Uniting Cognitarians is like Herding Cats!

From one of my daily walks across San Francisco, a couple of days after Hurricane Maria had devastated Puerto Rico… months later the story has not improved much.


It’s Thanksgiving 2017 and I’m still here. Haven’t blogged since mid-summer, primarily because I’ve been writing a new Shaping San Francisco guide book to San Francisco that will hopefully come out next autumn with City Lights Books (and maybe Pluto Press too). I’ve also been teaching a class on “Work and the City” at USF to a delightful half dozen grad students who have hungrily devoured the reading and come in every week ready for an interesting discussion (quite a new experience compared to previous teaching gigs). The weekly excursion through labor history and the contemporary politics of work, economy, and urban life has been refreshing for me, reconnecting me with decades of my own passions and long intellectual work (yes, I had them read, among many other things, various Processed World articles as well as the first few chapters of Nowtopia!).

Our weekly classes have provoked a lot of thought for me, as have the ongoing Public Talks at Shaping San Francisco, as well as the half dozen tours and lectures I’ve given this past few months. Trying to make sense of this strange time in history is not easy. The harsh dystopic reality of the Trump administration’s bulldozing approach to facts, compassion, and common sense is a daily affront. But it’s all too easy to fall prey to the Distraction Machine that got us here in the first place, and to lose the ability to look at the bigger picture. Whatever the frantic machinations of the venal kleptocrats around Trump, or the self-serving millionaires who sit in the Congressional majority, there are deeper changes afoot. These changes are global in nature, not limited to the U.S. and its endless self-importance, a national narcissism that grows ever more consuming as the actual power of the country and the culture tips into permanent and inevitable decline.

As I like to do with this blog, I’m going to talk about four books I recently read that complement each other quite well, and offer some compelling insights into this elusive bigger picture. The different authors have different purposes in their works, so they don’t necessarily line up tidily into one discussion, but their overlaps are part of what made me want to finish them before finally taking up this blog again. From darkly pessimistic to perhaps overly hopeful, taken together I think they help frame some of the questions we should be looking at beyond the ebb and flow of daily scandals and predictable barbarisms. The four books are Ellen Ullman’s Life in Code (and I should say that she spoke at our Talks series in October and you can check it out here); Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s Futurability: The Age of Impotence and the Horizon of Possibility; Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest; and the latest from Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Assembly.


Clearly we are on the edge of something new and different, culturally and economically. Nearly everyone is in a state of worried waiting, anticipating various outcomes with their eyes firmly set on the rear-view mirror—are we going to become a full-blown fascist dictatorship? Will we turn away from authoritarian buffoonery and embrace a new New Deal? What else can we imagine going forward, especially given the rapidly changing methods we collectively use globally to produce the basics of life? Will robots and Artificial Intelligence combine to become our new Overlords or will we wrest control of technology and begin radically changing how we work and what we do? And what about the collapse of the planetary ecosphere? Is that now inevitable or can we still avert complete catastrophe through clever adaptation and vigorous reorganization and repurposing of our daily activities? Obviously a lot of these problems are connected!

In Assembly Hardt and Negri cite Carlo Vercellone for extending Marx’s periodization to

the cusp of the twenty-first century, when capital’s center of gravity shifts from large-scale industry to the phase of “general intellect,” that is, production based in increasingly intense and widespread circuits of social cooperation as well as machinic algorhithms as the basis to extract value from the production and reproduction of social life, a phase in which the distinction between the economic and the social is becoming increasingly blurred. (p. 41)

Similarly, Bifo is also rooted in a Marxist sensibility that sees our current era as defined fundamentally by the possibility of transcending the capitalist control of time and space: “The possibility of emancipation of social time from the obligation of salaried work still exists: it is located in the cooperative knowledge of millions of cognitive workers,” (p. 21) but unlike Hardt and Negri’s relative optimism, Bifo has written his book to analyze the blockages and limits that are preventing the cohort of “cognitive workers” from moving forcefully towards self-emancipation. “They are cooperatively running the process of innovation, invention and implementation of knowledge, but they do not know each other. The cooperating brains have no collective body and the private bodies have no collective brain.” (p. 51)

