Re: [unrev-II] Do Bees Pay Each Other [WAS: Re: Engelbart and the self-organizing "collective intelligence" or "hive mind" concept]

From: Peter Jones (
Date: Fri Jul 20 2001 - 13:33:40 PDT

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    Neat post, John. And thanks to Karl Marx:

    The production process has ceased to be a labor process in the sense of a process dominated by labor as its governing unity. Labor appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous point of the mechanical system. Subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living, (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty

    Heck, I'm not waged right now and I still feel that.

    Reading from Terranova's paper I would see Marx as arguing for every human production (every product of activity including thought), being sucked into the system in some way or another. What one means by 'system' is an open to interpretation though. Terranova seems to opt for system=machines like the Autonomists she mentions. Fine. But then did Marx have a broader definition of machine? I would argue based on the above quote that he did. That he, and nowadays we, might say mechanism=>system<=organism more comfortably, and that this is because he might say that mechanism is just something with a defined process (like the cyberneticists).
    Note that Marx doesn't say waged labor above, just labor.
    Is there any knowledge that is not presently part of the system of capital in some sense or another, however indirectly?
    I think her conclusion is right but I'm a little unconvinced about the status she gives employment vis a vis the alternative interpretation of Marx's 'system' I have outlined, and I'm not sure about her definition of capital in that respect.

    >Capital's problem is how to extract as much value as possible (in the autonomists' jargon, to 'valorize') out of this >abundant, and yet slightly untractable terrain.

    I think they've already figured that one out. Put just enough welfare state in place. Give labor the tools. Wait for them to come up with good stuff. Buy it, and produce the hell out of it for profit. Repeat the cycle. Too bad if not everyone has a special idea, it just means they (capital) don't have to fork out too much money on them (unwaged, currently unproductive in the way capital wants).

    The question is then whether a mass (or even the machine) overhauls the social mechanisms that hold these conditions in place, calling for a new approach to the distribution of wealth (or maybe something really weird like doing away with money altogether).

    So, what price for thoughts?

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: John J. Deneen
      Sent: Thursday, July 19, 2001 8:43 PM
      Subject: [unrev-II] Re: Engelbart and the self-organizing "collective intelligence" or "hive mind" concept

      I find the opinion below very interesting relative to "The Bio-Networking Architecture: A Biologically Inspired Approach to the Design of Scalable, Adaptive, and Survivable / Available Network Applications."
      < >

      I won't quote out of context, so this archive link is where I extracted the dialog of opinions about "Free labor: producing culture for the digital economy." (see below, after the 3th paragraph)
      < >

      It is not difficult to imagine a future where billions of people regularly access applications running inside the global network as part of their daily lives. To make this future a reality, network applications must overcome three critical challenges. First, they must scale to handle the enormous demand placed upon them. Second, they must adapt to dynamic user demand and network conditions. Finally, network applications must survive partial failures and remain available to their users.

      Over millions of years of evolution, large scale biological systems, such as the bee or ant colony, have developed mechanisms that allow them to scale, adapt, and survive. Consider the bee colony. Bee colonies scale to a large number of bees because all activities of the hive are carried out without centralized control. Bees act autonomously, influenced by local conditions and local interactions with other bees. When building the hive, bees are guided only by the structure of the partially completed hexagonal cells around them. There is no master bee that controls the building of the hive. The bee colony also adapts to dynamic conditions, often to optimize its food gain relative to energy expenditure. When the amount of honey in the hive is low, a large number of food gathering bees leave the hive to gather nectar from the flowers in the area. When the hive is nearly full of honey, most bees remain in the hive and rest. The bee colony is survivable because it is not dependent on any single bee, not even the queen bee. Therefore, the colony can still survive after a predator kills a number of bees. In fact, the desirable characteristics of the bee colony, scalability, adaptability, and survivability, are not present in any single bee. Rather, they emerge from the collective actions and interactions of all the bees in the colony.

      We believe that the challenges faced by future network applications have already been overcome in large scale biological systems and that future network applications will benefit by adopting key biological principles and mechanisms.

