For the moment, commercial drones are, unequivocally, legal in American skies after a federal judge has ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration has not made any legally binding rules against it.
The judge dismissed the FAA’s case against Raphael Pirker, the first (and only) person the agency has tried to fine for flying a drone commercially. The agency has repeatedly claimed that flying a drone for commercial purposes is illegal and has said that there’s “no gray area” in the law. The latter now appears to be true, but it hasn’t gone the way the FAA would have hoped. Patrick Geraghty, a judge with the National Transportation Safety Board, ruled that there are no laws against flying a drone commercially.
The FAA attempted to fine the 29-year-old Pirker $10,000 after he used a drone to film a commercial at the University of Virginia. Pirker and his lawyer, Brendan Schulman, fought the case, saying that the FAA has never regulated model aircraft and that it’s entire basis for making them “illegal,” a 2007 policy notice, was not legally binding. The FAA has never undertaken the required public notice necessary to make an official regulation.
Geraghty agreed: The FAA “has not issued an enforceable Federal Acquisition Regulation regulatory rule governing model aircraft operation; has historically exempted model aircraft from the statutory FAR definitions of ‘aircraft’ by relegating model aircraft operations to voluntary compliance with the guidance expressed in [the 2007 policy notice], Respondent’s model aircraft operation was not subject to FAR regulation and enforcement.”
I presume the FAA will new pass new rules making explicit that they thought their 2007 policy notice implied.
Announcing the Future of Work community's first chapters and meetings
I have been working with a small group of dedicated volunteers on turning an idea into reality, and we are ready to make some announcements, but first, a recap.
A few months ago I started to realize that although there are dozens of organizations and groups exploring aspects of the future of work, I hadn’t found an open international community with regular meetings organized by local chapters.
I said at that time that I would try to get such a community off the ground, with the help of other participants, organizations, and sponsors.
I picked the name Chautauqua after the adult education movement of late 19th and early 20th century, but that name has proven confusing (and hard to spell). So we’ve changed to name to be more obvious: the Future of Work community, with a website at futureofwork.co, and an open community supported by Mightybell technology at mightybell.com/communities/futureofwork.
I hope you will join. We are an open community investigating the future of work, cooperating to find and advance new ways of working together, to redefine our connection to work and each other, and ultimately, through that, to change the world.
And today the biggest news: We have three chapters — Boston, New York City, and Austin — and all three have scheduled their first meetings.
Austin — 6:30pm-8pm 27 March 2014 - at Tech Ranch, 9111 Jollyville Rd #100, Austin, TX 78759 (512) 339-3242 - contact: KAT MANDELSTEIN
Boston — 6:30pm-8pm 3 April 2014 - at IdeaPaint, 40 Broad Street, Boston, MA 02109 (800) 393.5250 - contact LAURA GAUNT
New York — 6:30pm-8pm 24 March 2014 - at Grind Park, 419 Park Avenue South, Second Floor, New York, NY 10016 (646) 558 3250 - contact: GUY ALVAREZ
The topic for these first meetings — and for the first meeting of any new chapter — is the Future of Work, but also to discuss the rationale for a community of interest and practice around the changing foundations of work — for business, the workforce, and the individual.
“We all know our systems are really broken. They have overgrown sort of their role and responsibility. They were originally written or created when there was a lot less of us, and there wasn’t this sort of interconnection between corporations, people and goods. So, when our democracies were originally founded, it was around the time or around—took about 50 years to evolve after the first information revolution, when we started to print books. And that’s when we moved the kings away and the popes and the bishops and the princesses and the princes, and got representative government, or… But what happened in the meantime, like it’s been a long, long, long time. We had a new information revolution, where we came to understand, hey, it’s not only in my country that it looks like we have a dictatorship with many heads, where the politicians have become professional politicians, and they are so far removed from the reality of what most people are living in.”—
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Senseable City Lab recently conducted a study showing that social media messages grow shorter as the volume of activity rises. “This helps us better understand what is going on—the way we respond to things becomes faster and more impulsive,” says MIT professor Carlo Ratti. For example, at times of lower activity, the most popular length of tweets ranges from about 70 to 120 characters. However, at moments of greater traffic, the highest concentration of tweets is only about 25 characters in length. “If you plot the rate of the messages versus the length, then you can find a mathematical relation between these two things during [major] events,” says MIT’s Michael Szell. The researchers focused on data from several social media sources at a variety of points in time. University of Namur mathematician Renaud Lambiotte says this is “an interesting piece of research” that may lead to fruitful follow-up work, “in particular for the modeling of the relation between behavioral response and emotional stimuli.” The study also found an “index of frustration” among some social media users, particularly during major events when a small portion of users run up against Twitter’s 140-character limit.
