Twitter capitalism: a waterfall of cockroaches

By ann summers


1da36abba8225414350f6a706700a825_1_1Wall of zombies in World War Z (2013) … The film stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former United Nations investigator who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic. … Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times remarked, “World War Z plays a bit like a series of separate films and the juncture where the new final act was grafted onto the proceedings is unmistakable, but unless you knew about the film’s troubled past, you’d never guess it existed.” … A video game tie-in survival horror game, World War Z, was developed by Phosphor Games Studio and released for the iOS mobile platforms in May 2013. The game is a spin-off of the film, being set in Denver, Kyoto, and Paris, and featuring an entirely different set of characters. …

The point was put elegantly by the experienced, battle-hardened Irish diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien, who was visiting the (1970) campus at the time. All hell was breaking loose: sirens constantly wailed; helmeted police used batons to drive rioters down Telegraph Avenue; helicopters dropped tear gas on student protesters massed in Sproul Plaza. My curiosity laced with a certain pride, I asked O’Brien what he made of what he had witnessed. He smiled and said: “A pastoral ballet on a revolutionary theme.”

“Not one of the elders” got behind candidate Reagan in the beginning, Arthur Laffer said. He joked that when Reagan — perceived by critics as a lightweight, a bigot and a war monger — won the 1980 primaries, the Republican establishment “poured on us like a waterfall of cockroaches.”

The window in the kitchen shaft was bulging black with cockroaches. … It soon became a waterfall of cockroaches cascading out over the edge of the roof. The Book of Smoke By Carlos Black (2006)

We do now have a “turbocharged capitalism” with greater boost and more wind/air flow, that operates in algorithmic high-frequency trading of finance capital. As observed earlier, Trump tweets may be implicated in legal/illegal insider trading of aerospace stocks. Crises may have the reach of generations and the grasp of immediate, creative destruction.

In capitalism the moment of consumption often is seen as a moment of (re)production but that problem of labor / value has been one for the ages. But its direction – for example, does its management come above or below, persists.

Over the past 25 years, Internet and Communications Technology (ICT) has evolved to remove many of the technical barriers that may have once impeded alternatives to capitalism and state socialism.

Debates in the 1920s and 1930s revolved between socialists who believed that a central authority could use all available knowledge to arrive at the best possible (in their minds) economic plan for society and those free marketeers who countered that, because the problems of modern society are so complex, economic planning is impossible and only markets could coordinate economic activity.

These two positions framed other proposals too, that a necessary combination of markets and planning – “market socialism” – could provide a third solution. But the world has changed and there are new obstacles to overcome.

What we do see is a “pastoral ballet on a revolutionary theme” attempted in the US and transferred to other countries from the 1960 — 1970s and attempted nationally against the mythic Reaganism that has now reemerged as Trumpism with an ethno-nationalist tinge.

And the cockroaches, like so many reproduced Kafkaesque narratives pour upon us like a mighty stream in 2017. Now Trumpism attempts to infect us virally by implanting a Twitter shorthand that renders LIVs into zombies.

Stafford Beer attempted, in his words, to “implant” an electronic “nervous system” in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly more equal and responsive than before – a sort of socialist internet, decades ahead of its time……

So even with the 1970s threat of a Chilean socialism (and its pre-Internet) thwarted by the CIA, a cybernetic history of it demonstrates a vision of coordination that reaches far beyond Chicago School capitalism’s grasp.

The neoliberalism embedded within capitalism readies itself for repression as Reaganism’s cult of personality prepared an emergent information economy that was more distributed and less cybernetic because of  nuclear attack survivability.

As we now see with Twitter among other social media, ICT is now a means to reinforce ideological and cultural hegemony, even as many insist that it is an instrumental end in itself.

Reaganism has returned as the rebranded Trumpian supply-side fantasy complete with near-geriatric pseudo-theorists. We will have a similar less cinematic and more “reality” televisual dramaturgy soon complete with crises and wars.