Bifo’s Futurability whipsaws back and forth between his conviction that no social subject exists at this time with the self-consciousness or political agency to pursue emancipation, and his invocation of the possibilities we face:

it is a tendency towards full deployment of the general intellect, the possibility of an emancipation of technology from the semiotic context of capitalism, the liberation of time from salaried work, the revitalization of collective life, and the expansion of care, cultural education and research: a post-labourist future. … The task of free thought is to enable freedom, and freedom means autonomy from the blackmail of realism that forgets the inscribed possibility and only sees the forms of power currently deployed. (p 64)

Photographed on Democracy Wall on Valencia Street in San Francisco…

The Marine Firemen’s Union hall on 2nd Street in San Francisco, soon to be sold and the mural moved (we hope!)… looming above is the black monolith of LinkedIn’s office building.

Hardt and Negri gloss over Bifo’s doubts and assert that rather than a bleak landscape lacking social agents, we can see something quite a bit more hopeful—not only an emergent coherent social opposition, but one with an immanent self-consciousness and purpose:

These movements affirm a beating heart of plural ontology. A pluralism of subjectivities, multiple models of temporality, and a wide variety of modes of struggle, which emerge from different traditions and express different objectives, together form a powerful swarm held together by cooperative logics. Their aim is to create a model of constituent democracy in which differences are able to interact and together create new institutions: against global capital, against the dictatorship of finance, against the biopowers that destroy the earth, against racial hierarchies, and for access to and self-management of the common. (p. 69)

That’s a very rosy interpretation of what can only realistically be seen as a wildly inchoate series of behaviors, groupings, movements, and possibilities. Ellen Ullman, who has worked as a programmer since the early 1980s (a time I remember too well, when I was a “dissident office worker” in the early computerizing office world, and collectivist co-producer of Processed World), warns about invoking the metaphor of the swarm:

One can hardly read about [robotics or artificial life], or talk to a researcher, without coming up on the example of the ant—or the bee, or termite, or swarm, or some other such reference to the insect world (p. 141)… [which leads to a type of automatic thinking that one might accuse Hardt and Negri of succumbing to above] here is the underlying motivation of robotics: an anti-intellectualism in search of the intellect, a flight from introspection, the desire to banish the horrid muddle of all this “thinking about it,” thousands of years of philosophical speculation about what animates us, without notable progress… Don’t think about it; build it—that’s the hope. Equate programming with knowledge. (p. 145)

Hardt and Negri aren’t exactly equating programming with knowledge, but they do fall into prognosticating a type of specific subjective capacity that seems based on very large and abstract perceptions about the dynamics of society and the economy. Still, they offer a very sophisticated and refreshing analysis in Assembly. There is much to chew on and I find that their treatment of “machinic subjectivity” that emerges from a “posthuman contemporary reality” helpfully dispenses with the tired dichotomy of humans vs. technology that has gotten us nowhere in two centuries of hand-wringing. As they argue, “humans and machines are part of a mutually constituted social reality,” (p. 110) and the embodied general intellect in fixed capital is “the memory and storehouse of past physical and intellectual labor [which] is increasingly embedded in ‘the social individual,’… To the same degree that capital, as this process proceeds, loses the capacity for self-realization, the social individual gains autonomy.” (p. 114) While I can understand what they’re arguing, it’s worth objecting to the abstraction of “the social individual” which is either everyone or no one, and given the wildly disparate subjective realities we all inhabit (and H&N celebrate as the foundation of their “multitudes”), it’s not clear what or who is “gaining autonomy” in this analysis. Similarly, how is capital losing its ability for “self-realization”? In other parts of the book which I’ll bring in below, they offer an excellent analysis of the role of extractive financialization and the use of derivatives to reinforce the cycle of capital accumulation through a harshly imposed monetization.

Goodwill torn down in a few days, soon to be replaced by a new apartment tower at Mission and South Van Ness.

Dozens of towers going up in San Francisco, offices and luxury condos, soon to be full of … cognitarians?

Autonomous vehicles clog our streets.

