Techno-Capitalism and Post-Human Destinies – II
by Debashish Banerji
To continue with our reflections on the regime of technology or what I have called the universal desiring machine of techno-capital (Techo-Capitalism and Post-Human Destinies I), let us dwell for a moment also on the “traditional” understanding of Marx, one which Postone is at pains to distinguish himself from, since this version also meshes in its own way with the goals of the Enlightenment and may debatably show itself to be be identical with the techno-utopia of Hegel/Teilhard/McLuhan, and pushing in its own ingenuity, the self-same mythology with the same structural order of frozen time (teleology).
Among Marx’s own internal narratives, this could very well be one of his spectral alternates, since Hegel was more than an influence in his thinking. The “traditional” version then is that products are produced by concrete labor and “originally” for their concrete and (subjectively) specific use-value(s) in the self-consumptions of communities. But the process of marketization is one of the necessary birth of history, of the journey of capital as abstract use value of commodity translating labor now also abstracted for the universalization/globalization of human exchange. This process of the materialization and terrestrialization of human labor is mediated for competitive self-advantage by a “middle” class, the bourgeois, a mediation that accumulates capital privately and fuels the processes of the production and consumption of unbounded increasing surplus – the exploitation of labor and of nature, the production of technology, the production of knowledge and the production of desire. But the internal contradiction in this system between the use and abstract value of the product and the subjective concreteness and objectified abstraction of labor (these two sets of contradictions mapping into one another as necessary translations, since it is labor which translates into the value of product) drives the dialectic of inexorable necessity towards the “justice” of pure unmediated translations, a global order which achieves the end of history in the completed identity of abstract/concrete exchange/use producer/consumer as the self-representation of collective humanity in the form of the international union of labor through the political organ of the World State.
The traditional view of Marxist revolution is that of human intervention in accelerating the inherent rationalization of this process by the overcoming of the mediation of the bourgeois and his competitive privatization of capital through a collective organization of the proletariat and its direct ownership of the means of production and the products and control over their consumption, distribution and exchange through nation-states and eventually, the world-state. The mythology of this narrative should not be lost on us. This is the Sacrifice of the originary Unified Body of collective Man in the Symbol, pure communities of the Symbolic Age of humanity, Satya Yuga, consuming their own production, but now driven to the reconstitution of the dis-membered body through acts of exchange, leading logically (since the hidden Subject of this leading is the Logos, who makes Himself visible only through His adjectival quality, logic) to the terrestrialization of Universal Value (which is Universal Justice) in the reintegrated Body-Politic of International Labor as the unmediated self-determining producers/consumers of their own labor/produce of use/exchange (each of these opposition-pairs being now realized identities in consciousness). Marxists, of course, will shudder at this mythologization, since they will say it is exactly the Geist, Spirit of Hegel which Marx rejected in materializing his dialectic in the collective human body and its material processes of production and consumption, with the proletariat as its real Subject. But be that as it may, why the process of history should take this logical form, of a loss of “innocence” through private selfishness and the transformation of individual selfishness to universal justice and finally of the revelation in universal justice of Universal Love, were it not for the immanence of the Logos, the Word of God made flesh hidden in the heart of human history, whatever may be its manifest actors and their motivated/material acts, is difficult to comprehend. The subsumption of the Chrisian mythos in the Hegelian vision of the Enlightenment undergoes a second level of secularization in the “traditional” narrative of Marx, but cannot divorce itself from the source of its necessity in its Origin.
