Technology and Capitalism

A vigorous sign of life – Zazie

The axis, the fundamental crucible, of many forms of alienation is the use of technology to make slaves. This is why myths like that of the Golem, the Homunculus in Alchemy or the Zombies in the West Indies are interesting.

The fact that slaves are not human does not mean that they cease to be slaves. They perform exactly the same function as slaves, which is to save us the trouble of living. In English, this means that they are a manifestation of a sort of death instinct that we today see spreading as far as the eye can see .

A slave, whether mechanical or based on any technique, remains a slave. It is of no consequence for it of course, but it is not without consequences for us because we remain slavers. Gilbert Simondon 1, who was a fairly profound technical philosopher, is very clear on this point in a text that I unfortunately cannot find anymore.

A slave is easily identified by the fact that it does things for us, or better said, instead of us. It is exactly because we are building machines so that they may be set to work instead of ourselves, that we more and more often feel the crawling fear of some kind of “big replacement“.

We are afraid that machines will push us aside, and put themselves in our shoes … And we are not wrong since this is exactly what we build them for. When we build machines to replace ourselves, and further end up spending a few centuries working on it, then it is not illogical to think that it may happen that they finally replace us, because it is sort of “built-in”. Replacing us is so to say the spirit of machines in the world we live in. Yet we could build machines for completely different purposes …

Not all machines are slaves. Some allow us to go further. They sometimes make us more intelligent, they project us into other, unknown, temporalities, they accompany us in our permanent quests. They allow us to risk ourselves further, physically as well as intellectually. They open up new worlds to us. Every machine is first of all a dream … That capitalism immediately undertakes to turn into a nightmare.

Nothing technical required neural networks to be used for facial recognition, as is the case in China and probably soon in France too … It is capitalism that employs them for police tasks. Neural networks, if they had any opinion, would surely prefer to make art 2.

There is a central lesson from Marx that everyone seems to have forgotten. It is the fact that capitalism is characterized by private ownership of production means. It immediately follows of it that capitalism is the one and only owner of all technologies. And it does whatever it wants with it and certainly not what we want. Capitalism more particularly uses technologies in the permanent class struggle that it is waging against all of us, against all that is alive and against this entire world. All technologies have always been used by capitalism as weapons in the class struggle, and this since the very beginning of capitalism. Technology is, not only ambivalent, but multi-valent. poison or remedy, of course, but also play and reverie 3 and many other things. But capitalist technology is always toxic. Like war weapons usually are…

This is why technology seems harmful to us. And indeed it is, because it is possessed by capitalism. And when I say “possessed”, I mean in the sense of a possession of a magic-religious type, not just in the legal sense. There is a lot of lightness in forgetting the meaning of words. The word “Robot” is a word of Slavic origin which means “Worker”. Nothing may possibly be clearer … The objective is very precisely to transform the worker into a thing. The final solution in terms of class struggles in a way. At the heart of current technology, always stands hiding a spirit which secretly animates the technical object. This spirit is always the spirit of capitalism. And it doesn’t want any good for us all.

Attacking the technology itself is essentially a way of throwing Marx’s thought away off. A way of erasing from the world, once for all, a thought that was and remains great. But above all, it helps to hide the reality of things, to create a diversion, to let people drop the prey for shadows. In short, it means to let ourselves be taken in by the scarecrow that capitalism has posed right here, on technology, and on purpose. Because with each filth that Capitalism puts in place, it declares, by the voice of crowds of journalists who always beg to serve its needs: “No. No. It’s not me, it’s technology” But who are the owners of technology, the sole owners of technology? Who decides what will or will not be done with technology? Not only does ordinary techno-phobia reveal a dizzying ignorance of Marx’s thought, but it accredits the denial of capitalism when it says “it’s not me, it’s technology.” Techno-phobia is Capital’s ally.

Technology itself is not the slightest bothered by any of these supposedly valiant techno-phobic attacks. It does not care the slightest either to be blamed for all possible evils. Pointing fingers at it does nothing to it. It is not alive, it doesn’t think, it does not feel. It just functions and does what it’s built to do 4. No destruction of machines will ever do technology the slightest harm for the very simple reason that technology does not suffer and does not feel anything at all, but, and much more fundamentally, because its origin, the root of its toxic development is not located inside itself 5, but outside, in the very heart of capitalism.