The glib assertion of some kind of growing autonomous social being emerging from the messy cacophony of this era’s brutal and barbaric enclosures of the last common lands, resources, and human time and spaces is hard to “buy.” Ullman’s long experience among brogrammers and in the skewed world of software production that is shaping the technosphere leads us to a rather different perspective on the capacities that are growing for self-emancipation:

No one left who understands. Air-traffic control systems, bookkeeping, drafting, circuit design, spelling, assembly lines, ordering systems, network communications, rocket launchers, atom-bomb silos, electric generators, operating systems, fuel injectors, CAT scans—an exploding list of subjects, objects, and processes rushing into code, which eventually will be left running without anyone left who understands them. A world floating atop a sea of programs we’ve come to rely on but no longer truly control. Code and forget, code and forget: programming as a collective exercise in incremental forgetting. (p. 52)
Programmers do not decide which new systems should be built and which should be abandoned. Programmers do not allocate company resources to one project or another. Programmers are the resources. Managers make those decisions. Corporate officers make those decisions. Venture capitalists decide which new technologies shall be funded and which shall not. (p. 66)

This dovetails with the realistic pessimism of Bifo, who underscores the role of economics:

Economics pretends to be a science. Actually, economists do not produce concepts for the explanation of social reality, nor express general laws concerning production and exchange. They are paid to undertake a different task: reinforcing the laws of capitalism upon the dynamics of knowledge, technology, and cooperation. Economics, in fact, rather than a science, should be viewed as a technology for the exploitation of existing resources, particularly of labor, in the unquestionable framework of growth, accumulation and profit. (p. 195)
When the engineer is controlled by the economist, he produces machines only for the entanglement of human time and intelligence in the interest of profit maximization, capital accumulation, and war. When the engineer interfaces with the artist, his machines are intended for social usefulness and the reduction of work time. When the engineer is controlled by the economist, his horizon is economic growth, and his activity is made compatible with code. When he is linked to the artist, his horizon is the infinity of nature and language. (p. 221)
The next fight will be about the autonomy of knowledge from the epistemological and practical hegemony of the economic paradigm. (p. 203)…

Lacking Ullman’s daily life experience over decades among programmers and other “cognitarians,” Bifo implausibly proposes knowledge workers as holding the key to an emancipatory path:

Those who have the potency to disentangle the content of knowledge and technology are those who produce this content: the cognitarians. Disentangling their activity and their cooperation from the gestalt of accumulation is the only way. (p. 224)

Ullman’s book is a collection of essays tracing her work life and ruminations on technology, culture, and society from the late 1980s to the present. By the time she’s closer to our era, she’s worried about the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) as they shrink and narrow the experience of learning to automated measuring systems. As she participates in an online “discussion” about algorithms she can’t stop thinking about the Elephant in the room, and asks if anyone is thinking about how the algorithms are being used. “I receive two replies. The first is “Uhm.” The second is a rebuke, saying that the political considerations are “not appropriate” to this course.” (p. 264)

It is the use of algorithms and their dramatic effects on our social and political lives that are one of the primary concerns of Zeynep Tufekci’s fascinating study Twitter and Tear Gas. She is rooted in the antiauthoritarian social movements that have erupted again and again since the mid-1990s, starting with the Zapatistas in Mexico and moving through the Seattle revolt against the WTO, the ensuing anti-globalization summits in Washington DC, Genova Italy, and eventually reappearing suddenly in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Spain, Occupy Wall Street, Gezi Park in Istanbul, etc. Her sympathy for and participation in these movements helps her highlight the passionate commitments and deep relationships that have been forged in the past two decades of protest and upheaval.

Many protesters I talk with especially hold dear the moments when a total stranger helped them through tear gas, pressurized water, live bullets, camel attacks, or whatever came their way. For many, the protest is the pinnacle of an existential moment of solidarity when strangers became family, united in rebellion… rebellion is a place for extraordinary communities, however brief or lengthy they may be. (p. 105)

It is her on-the-ground experience, too, that helps her take a critical look at how “the Tyranny of Structurelessness has merged with the Tyranny of the Platforms,” and help us understand why so much sound and fury has ultimately not led to more profound changes so far. Theorizing about signal and noise, capacity signaling, and how adhocracy has turned some traditional organizing experiences upside down provides a view of how such promising uprisings have so quickly been derailed by both internal and external forces.