Where Postone questions this version is in the centrality of its “original sin,” since this will determine also the totality of its apotheosis in the “end of history.” According to Postone, for the later Marx this is not an act of selfishness but one of self-alienation. The decision to produce not for self-consumption but for exchange produces not merely the mediation of economic and more fundamentally, social relations (the transformation of the habitus) by the layer of the “middle class” but by another layer of immanent mediation, which becomes more and more manifest through the historic process as the “true subject” and beneficiary of this history – the layer of alienation itself materializing and universalizing itself as Technology - Technology as Logos or Logos as Technology, which no revolution of the proletariat or overcoming of the bourgeois can displace, produced out of the dismembered body of the sacrifice of collective Unity in the Symbolic Age of Innocence, the shining Bio-Robotic Cow of Universal Plenty, its mechanical udders vibrating with the fatal fascination of alterity, cannibalizing its producers into its own alienated Substance. Marx’s mature view of the “end of history” then for Postone is not the apotheosis of labor and the utopia of Universal Love but the totalitarianism of Technology as the regime of alienation, his revolution not a revolution of the proletariat against the bourgeois but an immanent revolution of human production and consumption against technicity, the technologized consciousness-structures of the alienated social habitus, of commodified social relations. In this version, Marx visioned Hegelian Universal Enlightenment as a mistake and his own narrative is a historical explanation and critique of Hegel. In this view, Hegel mistook a non-human Universal Spirit (Geist) as the progressively materializing and rationalizing Subject of History because he himself was embedded within the structural temporality of modernity, which was already marked by its endemic alienation. This ojectified alienation, rationalizing itself materially as Technology is what Hegel mistook as Spirit.
But granted that this is a possibility, can Hegel/Teilhard/McLuhan be dismissed so easily? Can the Enlightenment and the fascination of its mythos be negativized unequivocally? After all, the Aurobindonian narrative sounds surprisingly similar to some ears as the Hegelian one; many there are who read the regime of globalization as the materialization of the Brahman, even of that specially mystifying Aurobindonian term, the Supermind. And Postone’s Marx and his attribution of self-alienation at the “origin” of modern history – how does this history realize itself universally – I mean how did it even get this far, what processes of chance or necessity or combination of the two took local phenomena of exchange and turned it into the globalizing world-market, whose ontology (hauntology, as Derrida will tell us in his Specters of Marx) is technicity? Was it perhaps the Hegelian Zeitgeist, Time-Spirit, the Heideggerean disclosure of Being in the horizon of modern Time, the Foucauldian inexplicable epistemic change? And what does it portend for the future destiny of the human at the end of its history? Or can its history be aborted and transformed through immanent revolution, as Postone suggests (but never makes practically concrete) in his text?
What are the dimensions of the Enlightenment narrative and where does Sri Aurobindo fit into it or where does it fit into Sri Aurobindo, if we are to be more audacious or is there a radical misfit between the two? Where is the inadequacy in “Catholicism” which Arthur Kroker invokes to explain McLuhan’s failure or is it some other kind of inadequacy, in the heart of the Enlightenment ideal and that of its proponents who see subsumed and hidden in it the track or trace, footsteps of the Holy Spirit of archaic ages?
What indeed, is the Enlightenment ideal and where do we stand in its realization today? Put simply, the onto-theological ideal of the Enlightenment is the universalization of Divine Reason, the Rationality or Intelligence of the Universe as the common property of Humanity on earth – not the property of any one person but of Humanity as a whole, for its access and use. Enlightenment brings liberation, this was the belief, and a universalized Enlightenment will bring universal liberation through the terrestrialization of the properties of Divinity (or as Divine Reason equated with Divinity) being accessible to all humans. The prime properties of such a realized divinity would be the Omnisicience, Omnipotence and Omnipresence of the Divine Reason within unversal access. Today, the virtual universalization of satellite technology, telecommunications and intercontinental travel have effectively non-localized our experience of the world, we can almost be “present” at any point on the earth at any time. Is this not Omnipresence? The proliferation of electronic archives and incredible information density of storage systems are making all the history of textual and multimedia expression and discursivity of the earth available to the access of all human beings at the push of a button. Is this not Omniscience? And Technology today makes it possible to give life and take life universally – we are on the verge of being able to overcome every natural deterrent to food production and to regenerate human organs and we can blow out the world at the push of a button. Is this not Omnipotence? So where did we go wrong or did we? And is there anything else that Sri Aurobindo can give us here – or is this indeed also the Aurobindonian mythos, the terrestrialization and universalization of Supermind as the Vedic Cow of Human Plenty?
These are questions worth reflecting on and bringing into alignment with the Neo-Vedantic teleology (if it can be called that) of Sri Aurobindo.