Radical media, politics and culture.


I'd like to be a fly o the wall as this message is read by its recipients: Sorry: I somehow failed to send this the other day when I actually replied to it:

Thanks for the forward! W/out going into the details of this scheme, and likewise Alan and me passed over Lessig et al.'s recent similar scheme at Interactive Screen, which seems to provide a legal / licesning infrastructure where this project is more focussed on technology - my personal view's that the infrastructure is *already there* One of the technological determinants of the re-emergence of this idea of 'commons' - a shared 'space' of ideas,culture, cultural 'products', scientific innovations, and so on - is the existence of the internet as infra- or super-structure, and more recently, softwares/networks which go some considerable way towards realising the essential distributed, non-hierarchic nature of that -structure . The other is the fact of digitality itself which, as we know, makes massive multliplication something we have to labour to prevent, not to produce. Together, these technological conditions are contributing to the production of a new paradigm - in which issues of control, authorship, community and property are all brought into question.

What is particularly exciting about this is that the shift from Fordist to post-industrial economy has meant that so-called 'intellectual' labour - the arts for example - have become criticald drivers of the entire capital system, even of what might be called 'traditional' industries; we could think of the crucial role of the 'creative' in selling products, of artist communities in city 'regeneration', or more generally of the massive role played by our cultural discourses (- what Marx referred to as the General Intellect) in establishing what we 'buy into' across the board. One only need to look at the stock market today to understand that the intellectual labour that goes into 'representing' a company, that labour undertaken by such as Arthur Anderson, Accenture, by CEOs, by marketing companies and PR gurus, by city 'analysts' and stock-pumpers the world over, is far more important to that company's 'value', really its 'stock value', than any 'honest' assessment of its 'bottom line', profit and loss account, or even projected earnings. Therefore we can't and shouldn't theorise what we do 'as artists, as theorists, as musicians, only after all other forms of immaterial labour, as 'outside' of this structure - it is utterly essential to, and - like the labour of the 'dishonest' Andersen accountant - often complicit with, it - even the 'motor', looked at one way, that drives desire, powers the signifier of a company, a city, a brand, a nation, defines what we long for and will pay for, what we will trade, what we will hold, where we will move to next.

From another orientation that 'motor', our cultural ' immaterial' labour, takes on a rather more oppositional aspect. Might there be things we could do that not only could not be co-opted, but which could constitute a form of resistance or of outright revolt *against* the prevalent social form?

Whatever, the thing is that with respect to OPUS, you can put whatever front-end you like onto the superstructure that has already been built (by the US military itself, no less: another indication of how capital sponsors its own gravediggers!) - and sure, perhaps speed the process along or help certain people to understand what they are anyway in the midst of already . But your essential paradigm is already shifting. Everything that OPUS discusses is already possible *w/out* OPUS: the Net itself, or a local Wireless, network, for example, is already 'an online space [in which] people, machines and codes [can] play and work together - to share, create and transform images, sounds, videos and texts.' And that is only one of the ways that it enables immaterial labour. And we are already doing it, engaged in it there, in all its forms. That is not really a critique of OPUS - I certainly support as many avenues for co-operation as possible - but let's make one now.

'Opus is an attempt to create a digital commons in culture...' Let us pass over the fact that this 'commons', for many (search James Boyle, Yochai Benkler, for examples), is already upon us, that is, we already *have* the shared space of ideas that this system claims to create - and that our decision, currently, is whether to engage with it on a zeropaid basis, or, for example, on models that allow us to stake later monetary gains (from institutions, payments in kind, so forth) against acting in what has been called the 'gift-economy'. (Incidentally it is here our project comes in: I *think* we think the infrastructure - as the development [rhetoric notwithstanding] of projects like OPUS kind of shows - will take care of itself; we're more interested in establishing a remuneration structure for artists, and I think this is mainly related to the idea that if we can allow the *community* to function - in its various modes - as arbiter of 'cultural production', then we may well end up with art, writing, music, ideas that act in opposition to the traditional centers of what some people call 'biopower' - the power, that is, to define the ways in which life constitutes itself both as lived subjectivity and as system.)

In my own personal view, this idea of 'commons' operates directly against that. The Commons were the way in which the farmers of feudal Europe subsisted, around a set of shared lands regulated by a complex set of customary rights. Ultimately those right of custom, emedded in local communities, were obliterated by the development of commerce and industry during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, the rising class of mechant farmers, and by the rise of what Hannibal Travis calls the 'propertarian' (or is it 'propietarian'?) ideology. Now people (Boyle, Benkler, Travis, e.g.,) are arguing, like the Diggers once did in the UK, that we need to protect our 'information commons' from 'enclosure', the encroachments of big business and those who would Sue Our Asses Off to (re)gain control of the media. And they substantiate this argument by showing how well the Commons, as a 'protected' resource, functions as a motor for scientific / cultural development. In other words, how well the Commons - or General Intellect if your prefer - could, if regulated-as-deregulated-zone, operate as a well-behaved motor of Capital.

That, to me, is not a goal to work towards. Theorising our shared immaterial labour as Commons is not only defeatist, it is also dangerous. We have the potential, with our work as-community, in that work's engagements with social structures that, no longer able to make money from us directly, are now experimenting on the one hand with new models of co-option and on the other with all-out confrontation - the potential to begin to formulate ideas towards something which might, in admitting that confrontation is really the only way forward, ever, dare to constitute itself as weapon, as a phalanx, perhaps, or the detonator for a set of bombs that we know are already ticking. The absolutely crucial role that we all have, as intellectual or 'immaterial' labourers in the current scene can not be underestimated. We don't need protection; what we need is guts to begin to think aggressively, to form an Army of Ideas.

Now then, I'm glad that's over and I bet you are too. For anyone who got this far, what I really want you to know is that I'm currently working on the development of a social center in East London, and so very soon, fortune permitting, have a place that you can drop into / stay at / work in - and that includes you.........