University of Maryland professor Ben Shneiderman, working with researchers from the Pew Research Internet Project, the Social Media Research Foundation, and the University of Georgia, has found that most of the information being discussed on Twitter falls into six distinct patterns or networks. Their study analyzed tens of thousands of Twitter conversations over the past four years and developed a “topographical map” of these patterns based on the topic being discussed, the information and influencers driving the conversation, and the social network structures of the participants. The six network patterns the researchers found are polarized crowds, tight crowds, brand clusters, community clusters, broadcast networks, and support networks. “What we’ve done is to provide a visual map of the Twitterverse that will ultimately help others to better interpret the trends, topics, and implications of these new communication technologies,” Shneiderman says. The researchers used NodeXL, an open source program, to interpret the data. NodeXL enables researchers to examine the combination of tweets, retweets, and the social networks Twitter users. “It could eventually have a large impact on our understanding of everything from health to community safety, from business innovation to citizen science, and from civic engagement to sustainable energy programs,” Shneiderman says.
The new, more emphatically liberal City Council was in full swing on Wednesday, expanding New York’s law on paid sick leave from the watered-down version passed last year and approving a resolution supporting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for expanded prekindergarten.
Shortly after taking office in January, Mr. de Blasio, along with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, announced that the Council would broaden the sick leave law, which has yet to go into effect, to apply to more businesses.
The new law will require businesses with five or more employees to provide up to five paid days off a year if the employees or their relatives become ill. The original law applied only to businesses with 15 or more employees. The new law will take effect in April, when the original law was set to take effect.
Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a prekindergarten class at Public School 130 in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, after a news conference about his preschool plan.De Blasio Says New York Can Add 29,000 Pre-K SeatsFEB. 25, 2014 “No one should have to choose between their job and their health,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said at a news conference before the Council meeting. “No parent should have to choose between caring for a child and putting food on the table.”
Mr. de Blasio said in a statement that the new law would extend paid sick leave to 500,000 more workers. “From waitresses and dishwashers to store clerks and carwash workers,” the mayor said, “New Yorkers across the five boroughs will finally have legal protection to a basic right that so many of us take for granted each day — and employers will benefit from a stronger and healthier work force.”
The city government is stepping in to rectify a wrong in our society, where the well-off and well-jobbed get access to sick leave, while hourly employees often don’t.
The push for rectification of inequality can’t come from Washington these days, when the GOP can foil any progressive legislation. We are going to see real change emerge at the city level, as in this case, and at the state level for things like marijuana legalization, and other employment protections. Don’t expect Obama to be able to do much of anything given his low approval level and an intransigent GOP-dominated House.
“The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders.”—Isaac Asimov, Visit to the World’s Fair of 2014 (1964)
The “Terminator” franchise proposes a future in which humans are fighting against Skynet, an Artificial Intelligence. At least that’s what the humans think they are fighting.
An alternative way to think about this future, is that there is no Artificial Intelligence. Instead, the elites have separated themselves from the proletariat and have begun a genocidal war against them using killer drones.
Which future is more likely? A menacing singularity or a group of resistance fighters being hunted down by drones from an unknown enemy? I imagine that it must feel a lot like the latter in Afghanistan. Polls show that 92% of Afghans have never heard of 9/11. They are presently fighting a war with no history, and no future.