In the past, this was more organic to the process of taking care of tasks and preparation for acts of protest, from rallies to marches to producing dissident media—there was no other way to do it quickly or on-the-fly. Taking care of such tasks through digital adhocratic methods leads to many significant consequences, ranging from inverted movement trajectories (protest first, organize later unlike the past where a large protest was a culmination of long-term work) to complex frailties including tactical freeze, where movements cannot quickly respond to changing conditions and have an inability to negotiate and delegate when necessary—since they have no strong means of collectively making decisions and adapting to new circumstances. (p. 270)

Analyzing the lack of transparency when it comes to online algorithms, such as the one(s) employed by Facebook, is important because so many people now stay within Facebook when they are reading the news. A large majority have no idea what an algorithm that sorts their news feeds is or how it works, and that ignorance gives Facebook a crazy amount of social power to determine what rises to consciousness and what disappears into irrelevance. Tufekci really shines in her look at the evolution of censorship online, using examples of China, Turkey, and the current U.S. It may surprise some to learn that the massive online Chinese social media world is not heavily censored in terms of suppressing unwanted points of view. Rather, the technique developed by Chinese authorities is to crowd out ideas and information that they don’t want widely known. An army of state employees begins posting and cross-linking and cross-posting “news” that distracts or ignores any breaking story that the government wants to bury. By filling the algorithmic space with “more popular” posts, the dissenting views or news disappears from feeds.

This lesson has been taken to heart by the alt-right in the U.S. in support of Trumpism. The stage was set for their success by the long effort of underground media stretching back to the 1960s and earlier to discredit the mainstream media for its inherent biases, its slavish devotion to authority, being the mouthpiece of “official” news, and so on. Ellen Ullman after reading a Trump tweet is reminded of 1998 and the

“the process of removing the intermediaries who for centuries had been part of our economic and social relationships. We were witnessing a moment when the public was being coerced into believing that the brokers, jobbers, agents who traditionally had been involved in their transactions—even librarians and journalists—were incompetents, out for themselves, dishonest, the next to thing to snake-oil salesmen and mustache twirlers. The intermediaries were useless; you could trust only websites; go directly to the internet.” (p. 297)

The general skepticism towards the gatekeepers of our shared culture was well established by left critiques long before the “101st Fighting Keyboardists” began polluting all online comment forums with hateful and incoherent denunciations and comments, before the alt-right began spewing its paranoid conspiracy theories and flooding social media with racist and misogynist attacks, and before the Liar-in-Chief began using Twitter in ways that have Orwell spinning in his grave.

Like the printing press and the industrial revolution, this historical transformation in digital connectivity and computing is a complex, dialectical process with no clear teleology, no predetermined outcome or preset group of winners and losers. The same undermining of gatekeepers that has permitted social movements to bring the facts to the public despite active repression by authoritarian regimes or casual indifference also enable the effective suppression of the facts through the proliferation of fake news. (p. 267)

I really appreciated Tufekci’s analysis of how social media has so quickly gone from a vibrant space of free expression allowing lots of interesting views to be heard, bypassing the stodgy and complacent mainstream, to being a highly polarized place where outspoken women are drowned by hundreds and thousands of malignant, often life-threatening messages, where completely insane ideas are peddled and reposted ad nauseum by mysteriously cynical entities whose only goal seems to be to render the space itself meaningless (or at least extremely unpleasant). She usefully connects it to the original campaign of Big Tobacco to sow doubt about the relationship between cancer and cigarettes. The same technique has been backed by literally millions of Koch Brothers dollars in paid propaganda to discredit the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change and carbon dioxide. Turns out, the same technique is easily imposed on social media, serving as a type of “denial of service” attack that overloads the channels and spaces with bullshit to bury any reasonable, accountable, and fact-based arguments.