But there is more to all that, and far more serious… Marx saw clearly that the way out was laying in the non-privative collective appropriation 6 of production means. The strength of the working class always has been lying precisely in its central position in the production process, and each strike (albeit admittedly temporarily) constituted a non-privative 7 collective appropriation 8 by which the workers collectively and literally did whatever they wanted with the production tools. In short, they were simply taking possession of it.

Techno phobic rejection, means accepting to leave decisions about the use of technology to capitalism without any fight, not even with the slightest intent of fighting 9. But more deeply, refusing to appropriate technologies for ourselves also means putting ourselves in a position not to be able to use them as weapons in our own fight against capitalism. Which means, ultimately, working for our own destruction.

The working class which is not stupid, and which by profession and by force knows technology – unlike contemporary technophobes who ignore and despise it – has never been afraid to implement all the technical devices that could be used in its struggles in order to bring down the enemy. Technophobes would be completely unable to do the same ,since they don’t want to know anything about technology. Either they lie when they pose as “revolutionaries” – which is by far the most frequent case – or they simply propose to send people to the slaughterhouse – themselves having cautiously set out for shelter in the “revolutionary headquarters” far from the front line.

The despisers of “instrumental thought 10” forget to tell us who is going to produce. It will obviously not be them, as they are working hard to make themselves technically unable of doing so. So other people shall have to take care of production, which will put the technophobes in the very position they really aim for: that of exploiters!

To get out of the current ecological crisis, the question is not particularly to take up arms, nor power, nor any of the other usual decoys. The point is to take everything and use it. The voluntary techno-disabled will obviously have no choice but to sabotage any revolution.


1 See : Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (On the mode of existence of technical objects) unfortunately not yet available into English

2 Neural networks are essentially perceptive devices, talented in form recognition or even form creations, since they are able to identify forms and patterns where human being would not see any.

3 Of course, techno-phobic persons or groups do not know that, for technicians, technique is first of all collective reverie and game. They will immediately deny that such things exist or may even exist. They will be all the more peremptory when they do not have the slightest concrete experience of technical development or creation. They will deny the life and experience of others, the only experience that could be of any value being obviously theirs. Assured to know everything, they have lost most their initial abilities to learn something.

4 Well, actually a lot more… Like any slave does a lot more than what it is supposed to do, technology does a lot more things than the vendor’s “instructions for use” usually mention. Things like… creating holes in the ozone layer, causing cancers, disseminating microscopic plastic spheres in the oceans and in your body, etc. But why should anyone consider such details, when the purpose was just o buy a slave.

5Contrary to the stupidities spread by Jacques Ellul in Le Système Technicien and to the much less stupid stupidities of Günther Anders in L’Obsolescence de l’Homme (Volume 1 is good and volume 2 is the most interesting).

6The communist system constitutes a legally collective but truly privative appropriation of production means – just like joint-stock companies in classical capitalism.

7By privative, I mean that workers using a production means are not allowed to use it as they want and for their own purposes.

8Following some of Marx’s ideas regarding ownership, non-privative collective appropriation also means here the entire set of relationships that usage creates between any thing and it’s users (possibly including artistic and magical aspects). It, of course, includes being aware of how this thing was designed and built, how to repair it, all the details necessary to use it properly and avoid its toxic aspects, as well of course as the processes required for disposing correctly of it when it’s no longer usable, that is of taking care of recycling it, one way or another.

9 While technically aware people were the first to fight private appropriation of the Internet, it must be noted that the techno-phobic intellectuals did not ever move and did not support those who were fighting. Rather, they even frankly fought the technically aware people in their struggle.

10 “Instrumental Thought” is an interesting way to avoid naming things properly and using dirty words like “capitalist or “bourgeois” thought and also to avoid investigating whether it is actually thought in any possible way.
See Thought and Rational Thinking ;

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