I’ve known Charlene from back in the days when she was a superstar analyst at Forrester Research prior to the founding of Altimeter Group, and we’ve remained close friends since that time. She’s now even more well-known from her writing and research, and I continue to be a great admirer of her work and thinking.
About Charlene Li
From the Altimeter Group site:
Charlene is the Founder of Altimeter Group and the author of the New York Times bestseller, Open Leadership. She is also the coauthor of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book Groundswell, which was named one of the best business books in 2008.
She is one of the foremost experts on social media and technologies and a consultant and independent thought leader on leadership, strategy, social technologies, interactive media and marketing. Formerly Li was vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, worked in online newspaper publishing, and was a consultant with Monitor Group. She was named one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company in 2010 and one of the most influential women in technology 2009.
Stowe Boyd: I read your Trends to Watch in 2014 post, and thought I’d dig into the two research fronts you are pursuing, personally, in 2014. You wrote that you were ‘extending my research on leadership and organizations to look at how companies are engaging empowered employees and designing holistic strategies that create and define the future of work’. Perhaps you could expand on that research agenda a bit?
Charlene Li: One of the biggest challenges facing organizations has always been how to find and keep motivated, engaged employees. That’s because in a complex and competitive world, having each and every employee be fully present and passionate about their job can give you a huge advantage — so why wouldn’t we want to do this as leaders?
The shift with digital, social, and mobile technologies has brought the issue of empowered employees to the forefront of strategy. Up to this point, most enterprise energy has been expended on containing the power of “rogue” employees who post less-than-complimentary content, pictures, and video of themselves at work. But more recently, organizations realize that employees provide what is perhaps the best way to engage with a diverse customer base distributed throughout the digital landscape. So rather than muffle employees, organizations want to figure out how encourage their “safe” engagement and amplify those voices. This requires a completely different way of thinking about the underlying relationship between employee and employees. I frequently ask my audiences, “How would you feel if everyone of your employees was empowered to be a marketer? Would you be absolutely thrilled — or absolutely terrified?” Most organizations would admit the second, but recognize that they really need to answer in the affirmative to the first question. So my research is looking at how are organizations are thinking strategically about engaging employees and empowering them to act on their best judgment of what is good and best for the company. I’m finding that leaders in these organizations think about strategic transformation at the most deep-rooted intersections of organizations, changing the nature of power relations. I’m interested in learning how they do this in a systematic way and how technologies help them and the organization on the transformation journey.
SB: Do you find those changes in power relations involve an increase in individual autonomy, and a corresponding decrease in managerial authority?
CL: While I do see an increase in individual autonomy, there’s also a shift to and increase in accountability for that individual back to the manager. The actual nature of the relationship shifts with the manager tracking less the time and specific activities and focusing more on broad outcomes. The manager’s role thus shifts to higher order issues — such as goal setting and roadblock blasting, rather than micro-managing.
SB: You also said you’d be looking more deeply into how companies are ‘designing holistic strategies that create and define the future of work’. Is it strategy formulation in the classic model that you are looking into? Where a small group devise a plan to enter a new industry, for example? Or are you talking about a strategic effort to change how work is done, and how people are engaged?
CL: I’m curious about how big, established organizations go about doing this. This is not to discount the efforts of a small group seeking to foment disruption — they have different challenges, namely related to getting traction and scaling their disruption. I believe that enterprises have a much harder task — creating meaningful change. Meaningful change by definition is hard and painful, so strategies are needed to paint the picture of why and how the painful change is needed.
So this is classic strategy development — defining the goal, crafting how execution roadmap over time, and putting in place the metrics that tell us if and when we’ve reached the goal AND created value in the process. Without this concrete alignment, any efforts at creating a new way of working or redefining how work will be done, lacks the strategic context to make the change and ultimately, to have an impact.
SB: Mintzberg’s emergent strategy idea is at variance with that classic model of deliberate strategy. As Hax and Mojluf wrote (Strategy and the Strategy Formation Process) regarding the differences,
When a deliberate strategy is realized, the result matches the intended course of action. An emergent strategy develops when an organization takes a series of actions that with time turn into a consistent pattern of behavior, regardless of specific intentions.