The aim of twenty-first-century powers is to break the causal chain linking information dissemination to the generation of individual will and agency, individual will and agency to protests, and protests to social movement action. Rather than attempt to break the first link, information dissemination, censorship through information glut focuses on the second link, weakening the agency that might be generated by information. (p. 229) … Censorship by disinformation focuses on attention as the key resource to be destroyed and credibility and legitimacy as the key components necessary for a public sphere that can support dissident views—or indeed, any coherent views. Rand Corporation researchers refer to this phenomenon as the “firehose of falsehood” propaganda model. The primary goal is simple: “to confuse and overwhelm” the audience. (p. 239) … The goal is to drown out the voices of informed commentators, dissidents, and social movement activists in an online cacophony, and to make it practically impossible to use social media to hold a sane political conversation based on facts and a shared broadly empirical framework among the populace…. The result is a frayed, incoherent, and polarized public sphere that can be hostile to dissent because the incoherence displaces politics. Unlike mass media failures, it is often not even clear who to hold responsible, or how to improve the situations. (p. 240) … Confusion and doubt do not have the same effects on those in power as on the movements that challenge power: there is a fundamental asymmetry. Social movements, by their nature, attempt change and call for action, but doubt leads to inaction that perpetuates the status quo. The paralysis and disempowerment of doubt leads to the loss of credibility, spread of confusion, inaction and withdrawal from the issue by ordinary people, depriving movements of energy. If everything is in doubt, while the world is run by secret cabals that successfully manipulate everything behind the scenes, why bother? (p. 250)

Indeed, why bother? Who hasn’t felt that way lately? It’s part of why I don’t put so much effort into writing new pieces for this blog. But another part of me, mostly dedicated to Shaping San Francisco and our ever-growing archive at Foundsf.org, keeps the fire burning and doggedly pursues my long-term commitment to public discourse, horizontal politics, and creating and using public space(s). Back in the 1980s and early ‘90s when we were publishing Processed World we assumed that our subjective revolt against the stupidity of work was a shared experience, especially in the white-collar office and tech sector. So it seemed for a while, but a quarter century later, it’s vanishingly rare to find dissent expressed by “cognitarians” or pixel pushers or digital artisans or any group deeply involved in the tech sector. Ellen Ullman recalls in an essay she wrote in 2000 that renowned cryptographer and software enthusiast Whitfield Diffie advocated for some kind of collective organization and collective bargaining among knowledge workers–”We need the rise of labor again,” she quotes him as saying. But Bifo dispels that fantasy by reminding us that the very idea of “working class” is not an “ontological truth”:

…it is the effect of a shared imagination and consciousness. It is a mythology, in the strong sense of the world; a narration about the present and about the possible future. That narration vanished together with the social conditions of industrial production and with the end of the physical mass of workers in the space of factories. Over the last three decades, the cultural conditions for class self-perception have been negated by the post-industrial transformation of capitalism. (p. 113) Social precarity can, indeed, be described as a condition in which workers are continuously changing their individual positions so that nobody will ever meet anybody in the same place twice. Cooperation without physical proximity is the condition of existential loneliness coupled with all-pervading productivity. Workers do not perceive themselves anymore as parts of a living community: they are rather compelled to compete in a condition of loneliness. Although they are exploited in the same way by the same capitalist entity, the are no longer a social class because in their material condition they can no longer produce collective self-consciousness or the spontaneous solidarity of a community of people who live in the same place and share the same destiny. (p. 112) …the dialectic methodology has been useful to describe the process of subjectivation when labor was a unified mass of people working together every day in the same place for a lifetime, but precarization has decomposed labor up to the point of dissolving the necessary conditions for class self-perception. (p. 191)

“Karl the Fog” rolls in on October 28, our free built-in air conditioning!

In late September the brogrammers and their hangers-on and many others jammed into Dolores Park nearly every day…

Two days after the devastating wildfires 70 miles north, San Francisco air was filled with smoke and toxic particles from the incinerated suburbia that had gone up in smoke in the north bay. Dolores Park was deserted as people stayed in to avoid the air.