Ronald Reagan The Movie: And Other Episodes in Political Demonology By Michael Rogin

The End of Reaganism signaled the next phase, if only postmodernist professors could have ever “called the shots”. And yet we now have the stronger, more reactionary version attacking postmodern professors who never numbered more than 20% of academe’s workers as some monolithic “Cultural Marxism” as though Marx’s work was inerrant. Within the field, or at least in some sub-fields, the false dichotomy of Cultural Studies and Political Economy methods has a tedious historiography. The object of such analysis is most exemplified empirically by the televisual and Trumpism thrives on its corporate terrain.

In 1998, the late Stanford philosopher Richard Rorty published a small volume, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, that described a fracturing of the leftwing coalition that rendered the movement so dispirited and cynical that it invited its own collapse.

In the days after Trump’s electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton, passages from Rorty’s book went viral, shared thousands of times on social media. Rorty’s theories were then echoed by the New Yorker editor David Remnick in an interview with Barack Obama and essay on his presidency, and taken up across the internet as an explanation for Trump’s success.

In the book, Rorty predicted that what he called the left would come to give “cultural politics preference over real politics”. This movement would contribute to a tidal wave of resentment, he wrote, that would ricochet back as the kind of rancor that the left had tried to eradicate.

“The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots.”

Rorty said “nobody can predict” what such a strongman would do in office, but painted a bleak picture for minorities and liberal causes.

“One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out,” he wrote. “Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion.”

Intolerance and “sadism” would “come flooding back”, he continued. “All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”

Rorty, a hero of the old left, hoped his peers would abandon what he perceived as anti-Americanism and return to a more pure-hearted, pragmatic view of liberalism. But he did not hold out much hope. Ultimately, he wrote, the so-called strongman would be powerless to do anything but “worsen economic conditions” and “quickly make his peace with the international super-rich”.

Rorty was not the first or last academic to predict the tectonic shifts of politics caused by technology, globalization and liberal movements. His ideas about voters turning away from the world, against “elites” and scapegoated minorities, were echoed by the historian Samuel Huntington in 2004 and by Noam Chomsky in 2010.

Trump appears to have already fulfilled this prediction, filling his transition team with lobbyists, including for the oil, telecoms and food industries. He has named a Republican loyalist to be his chief of staff, and a far-right nationalist – himself a former Goldman Sachs executive – as his “chief strategist”

Edward Helmore in The Guardian

Trump’s televisual “flow” can be found in most immediately in the tweet, but the tweet in itself and Twitter as a medium / channel does not represent the space of flows as much as it signifies a process and a system of uncritical practices that are temporal and spatial. As such it is an ensemble of networked social relations, often capitalized in their cultural contingencies.

Trump’s version of an attempt at social control comes with the Tweet, as though it supplanted the discontinuous, disintegrated flows from several different ICT devices, telephone, radio, television, and now broadband.

The subjective construction of an individual subject’s televisual flow is not as conceived originally by Raymond Williams as holding a monitoring/surveilling audience organizing a habit, but as what Bourdieu calls a habitus. As such the televisual and its distributed production consumed on devices, is as Castells calls it, a “space of flows”.

… space is “the material support of time-sharing social practices”. Thus, the space of flows is “the material organization of time-sharing social practices that work through flows“.

Flow is more disintegrated in a social media context, because it stands in contrast to the unmediated material, lived reality of everyday life.

In television programming, flow is how channels and networks try to hold their audience from program to program, or from one segment of a program to another. Thus, it is the “flow” of television material from one element to the next.

The Trumpian audience is that combination of media channels converged and diverged as ICT and the authoritarian Trump is with us 24/7/365 on all our devices.

In substantial ways – as is the model of Apple, Google, Amazon, Uber, Facebook and other robber barons of the digital age – technology has enabled powerful platforms for the amplification of power and privilege, making capitalism worse than could have been previously imagined.

