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+[[!meta title="Four Futures: Life After Capitalism"]]
+* Author: Peter Frase
+* Year: 2016
+* Publisher: Verso / Jacobin
+## Trechos
+ Fictional futures are, in my view, preferable to those works of
+ “futurism” that attempt to directly predict the future, obscuring
+ its inherent uncertainty and contingency and thereby stultifying
+ the reader. Within the areas discussed in this book, a
+ paradigmatic futurist would be someone like Ray Kurzweil, who
+ confidently predicts that by 2049, computers will have achieved
+ humanlike intelligence, with all manner of world-changing consequences.
+ 24 Such prognostications generally end up unconvincing as prophecy
+ and unsatisfying as fiction. Science fiction is to futurism what
+ social theory is to conspiracy theory: an altogether richer, more
+ honest, and more humble enterprise. Or to put it another way, it
+ is always more interesting to read an account that derives the general
+ from the particular (social theory) or the particular from the general
+ (science fiction), rather than attempting to go from the general
+ to the general (futurism) or the particular to the particular
+ (conspiracism).
+ -- 16
+ Abundance Scarcity
+ Equality communism socialism
+ Hierarchy rentism exterminism
+ Exercises like this aren’t unprecedented. A similar typology can be
+ found in a 1999 article by Robert Costanza in The Futurist. 26
+ There are four scenarios: Star Trek, Big Government, Ecotopia,
+ and Mad Max. For Costanza, however, the two axes are “world view
+ and policies” and “the real state of the world.” Thus the four
+ boxes are filled in according to whether human ideological
+ predilections match reality: in the “Big Government” scenario, for
+ example, progress is restrained by safety standards because the
+ “technological skeptics” deny the reality of unlimited resources. My
+ contribution to this debate is to emphasize the significance of
+ capitalism and politics.
+ [...]
+ So for me, sketching out multiple futures is an attempt to
+ leave a place for the political and the contingent. My
+ intention is not to claim that one future will automatically
+ appear through the magical working out of technical and ecological
+ factors that appear from outside. Instead, it is to insist that where
+ we end up will be a result of political struggle. The intersection of
+ science fiction and politics is these days often associated with the
+ libertarian right and its deterministic techno-utopian fantasies; I
+ hope to reclaim the long left-wing tradition of mixing imaginative
+ speculation with political economy. The starting point of the entire
+ analysis is that capitalism is going to end, and that, as Luxemburg
+ said,
+ -- 17
+ Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, describes a society that
+ seems, on the surface, like a postlabor utopia, where machines have
+ liberated humans from toil. For Vonnegut, however, this isn’t a utopia at
+ all. He describes a future where production is almost entirely carried
+ out by machines, overseen by a small technocratic elite. Everyone else
+ is essentially superfluous from an economic perspective, but the society
+ is rich enough to provide a comfortable life for all of them. Vonnegut
+ refers to this condition as a “second childhood” at one point,
+ and he views it not as an achievement but as a horror. For him, and
+ for the main protagonists in the novel, the main danger of an automated
+ society is that it deprives life of all meaning and dignity. If
+ most people are not engaged directly in producing the necessities
+ of life, he seems to think, they will inevitably fall into torpor
+ and despair.
+ -- 19
+ The French sociologist Bruno Latour has made the same observation through his
+ reading of Mary Shelley’s seminal science fiction tale, Frankenstein. This
+ story is not, he observes, the warning against technology and humanity’s hubris
+ that it is so often made out to be. 13 The real sin of Frankenstein (which is
+ the name of the scientist and not the monster) was not in making his creation
+ but in abandoning it to the wilderness rather than loving and caring for it.
+ This, for Latour, is a parable about our relationship to technology and
+ ecology. When the technologies that we have created end up having unforeseen
+ and terrifying consequences—global warming, pollution, extinctions—we recoil in
+ horror from them. Yet we cannot, nor should we, abandon nature now. We have no
+ choice but to become ever more involved in consciously changing nature. We have
+ no choice but to love the monster we have made, lest it turn on us and destroy
+ us. This, says Latour, “demands more of us than simply embracing technology and
+ innovation”; it requires a perspective that “sees the process of human
+ development as neither liberation from Nature nor as a fall from it, but rather
+ as a process of becoming ever-more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of
+ nonhuman natures.” 14
+ -- 43-44
+ But short of that, there are ways to turn some of the predatory “sharing
+ economy” businesses into something a bit more egalitarian. Economics writer
+ Mike Konczal, for instance, has suggested a plan to “socialize Uber.” 26 He
+ notes that since the company’s workers already own most of the capital—their
+ cars—it would be relatively easy for a worker cooperative to set up an online
+ platform that works like the Uber app but is controlled by the workers
+ themselves rather than a handful of Silicon Valley capitalists.