I wonder if we are in a period of such rapid change and uncertainty that deliberate strategy may just be too slow, and may rely too strongly on being right about economic conditions in the near future?
CL: When I mean classic strategy development, I’m talking about the core elements of strategy alignment — not necessarily the long, arduous process typically associated with management consulting projects. I’m a firm believer of rapidly developing the core strategy — you should be able to tell the strategy as a story that everyone can repeat over and over again. If it’s more complex than that, you can’t align around it. The emergent strategy works very well and is absolutely needed — the strategy is good only as long as it is resilient in the face of rapid changing forces. But I do believe that you need at least some foundational direction and guiding principles of what you want the highest level of the strategy to accomplish.
SB: The abiding question of Socialogy is to ask the question ‘what domain of science should we be looking into for better ideas about how business might be better conducted?’ Recent answers include social network theory, biology, and complexity. What’s your take?
CL: Recently, I’ve been hitting my bookshelf and reaching for the Founding Fathers of Sociology — Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Marx asked profound questions about the relationship between workers, capital, and culture — and threw in a good dose of economics to explain it all. For example, I look at the emergence of the Sharing Economy through the lens of Marxist sociology to understand how the relationship is shifting capital from institutions to individuals. How can we continually shift production AND capital to the “workers” so that we can keep the negative effects of capitalism at bay?Durkheim coined the term “collective consciousness” and he explored what it is that holds a society together. I go back to the fundamentals of how we form communities and connections and am particularly intrigued by the success of Secret and Whisper. What does the success of these sites say about our collective consciousness? How has identity and anonymity changed the way we hold each other in societal relationships — and what’s the role of anonymity within a society like an organization?
And lastly Weber did some of the earliest work about the formation of bureaucracies. He wrote, “Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge.” He wrote about efficiencies of bureaucracies while also acknowledging how they create an “iron cage”. Now enter our current age of knowledge and sharing, and especially the silo-breaking use of enterprise social networks and collaboration platforms within organizations. I can’t help but wonder what these three great sociologists would think about the world that we live in today. How would they describe, analyze and understand our world? They employed the vast field of social sciences from economics to psychology to form new hypotheses of how society putters along. I hope that we think like Marx, Durkheim, and Weber in a holistic, broad way about what fundamentally makes us a society — and not fall to simple theories to describe our complexity as interconnected humans.
SB: Thank you for that perspective: it was inspirational. And thanks again for your time.
CL: Stowe, it’s always great fun and thought provoking to engage with you!
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
The real action to date on driverless vehicles has been military (canonical ‘drones’), and commercial transport (like mining, and rail transportation, like the trains at airports). Next up: giant cargo ships.
In an age of aerial drones and driverless cars, Rolls-Royce (RR/) Holdings Plc is designing unmanned cargo ships.
Rolls-Royce’s Blue Ocean development team has set up a virtual-reality prototype at its office in Alesund, Norway, that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel’s bridge. Eventually, the London-based manufacturer of engines and turbines says, captains on dry land will use similar control centers to command hundreds of crewless ships.
Drone ships would be safer, cheaper and less polluting for the $375 billion shipping industry that carries 90 percent of world trade, Rolls-Royce says. They might be deployed in regions such as the Baltic Sea within a decade, while regulatory hurdles and industry and union skepticism about cost and safety will slow global adoption, said Oskar Levander, the company’s vice president of innovation in marine engineering and technology.
“Now the technology is at the level where we can make this happen, and society is moving in this direction,” Levander said by phone last month. “If we want marine to do this, now is the time to move.”
Crews will offer no safety advantage after ships evolve equipment for remote control, preventive maintenance and emergency back-ups, Levander said. Unmanned ships will need constant and comprehensive computer monitoring to anticipate failures in advance and “redundant” systems to kick in, similar to those on airplanes, he said.
The computers would also be constantly analyzing operations data to improve efficiency and save money, he said. Cameras and sensors can already detect obstacles in the water better than the human eye.