ICT has emboldened the process of “primitive accumulation”, as if it were on nuclear powered steroids, forcing whole sectors to find new means of survival. Mark Graham, Professor of Internet Geography at the Oxford Internet Institute, has researched how the “Gig economy” produces new unregulated and underpaid work, often in problematic working conditions, and that challenge existing divisions of labor for the worse.

While ICT has enabled fewer and fewer people to do more and more harm, it also paradoxically provides more potential for alternatives to both capitalism and state socialism to emerge.

In the late 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, Fascists and Stalinists attacked from all sides as widespread experiments in workers’ control stretched between rural and urban areas, in the form of anarcho-syndicalist organization. In 1956 workers in Hungary and Poland revolted against Soviet invasion and domination to form workers’ councils.

These examples inspired Greek-French Philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis’ model of “Economics of a Self-Managed Society”, which subsequently gave rise to more recent models like Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s Participatory Economics, which aims to – without markets – consciously account for the costs of production, consumption and allocation of the material means of life while flexibly adapting and updating scalable plans.

There are examples of networked societies aspiring to gather decentralized data for the purpose of democratic planning. Chile, for example, applied computers across significant sectors of its society between 1971-1973 as an experimental electronic “nervous system”. This system operated in workplaces, voting systems and government departments. An interactive national communications network would link it all together. And the system, which was in some sense designed to overcome the problems of Soviet central planning, aspired to realize more equitable and responsive social relationships.

These days gathering enough information to plan society is no longer an obstacle. Technology has opened new possibilities. Imagine how powerful algorithms, advances in computer processing power and data storage (not to mention mobile devices, the blockchain and smart contracts) could advance each of the above examples. The obstacles today, rather, are those states and corporations – and the powerful fusions between them – which accumulate enormous power and privilege over the world.


”Culture is a signifying system through which…a social order is communicated, reproduced, experienced, and explored” Measuring and analyzing it at micro and macro levels is made more difficult as political-economic methodology gets obfuscated by cultural ideology. One example: “key power structures and relationships within the network communications industries. It reveals a number of tensions and contradictions regarding Google’s practices that have significant environmental and social implications. “

…The information economy constitutes a significantly sized part of global capitalism. But in the same list, one finds for example 308 banks (15%) that account for the majority of the 2,000 largest TNCs’ capital assets.

So one can easily argue that more than a media and communication studies perspective, we need a companion with the title Reading Marx’s Capital Volume 1 in the Financial Age.

Capitalism is however not homogenous, but a differentiated dialectical unity of diverse capitalisms. We do not have to decide between information capitalism or finance capitalism (or other capitalisms, such as hyper-industrial capitalism, mobile capitalism, etc.), but rather have to see capitalism’s manifold dimensions that mutually encroach each other (Fuchs 2014a, chapter 5).

The information economy is itself highly financialised, as for example the 2000 dot-com crisis and the constant flows of venture capitalism into Silicon Valley show.

And information technology is one of the drivers of financialisation, as indicated by algorithmic trading, credit scoring algorithms, or digital currencies such as Bitcoin.

The computer is a universal machine that as networked information technology has affected all realms of everyday life, not just industry, labour and the economy.

It is a convergence technology that has together with other societal developments advanced social convergence tendencies of culture and the economy, work time and leisure time, the home and the office, consumption and production, productive and unproductive labour, the public and the private (Fuchs 2015a). Reading Capital from an information perspective can therefore not be limited to the realm of media technologies and media content, but has to be extended to communication in society at large.

Communications: Still the blind spot of Marxist theory

It is a positive development that media and cultural theorists have recently published books that remind us of the importance of Marx’s works (see for example: Eagleton 2011; Fornäs 2013; Fuchs 2014a; Jameson 2011).

Terry Eagleton (2011) in his book Why Marx Was Right deconstructs ten common myths and prejudices about Marx. He concludes: ‘Marx saw socialism as a deepening of democracy, not as the enemy of it. […] There has been no more staunch champion of women’s emancipation, world peace, the fight against fascism or the struggle for colonial freedom than the political movement to which his work gave birth. Was ever a thinker so travestied?’ (Eagleton 2011: 238-239).

