Saturday, June 25, 2011

Uprising - 2. Defining the Middle East Spring

News analysts have suggested that the recent departure of autocrats in Egypt, Somalia and Tunisia are an    "uprising." The detail is more interesting. What is happening in North Africa are uprisings of the privileged and elites who have not been allowed access to the benefits of globalization and development. This formation is not the same as that described by the uprising associated with proletarianization. That uprising would be the mobilization of the masses seeking total autonomy from established western legal structures.

The latter is the characteristic of jihad and its preferred social world. That is why jihad is so utterly powerful and bothersome - it offers an alternative model to the central tenets of western liberalism. The internet circulates this radical alternative on a global scale.

If proletarianization characterized the North African uprisings, few western democracies would be defending or supporting them. NATO would not be annihilating people in Libya under the pretense of democracy. There have however been aspects of proletarianization in the North African case - for example, the unknown quality and intent of the rebels in Libya. This suggests a mode of revolt that cannot be defined within pre-existing western definitions of government or management.

That is the point of the internet's relationship with proletarianization: it expresses and enhances unregulated aspects of human behavior. In seeking emancipation from the central control of Muammar Gaddafi's government, the rebels have positioned themselves against his Green Revolution, which was about not being "western." The rebels want to be free and in being free they want to be emancipated to be western. Unfortunately, it appears that the kind of "west" they have in mind in more in line with cowboys, not managed development. The latter was arguably achieved by Gaddafi's government. The question is: is the wild west being promoted by NATO and the US?

But the real question about he North African uprisings is how synchronous will the new governments be with the wests's interests? That is all that matters to the powers that be.

This should hardly be surprising. The most successful phase of western-style capitalism has been and continues to be cowboy capitalism. Its bastard offspring is crony capitalism with public subsidy capitalism driving the system for generations. It is not really capitalism at all, as the Chinese know... in fact, the Chinese are closely studying Marx's Das Capital. It is little wonder that they understand capital and its management, while the west continues to celebrate its cowboys. Look at which model is winning! But for the moment, freedom with minimal constraints, little or no regulation is preferred.

Proletarianization is a terrifying prospect for the western mode of thinking, because when it appears in formations such as the Tea Party in the US, it refuses to draw the veil of liberal deception across the public discourse. The internet is lifting the veil to reveal the cowboys, the cronies and the subsidized.

The "uprisings" in North Africa are the beginning of a continuation of  social movements informed and mobilized by internet media. People wanting emancipation now have access to the internet. Recent history has never been so unpredictable.   

Friday, June 24, 2011

Uprising - 1. Understanding the new meaning of proletarianization

The increasingly commonplace view that government and the state is "the problem" can be traced to the rise of the internet. This relationship is defined by the idea that the internet is unregulated. This means it is "free" of government oversight, thereby making possible an endless vista of human ingenuity. It would seem that everyone wants this combination - freedom coupled with ingenuity - and, say the anti-state advocates, government is a hindrance to achieving this state of being.

This theory of "freedom" is complex, which is ironic given that being free should be easy, simple, an everyperson's agreed state of being. The complexity is in the fact that an absence of regulation opens up the vista of human behavior. As soon as regulation is removed, the mass of society becomes much more complex indeed. Previous "agreements" within civil society about what to regulate give way to excess and the excess is what the internet is about.  

This moves marks the reinvention of proletarianization.

The term was first commonly used by Karl Marx and Marxists to describe the impact of the labor theory of value. In this industrial model, wages were given in return for hours worked, and in this relationship it was possible to see the exploitation of the laborer as s/he became valued only for the labor offered. Thus workers underwent a process of proletarianization because their autonomy was taken from them as they were reduced to laborers within the machine of industrial production.

Contemporary proletarianization is a condition where it is possible to see the entire edifice of human behavior, not just labor and its relationship to the capitalist project of surplus value or profit.

In other words, the internet has become the means of opening up this transparency, so that the nature of  being itself is observable. Without regulation every aspect of human behavior has entered the domain of the internet - from crime to pornography to excesses in violence - where it is observed, practiced, promoted, promulgated and sold.

The demise of regulation on the internet is a double edged sword. It allows everything digital to circulate and it allows our entire lives to be observed, surveilled and monitored by governments, corporations and other individuals. The absence of regulation means the new meaning of proletarianization can be understood as the unregulated exposure of human beings.

Next time I will consider the challenge the shift to proletarianization presents to governments which have relied on Western European Enlightenment concepts of regulation. By accepting the internet, they have undone the core rationale for regulation and civil society.  

For more on this subject see, Uprising: The Internet's Unintended Consequences by Marcus Breen at