (109). Once a state enters into sovereignty, it necessarily functions as a representative for Empire.

    It is encouraging that with Hardt and Negri’s announcement of the death of colonialism and imperialism, they did not attempt to usher in an age that is beyond racism as well. Racism is in fact intensifying, and focused on the cultural rather than biological (192). It may initially seem insensitive to claim this era as “post-colonial,” considering the vast number of peoples who are subjected to experiences that fit the colonial description well. However, we are to understand the “post-colonial” as a transition, or perhaps more aptly an intensification, into Empire. The intensification of power in a society of discipline to a society of control tends towards forces that are more privatized, more discrete, more efficient and economical. Correspondingly, the regime’s production of subjectivity becomes more efficient, even as the modes of production seemingly break down (197). These modes of production are not breaking but becoming fluid, penetrating discretely and flowing with greater economy.

    What is most striking to me about their characterization of Empire is how optimistic Hardt and Negri are. They call the multitudes to arms, to resist Empire through desertion and a life of nomadism (212). Their theory seems to me to be true, but I cannot envision the praxis. The examples of mass-migration of workers that they deploy are still local and small-scale in global terms. The kind of mass desertion by the multitudes that is required to subvert the regime must be near-total and near-simultaneous. For this kind of effort, we lack the communication (as they acknowledge), but also the motivation (on the global scale). I imagine that the only motivating factor serious and far-reaching enough to encourage the proper scale of mobilization required would be global environmental catastrophe. It is acknowledged that capitalism feeds on crises. It seems that the factors motivating the multitude that Hardt and Negri have laid out are mostly based upon economic and/or interpersonal/moral considerations. The economic considerations are more convincing, yet as I stated, I believe the convergence of dire economic circumstances for the critical mass of people is impossible given capitalism's self-corrective and parasitic nature.

  4. Hardt & Negri discuss the organic formation of totalitarianism in such a way that communal myths converge with and provide the ground of emergence for nationalisms, which then in turn determine the community, "the people," thereby blocking the possibility of creative interaction in an open plan of singularities - the multitude. Because H&N have shown "primordial founding myths" to be a dangerous source of hegemony, they lead themselves to the problem of supplying action with a direction - a problem which, to their credit, they tackle in their discussion of "being-against." There can be no determinate goal but liberation and no determinate identity but infinite singularities in the movement of the multitude. This is why H&N's manifesto must remain vague in terms of goals or establishing structures.

    But we're left between a rock and a hard place: without communal myths - our senses of our local "people" - how do keep from solipsistic alienation and the chaos of moving without direction? Maybe this puts it too simply, but I don't necessarily think we can slough off our determined notions of social belonging-ness without some cost. Origin myths have been used for centuries as a source of identity which supplies an orientation of values and therefore the possibility of positive action. With the loss of these of myths, we lose our certainty that our values have been true and worth acting on (though the loss does then open our personal boundaries to include creative interaction with others excluded by the myth).

    But I guess they're right, that this is the place - the no-place, rather - where people are left today: our subjectivities have been rolled out of a gamut of institutions bleeding into each other in such a way that the myths themselves have become muddled to absurdity and nonsense. There's an impotence in that, and the only way to act together is to push ourselves out of inertia absurdly in some direction. But there will still be the free radicals who hold on to their myths - maybe a lot of them, and maybe still powerful - and others who miss having the direction - the reason - for their actions. This is the fraught situation which counter-Empire must account for in its multitudinous movement - toward what?

    1. It's interesting to note that in the last paragraph of the book, H&N use St. Francis of Assisi as an example, a precursor in action or theme, of what their revolutionary figure might look like. They choose to focus on the way he advocated for the poor, essentially by becoming poor himself (after living life as a wealthy person). In light of your concern, Dillon, it seems funny that they would end this long text with an example of someone who was acting based on a devotion to Christianity (which doesn't negate his actions in any way, though his claims to having visions of Jesus do seem to separate him from their ideal example a bit).

      Maybe in order to find the "joy of being" (413) many people do need a myth or a religious example, but their usage of St. Francis seems to undercut many of the ways that I understood their points. I don't know much about ol' Francis, but according to Wikipedia he traveled all the way to Egypt to attempt to "put an end to the conflict of the Crusades" (yay!) by converting the sultan to Christianity (oh.). I worry that this might be a more apt comparison for the book, in that instead of showing the way into a new path (something I think art and experience are much more successful at doing), they are only vaguely asserting that, from their position as white male professors from First World countries, their definition of a world without pesky myths or ideologies is actually still made up of the dominant ideologies we would expect them to be associated with, locally created and enforced, so entrenched in their minds as to--from what I could see--be little mentioned.