In a time of high unemployment and high levels of precarious work, especially among young people, Frederic Jameson argues in his book Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One that Capital ‘is not a book about politics, and not even a book about labor, it is a book about unemployment’ (Jameson 2011: 2). He concludes that Marx today helps us to ‘be recommitted to the invention of a new kind of transformatory politics on a global scale’ (Jameson 2011: 151).

The Marxist cultural analysis of both Eagleton and Jameson has predominantly focused on literature. They have not much engaged in the analysis of other popular forms of culture and on mediated culture, i.e. the media’s role in society.

Eagleton (2013) has explicitly written about the fact that he does not use e-mail and the Internet: ‘I shall soon be the only EMV (email virgin) left in the country. I have never sent an email, though I’ve occasionally cheated and asked my teenage son to do so for me. Nor have I ever used the internet. […] In my view, the internet is really an anti-modern device for slowing us all down, returning us to the rhythms of an earlier, more sedate civilisation’.

Johan Fornäs, a Swedish media and cultural studies scholar, has in contrast to Eagleton and Jameson analysed youth cultures, music scenes, and other forms of popular and mediated culture. Like Jameson and Eagleton, he has recently published a book about Marx: Capitalism: A Companion to Marx’s Economy Critique provides an introduction to all three volumes of Capital. Fornäs concludes: ‘Marx’s dialectical critique of commodity fetishism and capitalist class relations remains a prime model for also understanding other late-modern contradictions in social life’ (Fornäs 2013: 306; for a detailed discussion of Fornäs’ book, see Fuchs 2013).

It is an important development that media and cultural analysts write books about Marx and remind us of the importance of his works. It is however also a bit surprising that Jameson, Eagleton and Fornäs in these books do not profoundly draw on their knowledge about media and culture.

All three books are rather general introductions to or interpretations of Marx’s critique of the political economy, which creates the impression that the economy and culture are independent realms. There remains a need for reading Marx from a media, communication and cultural studies perspective, which can help us to better understand

The dialectic of culture and the economy: Culture and economy are identical and non-identical at the same time.

All culture is produced in specific work processes. But culture is not just an economic phenomenon, but has emergent qualities; its meanings take effect all over society. The dimensions of media, communication, culture, the digital and the Internet are often not taken seriously enough in Marxist theory, although they are significant phenomena of contemporary capitalism.

In Marxist volumes, companions, journals, conferences, panels and keynote talks, such issues often feature not at all, rarely, or only as exceptions from the rule that they are ignored. An example: The titles of articles published in the journal Historical Materialism in the years 2006-2014 mentioned communication-related keywords1 only three times.

This situation is certainly slowly changing, but it is still a way to go until the majority of Marxist theorists consider communication no longer as a superstructure and secondary.

Raymond Williams’ insight that ‘modes of consciousness’, such as language, information, communication, art and popular culture, ‘are material’ (Williams 1977: 190), has thus far not adequately diffused into Marxist theory.

Dallas W. Smythe, who developed the first political economy of communication university module in the late 1940s, argued in 1977, the same year as Raymond Williams published Marxism and Literature, that the ‘media of communications and related institutions’ represent ‘a blindspot in Marxist theory’ (Smythe 1977, 1). Almost forty years later, the situation has not fundamentally changed.…

It remains important to revisit the history of such technological attempts to reconcile ICT and socialism even as it may have been premature relative to the advance of hardware and the proliferation of networks.

This “operations room” (or: opsroom) was the physical interface for a complex system called Cybersyn. It was an ambitious project in technology and design meant to help Chile’s socialist economy succeed. The Operations Room didn’t survive, either. In a fit of what we might now call PowerPoint rage, a member of the Chilean military stabbed its slides with a knife.

Salvador Allende hoped to show the world that Chile’s version of socialism would be different than the communist and socialist experiments in other countries. The constitution would be preserved and the press would not be censored. Civil liberties would be protected. The government began by increasing employment and wages as well as implementing agrarian reforms.

