Radical media, politics and culture.

General Intellect Mass Intellectuality

General Intellect

"labour infused by the power of science, communication and language."

In any society the capacity to produce goods, ideas and relations relates directly to the capacities of the individuals who make up that society. As human communities develop over time this ability changes, correlated with the educational methods and institutions it cultivates, the tools developed that are accessible to the population at large, the spaces maintained for the exchange or imparting of those skills and the products thereof, and vitally the nature of the distribution of all the foregoing over the social classes which constitute it as a group.

The consequences of the general intellect may be easily illustrated with the aid of a historical comparison: the encyclopedia. Four hundred years and fifty years ago access to knowledge outside of that relating to the local geography, history, economy and culture was strictly limited. The printing press was on the precipice of invention and thus the written word was circulkated by means of manuscripts reproduced by hand. Thus supply was limited. Knowledge was atomised due to the difficulty and expense implicit in the accumulation of a library. Consequently, scholars gathered nomadically around collections, often in monasteries, but sometimes in relatively secular settings, Oxford for example. There the practice of dining together, the 'commons', contained several purposes. One surely was disciplinary, preemptively smoking out heretical research.

Another was to facilitate the sharing and exchange of information. Scholars were know to boast that when stummped by a particular question they need not even refer themselves to a book; the erudition contained in the room at dinner was adequate to resolve even the most arcane matter.

A hundred and fifty years later, the precipitous fall in the cost of reproducing literature provoked by the emergence and refinement of the printing press meant not only the mitigation of physical scarcity` and thus the flourishing of libraries, but this in turn provided the basis for an initial development of literacy. Regarding knowledge itself, it allowed not only for the wide circulation of new ideas, but also the rediscovery of the old. When considering Diderot's launching of the first Encyclopedia project, it is perhaps helpful begin the reflection against the background of this happy conjunction.

Three hundred years later, we have a new encyclopedia in construction. Wikipedia is a volunteer produced encyclopedia composed of more than 35,000 entries. That its appearance was constrained until now is obvious. Ten years ago, the commodities to allow mass participation - the pc, modem - were not available at prices to allow their ubiquity. Furthermore, the level of technical knowledge required to run such systems as were in circulation precluded the participation of many who might have been attracted to such a task.

Pralallel to our little historical example, the majority of the population in the western world has moved from the state of peasants to become, first wage, labouruers involved either in commodity production or the social apparatus necessary for its reproduction and now specialists in discrete areas of production or, and to agreater extent, the suppliers of services in the tertiary sector. Whilst the political forces that imposed the need for equitable guarantees and remuneration have evaporated, economic actors retain the need for a workforce capable of devising, marketting and distributing new commodities and servies, if indeed a distinction should be made therein. In short economic reproduction imposes the need for innovation, and innovation cannot be produced in the first instance by machines but rather only by people. And this being true at the level of product conception and commodification before giving way to automation and the cold economics of minimal cost mass manufacture and distribution, it is doubly true in the area of marketing.

Given that marketting functions on the basis of generating new needs, carefully distinguished from thsoe needs in which the market is already too competitive or saturated, through a 'means gof seduction', the magic of retail and service supply relies upon the consumer being progressively more sophisticated, simply so as to be able to experience the temptation, the desire, to perceive the need. Likewise in order to practice electronic forms of consumption the subject must be inducted into the use of the necessary equipment to allow them to wander through the barren landscape nof the virtual shopping arcade. As in advertising, where the default signifiers for all 'experiences' are sex and escapist dreams of personla finance transcendence, so has been the case with the drive to electronic cash register, where get rich quick schemes aound IPOs and the common knowledge that the network functions as a giant repository for pornography, have not been insignificant factors in getting people online and thereafter extending the amount of thier day that they devote to that activity.

The evolution of the general intellect unfolds however within precise parameters that limits this escalating sophistication to the role of the individual as consumer, and does not extend it the realm of general social life, where despite exhortations to independence and personal initiative, infantilisation is the dominant tendency. The mechanism employed to this end is regularly that of fear, although often it is mere obscurantism as in the proliferation of unnecessary specialist jargons, In concrete political tems this translates into a tendency for the removal of decsion making from the traditional political space of the parliament etc. altogether and their being entrused into the hands of bureaucrats under the guise of admininstrative orders.

This innovative force inside each of us seeks notwithstanding these constarints to break free. This same force has been the energy behind every utopian p[lan, every cooperative form. On the net we see it in an extra ordinary plurality of ways, from the assembly of massive systems of distribution and production, the assembly of huge archives of creative works accessible to all, the undertaking of the new encyclopedias, the kaleidoscope of different territoies of specialised knowledge, the systmatic outwitting of concentrated knowledges in the areas of security, programming. Exactly as a resulkt of this marvellous proliferation of individuals in community suddenly willing to assume hugely complex tasks, the extension of the laws of copyright, trademark and patents, the crimianlisation of acts of exploration and examination pose themselves as the legal fetters upon the potential to create a new, differnet way of living today. A new form of life defined by our collective ability to enlist one another's different skills (communication) for the purpose of constructing new tools and knowledge, and to do so in circumstances which jettison the historical pyramids of social and productive hierarchy. A way of existing that leaves us free to be the architects of our own life?

The concept of general intellect is pivotal today in a second and related sense. With the end of a productioj model in which the worker was socialised by the stability of a workoplace environemnt (in the sense of 'a job for life'), productive socialisation has been diffused throughout life. The office and manufacturing process may be micro-magnaged, subject to intensifying surveillance, monitoring, evaluation and alteration, but these factors are manifestations as much of a need for control in a context where the more abiding relationships that once disciplin ed labour have been jettisoned.

Emotional and affective states consequent to this ubiquitous destabilisation of the working relationship constitute a primary matter for production, which must either be capitalised upon or marshalled. Inculcated precarity also generates, or exacerbates, the spectres that haunt modern existence on a cross-income level: depression, suicide, pathology, reliance on pharmaceuticals or recreational drugs to cope with everyday dissatisfaction.

The coexistence between the actualisation of the prphecy of the general intellectet and the degraded state of the bodies which inhabit the world reminds us that there is no need for rapture at the productivist accomplishments of the path of capital. Every technical refinement integrated into the means of production has occurred on the terms of capital and at the expense of humanity. Discourses of collective intelligence, linguistic production and affective labour reduce every gesture to the character of work, and pose the question as to whether we desire to perciev and construct our life on these terms. In short, the expansion of the concept of production creates an unbounded territory for more exploitation of life, a subordination of acts to economistic rationales, open season for a truely ubiquitous commodification of activity, and ultimately a legitimation of the penetration of the violence of the market into the most emotional and affective corners of our being.

To state these reservations, or critique the potential conclusions of these tendencies is not to refute the importance of some of the collective practices that have thusfar been described or appropriated by this framework. Development of free software systems, for instance, have vital significance outside of some furnishing of proof of the capacity of a 'multitude' to self-organise production on the basis of its innately innovative character. Indeed, as Eben has underlined, the operative role of free software in the next period will be to ensure that in the war between users and copyright owners over appropriation the machines remain an instrument of conflict open to both sides.

Here, as elsewhere, the universe of possible outcomes is dictated as much by the situation - contextualised in terms that recognise the balance of forces - that will; determine whether the tendency abets the smooth restructuring of domination or escapes it, constituting a resistance and allying itself with other refractory elements that also escape the long arm of capitalist reproduction.

- centrality of intellectual, immaterial and communicative labour - see page 344 Emp.