Human error causes most maritime accidents, often relating to fatigue, according to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty AG. Total losses are declining, with 106 in 2012, 24 percent below the 10-year average, according to the most recent data from the unit of the Munich-based insurer.
Unmanned ships would also reduce risks such as piracy, since there would be no hostages to capture, Levander said. It would also eliminate liability for repatriating sailors when owners run out of money or abandon crews, which has stranded at least 2,379 people in the past decade.
Drone ships would become vulnerable to a different kind of hijacking: from computer hackers. While the technology may never be fully secure, it needs to be so difficult to break that it’s not worth the effort, according to Levander.
Unmanned ships would still require captains to operate them remotely and people to repair and unload them in port. These workers would have better quality of life compared with working at sea, Levander said.
The end of the merchant marine, and a great backdrop for fiction: stowing away on a South Pacific transport from Vietnam, a family of six tries sneak into the US.
“When public spaces are successful […] they will increase opportunities to participate in communal activity. This fellowship in the open nurtures the growth of public life, which is stunted by the social isolation of ghettos and suburbs. In the parks, plazas, markets, waterfronts, and natural areas of our cities, people from different cultural groups can come together in a supportive context of mutual enjoyment. As these experiences are repeated, public spaces become vessels to carry positive communal meanings.”—Carr, Francis, Rivlin and Stone, Public Space (Cambridge Series in Environment and Behavior)
Josh Freedman and Michael Lind look back to the New Deal and forward to a new social contract. Will we have a continuation of the ruinous “low-wage” social contract that is now in effect, a shift to the Nordic social state, or a third alternative?
What, then, would a better social contract look like?
First, we could accept the basic shape of the low-wage economy while softening its edges by asking government to do even more. With higher taxes on the wealthy, Washington could use the tax code to provide poor and middle-class families more generous means-tested subsidies to pay for childcare, education, and healthcare. Since the Clinton era, much of the Democratic Party has embraced this version of the social contract. It is essentially the model behind Obamacare.
The downside, besides the challenge of raising taxes, is that subsidies don’t guarantee affordability. They can even encourage industries to raise their prices; see, for example, the proliferation of cheap student loans, which have not made college much more affordable. What’s more, means-tested programs for the poor often lack the political support needed to keep them strong.
Another possibility, which would please many progressives, would be to nudge the economy toward a social democratic model such as that of Scandinavia. This social contract would entail high wages, a high cost of living, and a universal welfare state paid for with high, relatively flat taxes.
But transplanting the Nordic model as a whole to the U.S. would be difficult in the face of fierce resistance to higher levels of spending. It would also be hard to import a system of benefits paid for by broad and flat taxes, like payroll taxes and consumption taxes, on a country like the U.S. with much greater inequality.
In our own work at the New America Foundation, we have outlined a third idea we call the “middle-income social contract.” It assumes that many service industries won’t be able to offer their workers middle-income salaries, which means that, in addition to raising wages somewhat, the government will have to take a more active role in making essential services like education, child care and health care more affordable. The best way to do this is to provide these programs directly, such as through universal Pre-K, single-payer health insurance, or subsidies to the states for taking care of the elderly. Policymakers can begin to build a middle-income social contract by raising the federal minimum wage closer to a true living wage and expanding public early education, both of which are widely popular proposals.
The current low-wage social contract between American workers, employers, and the government has been a raw deal for most Americans. Just as the New Deal contract shifted to the low wage model, we need to shift once again to a system more suited to the current economy and needs of workers and citizens. The options for the next social contract are many—we just have to choose the right one.
I believe that we are on the path toward government provided education (pre-K through college), health and elderly care, and greatly strengthened social security, all paid for through higher taxes on the wealthy and business. We will simply have to wait for the GOP to be made insignificant through changing demographics.
Of course, many libertarians — including the tech sector — will be opposed, but there is a split there for social liberalism, like education.
But this will be the front and center political battlefield for the next presidential elections. The core question: How much does the State have to do to ensure equality, both in opportunity and in services?