Allende’s biggest challenge (and the challenge of all socialist revolutions generally) was to turn private business into public entities. Eventually, the government took control of around 150 enterprises, including some of the largest companies in Chile.

Stafford Beer first set about making a cybernetic model of Chile’s economy that mapped out how all of the different parts of the economy connected within the larger system. Beer also wanted to enable the different parts of the Chilean economy to communicate easily with each other and thought computers could help accomplish this. Stafford Beer and the team he had assembled set about creating a computer network that would connect all of the factories in Chile. This was a really novel concept for the time, but there was a problem: it was the 1970s—there weren’t many computers in Chile. Stafford Beer was only able to get one computer to create his network. Their solution was to use telex machines…

While project Cybersyn was coming together, things were not going well for the Allende government. In the midst of the Cold War, with Latin America becoming a battlefield, the U.S. had been actively working with people in Chile that opposed Allende. Internally, unemployment was going up and inflation started to skyrocket.

Then, just three years after Allende was elected, came Chile’s September 11. While the presidential palace was being bombed by a military junta supported by the CIA, Allende gave his final radio address to the country. “Long live Chile, long live the people, long live the workers,” he said. Salvador Allende took his own life that same day.

In 2000, the CIA acknowledged its role in supporting the military coup and bringing about the failure of the Allende government. Fernando Flores spent three years in prison after Pinochet took power. Stafford Beer continued to lecture about cybernetics until his death in 2002.…

The consultant, Stafford Beer, had been brought in by Chile’s top planners to help guide the country down what Salvador Allende, its democratically elected Marxist leader, was calling “the Chilean road to socialism.” Beer was a leading theorist of cybernetics—a discipline born of midcentury efforts to understand the role of communication in controlling social, biological, and technical systems. Chile’s government had a lot to control: Allende, who took office in November of 1970, had swiftly nationalized the country’s key industries, and he promised “worker participation” in the planning process. Beer’s mission was to deliver a hypermodern information system that would make this possible, and so bring socialism into the computer age. The system he devised had a gleaming, sci-fi name: Project Cybersyn…

One wall was reserved for Project Cyberfolk, an ambitious effort to track the real-time happiness of the entire Chilean nation in response to decisions made in the op room. Beer built a device that would enable the country’s citizens, from their living rooms, to move a pointer on a voltmeter-like dial that indicated moods ranging from extreme unhappiness to complete bliss. The plan was to connect these devices to a network—it would ride on the existing TV networks—so that the total national happiness at any moment in time could be determined. The algedonic meter, as the device was called (from the Greek algos, “pain,” and hedone, “pleasure”), would measure only raw pleasure-or-pain reactions to show whether government policies were working…

“The on-line control computer ought to be sensorily coupled to events in real time,” Beer argued in a 1964 lecture that presaged the arrival of smart, net-connected devices—the so-called Internet of Things. Given early notice, the workers could probably solve most of their own problems. Everyone would gain from computers: workers would enjoy more autonomy while managers would find the time for long-term planning. For Allende, this was good socialism. For Beer, this was good cybernetics…

Yet central planning had been powerfully criticized for being unresponsive to shifting realities, notably by the free-market champion Friedrich Hayek. The efforts of socialist planners, he argued, were bound to fail, because they could not do what the free market’s price system could: aggregate the poorly codified knowledge that implicitly guides the behavior of market participants. Beer and Hayek knew each other; as Beer noted in his diary, Hayek even complimented him on his vision for the cybernetic factory, after Beer presented it at a 1960 conference in Illinois. (Hayek, too, ended up in Chile, advising Augusto Pinochet.) But they never agreed about planning. Beer believed that technology could help integrate workers’ informal knowledge into the national planning process while lessening information overload…

