By Mary Metzger
The 21st Century may well mark the end of capitalism as we know it. The groundwork for the revolutionary transformation of the social and economic relations of the capitalist mode of production are already in place and include, but are not limited to, the following: the transformation from a production based to a knowledge and information based mode of production, the concomitant evolution of artificial intelligence, the expansion of blockchain technology which enables people to communicate, interact and transfer information and resources directly without the need for “intermediary” institutions such as governments and banks, and hence the fading away of such institutions. Blockchain technology also allows for the creation of alternative forms of money such as Bitcoin. The results of such transformations can be a “liberation” of humanity from degrading and unchallenging forms of labor, the expansion of human knowledge and information, and the freedom of individuals to engage with one another on a multitude of levels without external interference. Of course, as is already obvious, the development of modern technologies allows for greater and quicker communication between individuals and groups; we do live in an “I can reach you anywhere at anytime” society. Thus, we can say without any hesitation that the technology dominant mode of production has laid and will continue to lay the groundwork for human liberation.
The negation of the positive benefits of IT based social relations of production is that this open system of communication is an open system which allows individuals to be surveilled at all times and in all places and thus the privacy, that is the necessary realm in which individuality and individualism dwells has effectively been eliminated. Under capitalism and its parallel political systems such as fascism and other single ruler systems, this total surveillance of the individual is repressive in that it serves first the maintenance of the power status quo and not the well-being of society as a whole. Thus, the totality of the changes which technology in the twenty first century gives rise to a complex dialectic in which, on the one hand, humans possess the potential to become more “individual” where individual means more able to realize their particular potentials (as they become free of the necessity of the mind numbing labor which most workers are today employed in), pursue their own interests, communicate more freely and directly with one another, acquire the information and knowledge they need, in a phrase “become all they can be” without the interference of the state, while at the same time becoming fully integrated into and obedient to the needs of a world society of which they will become citizens via a universal system of surveillance that allows them no actions which harm the interests of the whole of humanity. On the other hand, under the current capitalist system, once humanity is dressed from degreading labor, humans do not become liberated to realize their potential, but rather become the unneeded and undesired flotsam and jetsam of society, homeless, hungry, drugged and discarded. Freedom of communication, shaped and molded by the ideology of the time, is reduced on the one hand to gossip, and on the other hand self-focused communication best exemplified in the production of “selfies”. With little meaning in their real lives, individuals build virtual lives in which real relationships become relationships with anime characters; in which pornography comes to be preferred to real sex; in which real sex is rendered sadistic and animalistic; in which violent forms of entertainment supplant the pleasures of images and acts of kindness and compassion, etc. The “is” consistently negates “the could or should be.” In this world surveillance does not function to make people kinder or better, more considerate or more socially conscious, but only to watch out for those who might in some way disrupt the status quo, either directly, by speaking truth to power and/or acting accordingly, or simply by criticism and complaint.
In this world in which all potential for good and bad resides in the world of technological innovations and their potential, those who control, rather than simply own, the technological forces are truly the vanguard of the working class. It is they who hold the potential to reveal the truth (Edward Snowden), to bring the political, economic and social system to its knees (hackers everywhere), to demand that technology be used to help rather than hinder society, to liberate humanity, to find ways to improve the environment, and to control war and the weapons with which it is fought. The interesting thing about the power of the vanguard class in our new IT based world, is that they need not form a vanguard party ….they need only come together around specific issues or even, function completely as individuals. Out of the actions of groups and individuals a class consciousness emerges and spreads.
So it is that it should come as no surprise that a group of Microsoft workers is demanding that their company cancel a contract with the U.S. Army to provide HoloLens headsets normally used for games, for use in real life battle situations. More than 50 Microsoft employees Friday signed and circulated on an internal messaging board, in which they stated that they refused to “create technology for warfare and oppression” stating that “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.” Whether they realize it or not, in their letter these Microsoft workers expressed both a class and social consciousness as well as a consciousness of the role which technology plays in maintaining the status quo. They are to be applauded for their letter which, hopefully, will inspire others of their class to become more conscious of their roles and act accordingly.
Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.