      Free labor: producing culture for the digital economy

      Tiziana Terranova
      Department of Cultural Studies
      University of East London
      East Building, 4 University Way
      E16 8RD

      course tutor of the MA in Multimedia: Production, Theories, Cultures
      < >

      Free labor: producing culture for the digital economy
      Tiziana Terranova

      The real not-capital is labor. (Karl Marx Grundrisse )

      Working in the digital media industry is not as much fun as it is made out to be. The NetSlaves of the homonymous Webzine are becoming increasingly vociferous about the shamelessly exploitative nature of the job, its punishing work rhythms and its ruthless casualisation ( They talk about "24-7 electronic sweatshops", complain about the 90-hours week and the "moronic management of new media companies". In early 1999, seven of the fifteen thousands 'volunteers' of America On Line rocked the info-loveboat by asking the Department of Labor to investigate whether AOL owes them back wages for the
      years of playing chathosts for free . They used to work long-hours and love it; now they are starting to feel the pain of being burned by digital media.

      These events point to a necessary backlash against the glamorization of digital labor, which highlights its continuities with the modern sweatshop and point to the increasing degradation of knowledge work. Yet the question of labor in a 'digital economy' is not so easily dismissed as an innovative development of the familiar logic of capitalist exploitation. The NetSlaves are not simply a typical form of labor on the Internet, they also embody a complex relation to labor which is widespread in late capitalist societies.
      In this paper I understand this relationship as a provision of 'free labor', a trait of the cultural economy at large, and an important, and yet undervalued force in advanced capitalist societies. By looking at the Internet as a specific instance of the fundamental role played by free labor, this paper also tries to highlight the connections between the 'digital economy' and what the Italian autonomists have called the 'social factory' . The 'social factory' describes a process whereby "work processes
      have shifted from the factory to society, thereby setting in motion a truly complex machine" (Negri 1989). Simultaneously voluntarily given and unwaged, enjoyed and exploited, free labor on the Net includes the activity of building websites, modify software packages, reading and participating to mailing lists and building virtual spaces on MUDs and MOOs. Far from being
      an 'unreal', empty space, the Internet is animated by cultural and technical labor through and through, a continuous production of value which is completely immanent to the flows of the network society at large.

      Collective minds

      The collective nature of networked, immaterial labor has been simplified by the utopian statements of the cyberlibertarians. Kevin Kelly's popular thesis in Out of Control, for example, is that the Internet is a collective 'hive mind'. According to Kelly, the Internet is another manifestation of a principle of self organization which is widespread throughout technical, natural and social systems. The Internet is the material evidence of the existence of the self-organizing, infinitely productive activities of
      connected human minds . From a different perspective Pierre Levy draws on cognitive anthropology and poststructuralist philosophy, to argue that computers and computer networks are sites which enable the emergence of a 'collective intelligence'.

      Levy, who is inspired by early computer pioneers such as Douglas Engelbart, argues for a new humanism, "that incorporates and
      enlarges the scope of self-knowledge and collective thought" . According to Levy, we are passing from a Cartesian model of thought based upon the singular idea of cogito (I think) to a collective or plural cogitamus (we think).

      In Levy's view, the digital economy highlights the impossibility of absorbing intelligence within the process of automation: unlike the first wave of cybernetics which displaced workers from the factory, computer networks highlight the unique value of human intelligence as the true creator of value in a knowledge economy. In his opinion, since the economy is increasingly reliant on the production of creative subjectivities, this production is highly likely to engender a new humanism, a new centrality of
      man's [sic] creative potentials.

      Especially in Kelly's case, it has been easy to dismiss the notion of a 'hive mind' and the self-organizing Internet-as-free market as euphoric capitalist mumbo jumbo. One cannot help being deeply irritated by the blindness of the digital capitalist to the realities of working in the hi-tech industries, from the poisoning world of the silicon chips factories to the electronic sweatshops of America OnLine, where technical work is downgraded and workers' obsolescence is high . How can we hold on to the notion that cultural production and immaterial labor are collective on the Net (both inner and outer) without subscribing to the idealistic cyberdrool of the digerati?

      We could start with a simple observation: the self-organizing, collective intelligence of cybercultural thought captures the existence of networked immaterial labor, but also neutralizes the operations of capital. Capital, after all, is the unnatural environment within which the collective intelligence materializes. The collective dimension of networked intelligence needs to be understood historically, as part of a specific momentum of capitalist development. The Italian Autonomists have consistently engaged with this relationship by focusing on the mutation undergone by labor in the aftermath of the factory. The notion of a
      self-organizing "collective intelligence" looks uncannily like one of their central concepts, the "general intellect", a notion that the autonomists "extracted" out of the spirit, if not the actually wording, of Marx's Grundrisse. The "collective intelligence" or "hive mind" captures some of the spirit of the "general intellect", but removes the autonomists' critical theorization of its relation to capital.

