Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Human Nature Won't Work for Free

     The freshly minted Newsweek article “Take This Blog and Shove It!: When Utopian Ideals Crash into Human Nature – Sloth Triumphs” makes the general argument (clear even from its puerile, Capitalist vs. Communism title and its adman-like play on “Bolshevik”) that the downfall of the cultural democratic movement of Web 2.0 (the blogosphere and examples like Wikipedia as simple, economically objective and disinterested pursuits of a common formulation of collectivity and collective knowledge) boils down to a “far deeper and enduring truth about human nature.” Now, immediately upon reading this line my ‘hermeneutics of suspicion alarm’ sounded: Really, ‘human nature'? Sounds like more hypercapitalist snake oil. And that was before reading beyond the sentence’s colon “: most people simply won’t work for free.”
     This article hits the note of “human nature” pitch-perfectly. Human nature is, both in this article and in a hypercapitalist system, reducible to survival of a specific kind: economic survival that is prescribed entirely within a system (in the article, the hypercapitalist system of the internet) whose primary means of self-generation is the complete and absolute isolation of individuals into wealth-generating units. The article says, in essence, the People will blog and edit Wikipedia if it gets paid for the effort because it is in its nature. And that payment changes the entire game. After all, what makes “human nature” both human and natural (what delimits that which we can call “human,” that which belongs to “humanity” only through the exclusion of all other potentially “human” living beings) is the belonging to a specific, material, economic system; accordingly, to be human is, the article says, to be paid. This assertion should send up all sorts of red flags, like, were the monks who laboriously glossed not only the scriptures but also a vast canon of ancient thought not human because they did their work for “free”? Or, what I really have in mind: are academics who write critical texts about, say, hypercapitalism not human because they do so for “free,” relatively (the writing and critical work are part of belonging to academia; the actual act of writing and thinking critically is not, therefore, getting directly paid for in a free-market of “ideas,” like the blogosphere, but instead in an alternative economy whose genealogy stretches beyond both hypercapitalism and its burgeoning in Protestant and early-Capitalist ideologies like the Elect and the Individual).
     What was once a seemingly disinterested pastime (and these two terms themselves, which the camp of Web 2.0 defines itself with, are implicated in the same hypercapitalist system they appear to be absolutely independent of) has thus become another component in the hypercapitalist system. Through the discursive point (a sort of monad, to steal from Leibniz) of “human nature,” the article (and with it, hypercapitalism, because the article itself replays hypercapitalism’s violent expansion into another facet of living being and its incorporation of any other system, here Web 2.0, attempting independent self-constitution) shows how the living being of humans has become once again imbricated in a system that even at face value has no concern for the living beings it captures. Yet the People, so the logic must go, turn to the hypercapitalist system for its very survival in an act of seeming pleasure and preference. Then again, such is “human nature” to blog, but only for money.
     Why is it in people’s nature (because I am not denying that, in some terrifying way, we are inclined) to do so? Because they have been constrained and enmeshed in the hypercapitalist system irrevocably such that their seemingly most intimate desire (what Deleuze defines as desire of life, a desire immanent to itself) of their living being is, in the brutality of fact, constructed by that system. This is what it means to be captured by an apparatus, by a vast system of networks forming one large, ontologically destructive apparatus: that one’s most intimate desire is nothing more than the prescribed rules for “survival.” And the phrase "human nature" captures and reflects the entirety of the hypercapitalist paradigm, making living being’s capture crystalline in a violent brutality of fact (because seeing how we are captured in a system that cares absolutely nothing for us is infinitely horrific).

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