+ -- 48
+ The sociologist Bryan Turner has argued that we live in an “enclave society.” 8
+ Despite the myth of increasing mobility under globalization, we in fact inhabit
+ an order in which “governments and other agencies seek to regulate spaces and,
+ where necessary, to immobilize flows of people, goods and services” by means of
+ “enclosure, bureaucratic barriers, legal exclusions and registrations.” 9 Of
+ course, it is the movements of the masses whose movements are restricted, while
+ the elite remains cosmopolitan and mobile. Some of the examples Turner adduces
+ are relatively trivial, like frequent-flyer lounges and private rooms in public
+ hospitals. Others are more serious, like gated communities (or, in the more
+ extreme case, private islands) for the rich, and ghettos for the poor—where
+ police are responsible for keeping poor people out of the “wrong”
+ neighborhoods. Biological quarantines and immigration restrictions take the
+ enclave concept to the level of the nation-state. In all cases, the prison
+ looms as the ultimate dystopian enclave for those who do not comply, whether it
+ is the federal penitentiary or the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. Gated
+ communities, private islands, ghettos, prisons, terrorism paranoia, biological
+ quarantines—these amount to an inverted global gulag, where the rich live in
+ tiny islands of wealth strewn around an ocean of misery.
+ [...]
+ Silicon Valley is a hotbed of such sentiments, plutocrats talking openly about
+ “secession.” In one widely disseminated speech, Balaji Srinivasan, the
+ cofounder of a San Francisco genetics company, told an audience of start-up
+ entrepreneurs that “we need to build opt-in society, outside the US, run by
+ technology.” 12 For now, that reflects hubris and ignorance of the myriad ways
+ someone like him is supported by the workers who make his life possible.
+ -- 53
+ Remember exterminism’s central problematic: abundance and freedom from work are
+ possible for a minority, but material limits make it impossible to extend that
+ same way of life to everyone. At the same time, automation has rendered masses
+ of workers superfluous. The result is a society of surveillance, repression,
+ and incarceration, always threatening to tip over into one of outright
+ genocide.
+ But suppose we stare into that abyss? What’s left when the “excess” bodies have
+ been disposed of repression, and incarceration, always threatening to tip over
+ into one of outright genocide. But suppose we stare into that abyss? What’s
+ left when the “excess” bodies have been disposed of and the rich are finally
+ left alone with their robots and their walled compounds? The combat drones and
+ robot executioners could be decommissioned, the apparatus of surveillance
+ gradually dismantled, and the remaining population could evolve past its brutal
+ and dehumanizing war morality and settle into a life of equality and
+ abundance—in other words, into communism.
+ As a descendant of Europeans in the United States, I have an idea of what that
+ might be like. After all, I’m the beneficiary of a genocide.
+ My society was founded on the systematic extermination of the North American
+ continent’s original inhabitants. Today, the surviving descendants of those
+ earliest Americans are sufficiently impoverished, small in number, and
+ geographically isolated that most Americans can easily ignore them as they go
+ about their lives. Occasionally the survivors force themselves onto our
+ attention. But mostly, while we may lament the brutality of our ancestors, we
+ don’t contemplate giving up our prosperous lives or our land. Just as Marcuse
+ said, nobody ever gave a damn about the victims of history. Zooming out a bit
+ farther, then, the point is that we don’t necessarily pick one of the four
+ futures: we could get them all, and there are paths that lead from each one to
+ all of the others.
+ We have seen how exterminism becomes communism. Communism, in turn, is always
+ subject to counterrevolution, if someone can find a way to reintroduce
+ artificial scarcity and create a new rentist elite. Socialism is subject to
+ this pressure even more severely, since the greater level of shared material
+ hardship increases the impetus for some group to set itself up as the
+ privileged elite and turn the system into an exterminist one.
+ But short of a civilizational collapse so complete that it cuts us off from our
+ accumulated knowledge and plunges us into a new dark ages, it’s hard to see a
+ road that leads back to industrial capitalism as we have known it. That is the
+ other important point of this book. We can’t go back to the past, and we can’t
+ even hold on to what we have now. Something new is coming—and indeed, in some
+ way, all four futures are already here, “unevenly distributed,” in William
+ Gibson’s phrase. It’s up to us to build the collective power to fight for the
+ futures we want.
+ -- 63-64