Clark’s work on social mobility — or perhaps social immobility — suggests that social status — or ‘social competence’ — is genetic. This runs against some notion of fairness that theoretically abides in the core of our society’s conventional wisdom, and also bucks the premises of child rearing. If tutoring your children or sending them to the ‘right’ schools doesn’t really move the needle on their eventual success, perhaps people would stop worrying about it. Instead, we may have to go back to the older notion of marrying the people whose ancestors have been successful in order that your someday children will get ahead in their lives.
Culture is a nebulous category and it can’t explain the constant regression of family status — from the top and the bottom. High-status social groups in America are astonishingly diverse. There are representatives from nearly every major religious and ethnic group in the world — except for the group that led to the argument for culture as the foundation of social success: white European Protestants. Muslims are low-status in much of India and Europe, but Iranian Muslims are among the most elite of all groups in America.
Family resources and social networks are not irrelevant. Evidence has been found that programs from early childhood education to socioeconomic and racial classroom integration can yield lasting benefits for poor children. But the potential of such programs to alter the overall rate of social mobility in any major way is low. The societies that invest the most in helping disadvantaged children, like the Nordic countries, have produced absolute, commendable benefits for these children, but they have not changed their relative social position.
The notion of genetic transmission of “social competence” — some mysterious mix of drive and ability — may unsettle us. But studies of adoption, in some ways the most dramatic of social interventions, support this view. A number of studies of adopted children in the United States and Nordic countries show convincingly that their life chances are more strongly predicted from their biological parents than their adoptive families. [emphasis mine] In America, for example, the I.Q. of adopted children correlates with their adoptive parents’ when they are young, but the correlation is close to zero by adulthood. There is a low correlation between the incomes and educational attainment of adopted children and those of their adoptive parents.
These studies, along with studies of correlations across various types of siblings (identical twins, fraternal twins, half siblings) suggest that genetics is the main carrier of social status.
So, we can put aside pluck and even luck in our discussion of human destiny. Well, with the exception of the luck involved in who your great grand parents were.
The simplistic reading of the Dunbar Number (often called the Dunbar Constant) is that people are cognitively limited to having only 150 friends.
The more nuanced view is that we have room in our minds for only so much social knowledge about people. Social data — like who dated who in your high school class, what coalitions exist between this group of neighbors on your block, and who trusts who in this department at the office — form networks in our minds, networks that reflect the social networks we encounter in life. These networks can be filled with the social metadata that I mentioned — trust, or connections, or influence — and obviously there are limits to how much we can hold in our memories.
But in the modern world many of us know considerably more than 150 people: we just don’t very much about them compared to the way that villagers in medieval England knew their neighbors and kin. So, I know a little about thousands of people, more about a few hundred, and a whole lot about only a few dozen.
If there is a constant it’s not a fixed number of how many friends you can have, but how much social knowledge your mind can hold. Let’s call it the Boyd Constant.
“Mobile social apps are not, really, about free SMS. Mobile discovery and acquisition is a mess - it’s in a ‘pre-pagerank’ phase where we lack the right tools and paths to find and discover content and services efficiently. Social apps may well be a major part of this, as I discussed in detail here. These apps have the opportunity to be a third channel in parallel to Google and Facebook.”—
“Without mobile, it doesn’t matter how much money Facebook has. If you’re asking whether Zuckerberg paid too much for WhatsApp, you’re asking the wrong question. Zuckerberg is sending a message, here, that Facebook will never stop in its attempt to dominate mobile — that no amount of money is too much.”—Felix Salmon (via sippey)
Mark Fisher: The first chapter of my new book, Ghosts of My Life, is titled ‘The Slow Cancellation of the Future’ – a phrase I took from your 2011 book After the Future. The idea of the ‘slow cancellation of the future’ captures very well the sense of the ebbing away of a certain conception of cultural time. We live in what we might call a ‘post-progressive’ era, where the kind of retrospective time prophesied by Jean Baudrillard and Fredric Jameson is so taken for granted that it is hard to perceive. In After the Future, you wrote that you’ll never be able to adjust to this new mode of time – a feeling that I certainly share. We also agree on the explanation for the end of the future: the arrival of neo-liberalism and post-Fordist capitalism at the end of the 1970s. Since then, the end of the future has been intensified by the kinds of technology which have become dominant in the 21st century: smart-phones and cyberspace don’t speed up culture so much as overload the human nervous system with unmanageable quantities of stimuli.