      This is, like most of my posts for this blog, stating a quickly formed thought in a way that sounds more aggressive than it should, so let this sentence serve as a disclaimer that I do not understand the majority of the selections that we read for this book.

      Over and out.

    2. In seems that this concern is rooted in the logic of imperialism that strives to re-constitute the local in opposition to the globalizing forces that drive both Empire and the Multitude.

      Following both Hardt and Negri and Agamben, the transformation can only take place with in the Biopolitical horizon, which constitutes a new vision of community, solidarity and love, in opposition to the people. Here the Militant, St. Francis without the St., without being bound to the discipline and devotion to God and the Pope (as 411 indicates), provides the image of the revolutionary potential.

      In opposition to Agamben’s stuffy formal constitution, H&N look to the material constitution (in Foucauldian terms technologies of production and communication) to explain the emergence of this new non-place (the smooth place of flow that Chase captures). The muddle and fuddle of myth arises from Empires universal inclusion within a system of differentiation (to erect cultural barriers between the members of the multitude so that they remain trapped within Empire’s shell—where the system can continue to such the blood of living labor to animate Empire, for empire has no source of engination other than the Multitude), which opens the multitude to imperial management and control.

      The power of myth, then, is a mask; the idiocy of solipsism is the first movement where the emerging barbicans realize that they are barbarous. Next, they must find a way of producing a new form of life in the common—this arises from the poor. The universal and shared condition from whence a new vision of identity, a new coming community, of the multitude can emerge within the very biopolitical horizon that appears the chains of bondage.

      The ‘joy of being,’ then, comes from this new being on a new horizon: embrace the Multitude! The joy from these mythic configurations is a joy of being a people, the joy of imperial differentiation. The new community will require a new frame, a new logic and mode of connectivity as the nomadic barbarian reduces empire to rubble as they produce a new life passing through Empire but remaining with its horizon of bio-power.

      Fransis is the image when the St. is stripped, when ‘the-poor-becoming-multitude’ forms the constituent base through the intersection of technologies of production and communication. Here, the multitude constitutes an alternative ontology flowing from the productive capacities of Empire that moves past the Imperial order.

      If a myth animates, it will be the myth of the multitude made manifest through the production of a new subjectivity that binds and bonds through different axioms within the bio-political horizon.

  5. H & N see a link between the information economy, made possible by advances in telecommunications and computers, and labor becoming immaterial. The service sector produces no material good, but rather a “cultural product, knowledge, or communication” (290-291). The computer is especially important for this sector in regards communicating, manipulating symbols, and inputing/storing data needed for sharing and producing new knowledge. H & N mention that the labor in the service sector consists of a segment of workers that utilize great knowledge and creativity, but with a “corresponding growth of low-value and low-skill jobs of routine symbol manipulation, such as data entry and word processing” (292).
    At a practical level, one might ask: how does the shift from discipline to society of control get implemented by institutions (even those in ‘crisis’)? Welfare reform, sense it is my topic of obsession for now, provides an interesting case in which the crisis of the family was a main driving force in the rhetoric of the 1996 act. The first two pages of the act are all about the ‘breakdown’ of marriage and the need to limit out-of-wedlock births. But in regards to immaterial labor, we see the case managers/social workers (those who actually interact with the welfare client population), have been vastly deskilled and essentially turned into people who ask clients questions, get answers and then insert the data—that is, social workers have become data-entry workers. In a sense, this is a strange result considering the prominence of affective labor. One might expect the social workers to creating more affect. In general, the literature on social work appears to show workers performing more data-entry, while still performing affective, ‘caring labor’. The welfare policy implementation might be unique in that ‘caring labor’ is disappearing drastically.
    But what happens with the data that the welfare workers collect? In many respects it is used to assure that each welfare site’s performance is ‘accountable’ to ‘the people’. But a specific example is: in order to get benefits, a single mother on welfare is required to identify the biological father of her child. The purpose is to get child support payments from the father so that the state doesn’t have to pay the benefit, and of course, to teach the father some responsibility. The identification of the father gets put into a national database, which is linked to employers hiring data. This means that the database can track any employment the father gets and take payments from him. This system requires a great deal of collaboration and communication between multiple levels of govt, private companies, and some non-profits.
    Due to the class-segmented nature of the U.S., most single mothers on welfare will be identifying fathers that are likely in the low-wage sector. Research seems to indicate that the father ends up trying to live ‘outside’ of power and free from this domination, but typically can’t do it for long. More than likely, the father enters into a creditor/debtor relationship with the state. This rarely leads to imprisonment and won’t even result in being sent to another institution for moral correction. Instead, the father needs to keep working for what ever wage is presented to him. It appears that control is spread throughout social space as a result of the credit/debit relationship.