Surprisingly, perhaps revealing that he is not without some hope of his own, Bifo invokes a lyrical fantasy of social opposition based on the same people he describes above as being incapable of self-recognition or collective action. “…this is the only prospect we can pursue in this time of obscurantism: creating solidarity among the bodies of cognitive workers worldwide and building a techno-poetical platform for the collaboration of cognitive workers so as to liberate knowledge from religious dogma and from economic dogma, too.” (p. 144) Much as I like his book, and his work in general, I find this fantastical notion of a leading role for cognitive workers extremely far-fetched, except insofar as one defines “cognitive workers” as nearly everyone working for a wage. Because in spite of the fear and confusion I still think the daily experience of work is preponderantly stupid and counterproductive, and though few will call out the Emperor’s lack of clothes, nearly everyone can see it if they let themselves. What really keeps it all going is coercion. The whip-hand of massive debt is currently held by finance capital. In spite of the 2008 crash and the stark nakedness of the speculative madness that underpins the banking and financial sectors, it was those sectors who received more than a decade of interest-free money to “restore their balance sheets,” while gouging everyone else. From former and current mortgage holders to renters to student loan debtors, most people in the U.S. are deeply in debt and paralyzed with fear about not being able to keep the money flowing to their creditors at all costs.

Hardt and Negri usefully take on private property as the foundational institution that defines and maintains so effectively the cycle of fear:

Scratch the surface of private property’s veneer of security and you will find its real foundation: fear. The society of private property manages and propagates fear. The racially segregated metropolis, for example, from Ferguson and Baltimore to Sao Paulo, London, and Paris, is a boiling cauldron of fear that periodically overflows in rage and revolt. Private property is only one weapon in the arsenal of racial subordination and violence, but it is a fundamental one that has been deployed constantly at least since slavery. (p. 101) The fact that production in contemporary capitalist society is ever more cooperative and socialized strains to the breaking point the link between individual labor and private property promoted by capitalist ideology. It no longer makes sense to isolate the one whose labor created some thing or, as patent law imagines, some idea. The one never produces. We only produce together, socially. Wealth continues to be produced by labor, in other words, in increasingly social networks of laboring cooperation, but the concept of private property based on labor becomes merely an ideological remnant—and the modern conceptions of property (along with, in part, Marx’s own) becomes obsolete. (p. 93)

Bifo describes the war being waged by a tiny minority of the population against everyone else:

The accumulation of abstract value depends on the subjugation of the population to debt, and on the predation of existing resources. This emancipation of capital accumulation from the production of useful things results in a process of annihilation of social welfare. (p. 156) Privatization of war is an obvious feature of neoliberal deregulation, and the same paradigm has generated Halliburton and the Sinoloa Cartel, Blackwater and Daesh [Isis]. The business of violence is one of the main branches of the global economy, and financial abstraction does not discriminate against criminal money. (p. 135) …financial capital is not planning for any future, as the future is now, in the instantaneous valorization of virtual value and in the devastation of the radial spaces of physical territory. (p. 139)

We are living through a period of extremely accelerated exploitation of anything that can possibly be exploited, consequences be damned. Writ large, it is an economy based on extractivism—extracting oil, minerals, rare earths, fresh water, ocean life, from any lands or waters it can be grabbed from. But also, what is specific to our era is the extraction of the immeasureable wealth we create everyday in vast cooperative networks that make up the production and reproduction of everyday life. Though increasing numbers of people are precariously employed and make money from multiple sources, often irregularly, the owners of capital have found real estate markets to be very well honed ways to gather wealth from anyone and everyone no matter how poor or precarious. Here’s Hardt and Negri again:

Real estate markets, dominated by finance, should be understood as vast fields for the extraction of social values across urban and rural territories. (p. 169) … Debt provides one mechanism to extract value from social life. Home mortgages and rental practices (along with foreclosures and evictions), for example, form one apparatus for capturing and extracting wealth from the poor and middle classes… Finance is itself an extractive industry. It is not only a power of abstraction and centralization but also an apparatus that directly captures and extracts value from social production… We can also see that the contemporary predominance of finance comes about as a reaction to the growing centrality of social production and ultimately it responds to the accumulation of resistances and revolts that destroyed the bases of the industrial and disciplinary regime. (p. 171-72)

The analysis of neoliberalism, framing it as a response to the uprisings of the 1960s and early ‘70s, is one of best contributions of Assembly. So much writing about neoliberalism takes Thatcher’s proclamation that “There Is No Alternative” as a self-evident truism about the past few decades. But Hardt and Negri instead puncture the glib certainties of market proponents by showing how neoliberalism emerged precisely to capture the ways people were moving to liberate themselves from the capitalism of the industrial era.