But Cybersyn anticipated more than tech’s form factors. It’s suggestive that Nest—the much admired smart thermostat, which senses whether you’re home and lets you adjust temperatures remotely—now belongs to Google, not Apple. Created by engineers who once worked on the iPod, it has a slick design, but most of its functionality (like its ability to learn and adjust to your favorite temperature by observing your behavior) comes from analyzing data, Google’s bread and butter. The proliferation of sensors with Internet connectivity provides a homeostatic solution to countless predicaments. Google Now, the popular smartphone app, can perpetually monitor us and (like Big Mother, rather than like Big Brother) nudge us to do the right thing—exercise, say, or take the umbrella.……

Culture and economy must be reconciled not simply as commodities but as something which can be addressed as an intersection of a variety of perspectives including but not limited to the temporal single-system interpretation (TSSI) of Karl Marx’s value theory or post-Sraffian approaches. Micro-foundations, macro-aggregation, network agency/structuration, articulation/reduction, and over-/under-determination.

“Cultural Studies Vs. Political Economy: Is Anybody Else Bored with this Debate?” by Lawrence Grossberg – review and summary

Lawrence Grossberg’s “Cultural Studies Vs. Political Economy: Is Anybody Else Bored with this Debate?” (1995) is a reply to Nicholas Garnham’ attack on cultural studies in his “Political Economy and Cultural Studies: Reconciliation or Divorce?” article which ensued the cultural studies Vs political economy debate over the pages of Critical Studies in Mass Communication. Grossberg believes that one of the key points of disagreement between cultural studies and political economy is the weight the two approaches ascribe the economy as a determining factor of social formations. Grossbergs argues against the political economy reductionist approach which sees capitalism as a universal, unvaried structure with no variations in time and place.

Grossberg starts out by claiming that there is nothing novel about Garnham’s criticism of cultural studies, and that this criticism arises from a misunderstanding of the relationship between cultural studies and political economy. Grossberg argues that cultural studies did not reject political economy, just the manner in which some political economists tended to their subject matter. On the other hand Grossberg agrees that cultural studies at times tended to over-celebrate culture while paying less warranted attention to the larger economic contexts.

Political economy’s main problem, in the eyes cultural studies according to Grossberg, is its ahistorical and universal perceptions which halt exactly at the point in which cultural studies begin their articulation of specific time and place societies. Grossbeg also claims that Garnham does to cultural studies what political economy does to society, that is reduce it from a complex to a black-and-white nature. Another aspect of Garnham’s attack which Grossberg notes is his “critique by absence”, that is criticizing a position for what it does not do or say. But this is also misplace for there has been significant work done in cultural studies regarding cultural production, reproduction and institutions, and not just consumption.

Grossberg continues to wonder what is the distinction, if there is any, between popular culture and dominant culture in the context of capitalism. He claims that cultural studies are engaged with people’s experience, and the way to comply with and/or resist their subordination, an engagement which is crucial if they are ever to overthrow these power structures that are, admittedly, largely created by what political economy researches but is also sustained and reproduced by what cultural studies are concerned with.

Even after all this analysis action whether direct/indirect remains what is left. Technology will not lead, it only provides mileposts and Twitter does what carrier pigeons did less efficiently.

The only route left is revolt. If this revolt is to succeed it must be expressed in the language of economic justice.

A continuation of the language of multiculturalism and identity politics as our primary means of communication is self-defeating.

It stokes the culture wars. It feeds the anti-politics that define the corporate state.

Our enemy is not the white working poor any more than it is African-Americans, undocumented workers, Muslims, Latinos or members of the GBLT community.

The oligarchs and corporations, many of them proponents of political correctness, are our enemy.

If we shed our self-righteousness and hubris, if we speak to the pain and suffering of the working poor, we will unmask the toxins of bigotry and racism. We will turn the rage of an abandoned working class, no matter what its members’ color, race or religious creed, against those who deserve it.…

Some traders are already working on programming Trump’s tweets into their computer trading models.

“There are people diligently working to create algorithms for Trump’s tweets, and if he continues to increase the size of the data set then we’ll likely see full automation sooner than later,” said Zachary David, a senior analyst at KOR Group, a consulting firm. But the strategy carries big risks, he said.…

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