  6. As I understand it the basic definition of Empire consists of four basic premises: first, that Empire has no boundaries and in fact relies on a lack of limits; second, Empire does not exist temporally and actually suspends history; third Empire operates all the way down – regulating both human interactions and human nature; and finally Empire as a concept is dedicated to peace (xiv-xv). Empire is fundamentally not a function of imperialism or a byproduct of imperialism but actually is opposed to imperialism because it does not necessitate a single centralized power. Because we exist in an age of globalism, the concept of Empire is what is currently in place – leading Hardt and Negri to declare that “imperialism is over” (xiv). It is an assertion made very early on in the book and drives, to some extent, their argument. In addition, H&N claim that the United States is not the pre-eminent guardian of capitalism worldwide. I guess I have a problem with both these claims.

    H&N use the formation of the United Nations as an example of an organization that worked to develop some sort of international juridical order – an exercise in globalization and a breakthrough in forming some sort of global order. As an organization of global order and influenced by the Kelsen notion of an ethical organization of humanity, the UN seems to correlate with the argument that imperialism is over because no longer are nation-states working in effort to protect the nation-state but rather are working together to create an international constitution. But Hardt and Negri’s assumption seems almost ahistorical to me – the creation of the United Nations was almost explicitly (especially on the part of the United States and the British) to protect the material interests after WWII (the United States and the Pacific; the British empire; buffer states in E. Europe). I guess to me this still feels deeply imperialistic. The Gulf War (which H&N also reference) supposedly occurs during this period of Empire after the end of imperialism but in many ways, the Gulf War seems to me to be an enactment of capitalist imperialism. The obvious benefits of “protecting” oil-producing nations seem obvious to the United States, which exercised its role as a global sentinel protecting liberty (capitalism) through imperialism.

    I don’t know – I feel like we haven’t quite gotten passed imperialism because imperialism as the highest function of capitalism can still exist on a global scale? 🤷 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  7. Does Jaron Lanier's (he's like a cyber theorist guy, on of the fathers of virtual reality etc--and someone who is pretty fed up with what the internet has become) idea of micropayments online line up with H&N's idea of "creation"? Here's an excerpt from an interview:

    BEEN: So if I simply shared a link to a New York Times article on Twitter, for instance, would there be a payment exchange? If so, who would it go to?
    LANIER: It would be person-to-person payments. Right now, we’re used to a system where you earn money in blocks, like a salary check, and you’re spending on little things like coffee of something. And in this system, you’d be earning lots of little micropayments all the time. But you would be spending less often. That terrifies people, but it’s a macroeconomic thing. I believe the economy would actually grow if information was monetized, and overall your chances will get a lot better than they are now.
    BEEN: You say in the book that this person-to-person payment system is partly inspired by the early work of the sociologist and information technology pioneer, Ted Nelson. Particular, his thoughts about two-way linking over a network. Could you talk a little bit about why you think this is a better way to exchange information?
    LANIER: The original concept of digital networking that predated the actual existence of digital networking is Ted Nelson’s work from the 1960s. It was different from the networks we know today in a few key ways. All the links were two-way, for one. You would always know who was linking at your website — there would always be backlinks. If you have universal backlinks, you have a basis for micropayments from somebody’s information that’s useful to somebody else. If the government camera on a corner catches you walking by, and it matches against you, you’d be owed some money because you contributed information. Every backlink would be monetized. Monetizing actually decentralizes power rather than centralizing it. Demonetizing a network actually concentrates power around anyone who has the biggest computer analyzing it.

    Now, as far as who actually implements a system like this and who is willing to adopt it...I don't know. But to me it seems in line with the kind of biopolitical production that H&N are championing.