      In the autonomists' favorite text, the Grundrisse, and especially in the "Fragment on Machines", Marx argues that "knowledge - scientific knowledge in the first place, but not exclusively - tends to become precisely by virtue of its autonomy from production, nothing less than the principal productive force, thus relegating repetitive and compartmentalized labor to a residual position. Here one is dealing with knowledgeS which has become incarnateS in the automatic system of machines" . In the vivid pages of the
      "Fragment', the "other" Marx of the Grundrisse (adopted by the social movements of the sixties and seventies against the more orthodox endorsement of Capital ), describes the system of industrial machines as a horrific monster of metal and flesh:

      The production process has ceased to be a labor process in the sense of a process dominated by labor as its governing unity. Labor appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living workers at numerous point of the mechanical system. Subsumed under the total process of the machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but rather in the living, (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty

      The Italian autonomists extracted from these pages the notion of the "general intellect" as "the ensemble of knowledgeS which constitute the epicenter of social production" . Unlike Marx's original formulation, however, the autonomists eschewed the modernist imagery of the general intellect as a hellish machine. They claimed that Marx completely identified the general intellect (or knowledge as the principal productive force) with fixed capital (the machine) and thus neglected to account for the fact that
      the general intellect cannot exist independently of the concrete subjects who mediate the articulation of the machines with each other. The general intellect is an articulation of fixed capital (machines) and living labor (the workers). If we see the Internet, and computer networks in general, as the latest machines-the latest manifestation of fixed capital-then it won't be difficult to imagine the general intellect as being well and alive today.

      However the autonomists did not stop at describing the general intellect as an assemblage of humans and machines at the heart of postindustrial production. If this were the case, the Marxian monster of metal and flesh would just be updated to that of a world-spanning network where computers use human beings as a way to allow the system of machinery (and therefore
      capitalist production) to function. The visual power of the Marxian description is updated by the cyberpunk snapshots of the immobile bodies of the hackers, electrodes like umbilical cords connecting them to the matrix, appendixes to a living, all-powerful cyberspace. Beyond the special effects bonanza, the box-office success of The Matrix validates the popularity of
      the paranoid interpretation of this mutation.

      To the humanism implicit in this description, the autonomists have opposed the notion of a "mass intellectuality", living labor in its function as the determining articulation of the general intellect. Mass intellectuality - as an ensemble, as a social body - "is the repository of the indivisible knowledges of living subjects and of their linguistic cooperationS an important part of knowledge cannot be deposited in machines, butS it must come into being as the direct interaction of the labor force" . As Virno
      emphasizes, mass intellectuality is not about the various roles of the knowledge workers, but is a "quality and a distinctive sign of the whole social labor force in the post-Fordist era" .

      The pervasiveness of the collective intelligence both within the managerial literature and Marxist theory could be seen as the result of a common intuition about the quality of labor in informated societies. Knowledge labor is inherently collective, it is always the result of a collective and social production of knowledge . Capital's problem is how to extract as much value as possible (in the autonomists' jargon, to 'valorize') out of this abundant, and yet slightly untractable terrain.

      Collective knowledge work, then, is not about those who work in the knowledge industry. But it is also not about employment. The acknowledgement of the collective aspect of labor implies a rejection of the equivalence between labor and employment, which was already stated by Marx and further emphasized by feminism and the post-Gramscian autonomy . Labor is not equivalent to waged labor. Such an understanding might help us to reject some of the hideous rhetoric of unemployment which turns the unemployed
      person in the object of much patronizing, pushing and nudging from national governments in industrialized countries (accept any available work or elseS.) Often the unemployed are such only in name, in reality being the life-blood of the difficult economy of 'under the table', badly paid work, some of which also goes into the new media industry . To emphasize how labor is not equivalent to employment also means to acknowledge how important free affective and cultural labor is to the media industry, old and new.
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    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jul 20 2001 - 13:49:38 PDT