Could Resistance Ever Have Won? Composing, 23/02/2018

I have two very profound* goals for Utopias. I want the book to capture and examine fundamental concepts in the material relationships of humanity in the world today. The unfolding ecological and social disaster of voracious consumption to the point of disintegrating the conditions of our civilization.

* Equally very pretentious.

What any half-ambitious work of philosophy should shoot for, really. That was one goal. What’s the other?

You can figure out the general frameworks of how events will go,
but the actual events are always surprising. And ickily perverse.
Motherfucker was a celebrity billionaire and game show host.
I want the book to explore some alternatives to that way of life, conceptually. I want to consider new conceptions of what humanity is, what’s good and bad, what’s right and wrong, that can hold off this disaster. Or at least provide us a dignified end trying to resist our self-extinction.

Those aren't as rare in philosophical writing as you might think. I mean, if you’re thick in the most anxiety-producing conditions of grad school, you might think so. If I can say there’s a common image across all students’ personal crises, it’s understanding yourself as perennially not good enough.

That’s impostor syndrome – I’m not good enough. If you’re creating anything under those psychological conditions, you’ll be sapped dry. Able to bring yourself to write only commentaries on commentaries, narrowing arguments to the smallest points. No ambition.

Most philosophical works are written with ambition – I have a couple of them on my list to review for Social Epistemology. My research for Utopias consists almost exclusively of those kinds of books. Books with ambition don’t just argue over words – they use words to show readers pivotal framework principles of the universe.

Félix Guattari was one of those writers. Gary Genosko’s work combines high-quality scholarly care for Guattari with creative philosophical works that use the older man’s words with ambition.

Guattari died pretty young, at only 62. It wasn't his first heart attack.
Stress and smokes will do that do you, or at least make it way more
likely. But at least he never lived to see Donald Trump become
President of the United States. Hell, he didn't even see much of the
career of Silvio Berlusconi. The real absurdity came too late.
Genosko has written essays that carry Guattari’s concept of semio-capitalism to the 21st century. The term applies still, more intensely than ever. What does it mean? Just unpack the word.

First word – word. That’s the semio part – semiotics. So what’s the capitalism of words and ideas? It’s an economy that’s figured out how to monetize intellectual property and acts of communication themselves.

Communications infrastructure and activity used to be a means of creating wealth – orders flowing through a factory floor, or from a head office to a far-off mine. That kind of wealth generation still happens. But there are now equally powerful economies on the globe that generate wealth from communication actions themselves, as if messages were a mine.

That’s basically the Silicon Valley economy – social networks, web search algorithms. Guattari understood the semio-capital economy in the 1970s and 80s, when it wasn’t nearly as in our faces as it is now. By the time Genosko was writing this essay for The Guattari Effect, it was in full swing.

Bitcoin and blockchain were far in the future still when Genosko was writing. Oy.

But when the knowledge economy was still very nascent, Guattari was one of the folks who saw its potential. He came to understand that potential largely through philosophical thinking – identifying pivotal concepts and following their logic through to the end. Then try to articulate that logic as best you can.

Now you can create wealth just by feeding huge amounts of
electricity into servers running algorithms. It's the most perversely
transparent semio-capitalism you could imagine. Fuck.
It reads like an atheist’s description of a prophet. Well, philosophy has slid into and out of prophecy over the millennia. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, as long as you don’t get too pretentious about it. For one, it would simply be gauche.

For another – Here’s the big question for a political philosopher** today. You can identify core concepts that may drive the disasters of our future. But how can you affect material change in our society to keep the logic of those concepts from spilling out in the world, not just in your thought?

** Me included.

Guattari did his best. He was a revolutionary medical doctor and political militant fighting state control and corporate power. All that while he was writing such insightful and difficult books. And I don’t just mean difficult to read.*** Difficult to write.

*** Though Félix, you test me sometimes.

Yet he couldn’t hold back the tides. He died long before the resurgence of the utopian politics of freedom in the 21st century. We’re far from guaranteed to succeed either.

At least there’s some dignity.

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