Is neoliberal freedom, then, merely freedom from social responsibilities for the wealthy and the corporations while the rest are convinced that their enslavement is actually their freedom? Yes, in part, but something more substantial is going on too, which can be recognized only from below. Beneath neoliberalism, as Gago suggests, are social forms of self-management and cooperation, whose value it seeks to extract. We should remember, of course, that self-management was one of the core demands of the struggles throughout the world of colonized peoples, feminists, the racially subordinated, organized workers, and others that reached a peak in the 1960s and ‘70s. Those struggles not only made society ungovernable and threw modern administration into crisis but they also developed widespread alternative capacities of social organization and institution. (p. 211)

After all these quotes, I will end with a few quick ones from each of the books, highlighting some of their more hopeful and liberatory moments:

Zeynep Tufekci:

Th[e] affirmation of belonging outside money relationships and of the intimacy of caring for people is the core of what motivates many to participate in protests. It explains the presence of libraries, the sites’ cleanliness, and people’s deeply felt desire and motivation to stand with one another in rebellion. (p. 94)

Ellen Ullman exhorts the cognitarians!

To my hoped-for new programming army. You are society’s best hope for loosening the stranglehold of the code that surrounds us. Enlist compatriots. Upset assumptions. It will take time and perseverance, but you can do it. Stick a needle into the shiny bubble of the technical world’s received wisdom. Burst it. (p. 247)

Bifo needs some more friends:

We need a senile approach to the problem of the future. The cult of competition must be replaced by the cult of solidarity and of sharing. (p. 95) … But in order to seize the possible and to actualize it, we need friendship, solidarity, happiness and the ability to take pleasure in physical relations. This is what we lack today. Not hope, not faith, but friendship is what is truly lacking. (p. 99)

Hardt & Negri can imagine some really weird algorithms:

Today we can really begin to think of a reappropriation of fixed capital by the workers and the integration of intelligent machines under autonomous social control into their lives, a process, for example, of the construction of algorithms disposed to the self-valorization of cooperative social production and reproduction in all of their articulations. (p. 119)

I hope this odd collection of quotes and thoughts stimulates further thought. I’d love to discuss these ideas with anyone else out there who is thinking along these lines… Truly, I miss having a Processed World collective to bat ideas around with, even if we rarely touched on theory as complicated as this.

Farewell to cellspace, torn down in the past weeks on Bryant between Mariposa and 19th… to be replaced by a 5-story apartment building.

John Law makes sure we’ll never forget Doggie Diner… the heads are refurbished and enjoying a busy social life. seen here in front of the once and future Armory.

The Warriors new stadium under construction in Mission Bay… sigh.

In early 2016 the site where the Warriors are building their new (unneeded) stadium was happily returning to wetlands!


3 comments to Uniting Cognitarians is like Herding Cats!

  • Deborah KAplan

    Thanks Chris. I appreciate you taking the time for public discourse, and will definitely read a couple of the books you mention.

  • Molly Martin

    Thanks Chris. You’ve given us a lot to chew on.

  • Vanessa Vaile

    A tangle or tangled network of multiple, overlapping complementary threads is increasingly my own reading/reflecting/saving/remixing norm. Although far more interesting than linear tidiness, remembering where I stashed them and finding them again is a challenge. Tagging, bookmarking, hyperlinking, and creating tag feeds all help. Whichever in-progress collection this post goes to, I’m bookmarking it to cities for the photos.

    I can count on some writers — you’re one — to keep coming up, starting with “Solidarity…Forever” book review and labor history ramble. I shared and posted about it quite a bit, others in between, and am now sharing this to Precarious Faculty on FB because I want others to read it. That page used to be more about adjunct faculty but is evolving into precarity and precarious labor. Eventually I’ll change the name but only get one more so can’t be hasty.

    Right now I’m reading Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction, which seems to fit with the four you review. Just as with “Solidarity,” I’ll be re-reading your post for a while.

    My own blogging gap is even longer — too much churning around and where to start keep me from starting or finishing. Draft folders overflow. Your “odd collection of quotes and thoughts” (images too) encourages me.

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