But we disagree on the way out of this impasse. You’ve argued that, in a world where parliamentary politics and mainstream media are pawns of corporations, the best we can hope for is a withdrawal into technologically connected enclaves. In an important recent essay titled ‘Strategies of Radical Politics and Aesthetic Resistance’ [published on truthisconcrete.org in September 2012], the Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe contrasts this strategy with her own approach, which emphasizes the struggle for terrain. The role of radical politics and art, Mouffe argues, is to disarticulate the series of connections made by the currently dominant form of power, and to instead create a new set of connections. I must say that I agree.
It’s asking too much of art or culture to expect it to provide resources for overcoming the decomposition of solidarity that you so acutely describe. Art and culture are themselves the victims of this decomposition. Under post-Fordist working practices, neo-liberal ideology and communicative capitalism, social imagination struggles to find the time to grow. The current austerity programme in the UK – with its attacks on social housing, welfare benefits, squatting and higher-education funding – will make the unpressured time in which social imagination could develop even scarcer.
It’s not that the rise of finance capital is unstoppable, it’s that the strategies that the movement has deployed against it are not the right ones – it is easy for capital to route around them. Which is not to say that important things have not happened in the last decade or so: the wave of insurrection in the Middle East in 2011, for instance, showed that the so-called end of history is now over. But an intelligent system needs to learn from its failures, not keep repeating them. As David Harvey has said, we shouldn’t fetishize particular organizational forms. Rather, we need to do what neo-liberalism has done, and use an ensemble of different strategies. If the problem is, as you put it, the ‘bio-political embedding of psycho-economic automatisms in the social brain’ (and I think it is), then we need to struggle over the social brain. That means fighting for terrain in the dominant media ecologies, as well as in parliamentary politics. The value of Mouffe’s framework is precisely that it doesn’t assume that politicians are in control of everything. But parliamentary politics does remain a significant hub which finance capital still requires. (If it didn’t, why does it put so much effort into controlling it?) The point is to ‘articulate’ parliamentary politics with forces from outside.
What the movements need to do now is to make connections with existing institutions, such as political parties, trade unions and the mainstream media – and also to construct new institutions that are capable of exerting pressure.
As you say, the loathing of finance capital is practically universal – but, of course, that won’t automatically translate into strategies that will hurt capital. You’re right to suggest that when the widespread disdain for finance capital is combined with the sense that nothing can be done about it, the result is despair rather than any collective ability to act. But it’s the role of institutions – the old ones that remain, and the new ones we must invent – to translate affect (and disaffection) into action. If it works, this action will be indirect rather than direct; it will be about gradually making changes in the social brain. We need to engage in libidinal engineering to counteract capital’s great machines for producing neurotic subjectivity. We need to look to Machiavelli, Antonio Gramsci and Stuart Hall instead of to the philosophies of the event we find in the writings of philosophers like Alain Badiou. We need to be both more patient and more confident than we have been. We need to reclaim the future whose disappearance you mourn, and that means recovering a prospective time, where we are not endlessly protesting against or obstructing capital, but thinking ahead of it. Here is the space for art to reinvent itself – as the site for a multiplicity of visions of a post-capitalist future.
A deep argument about the way to reclaiming the future in a time where people cannot find solidarity. Fisher seems to be hinting at fluidarity — where we don’t have to form a collective, and agree on everything to try to counter one single thing, but instead can cooperate with existing, weakened institutions — unions, NGOs, movements — to counter the enemies of the future. Oh, and ‘libidinal engineering to counteract capital’s great machines for producing neurotic subjectivity’.