Friday, May 28, 2010

Cognitive Surplus

Two guys plugging their latest books can actually generate a stimulating discussion, as demonstrated by this brief conversation between Clay Shirky and Daniel Pink in the June issue of Wired magazine. Pink's book is called Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Shirky's is called Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Excerpts that attracted my interest:

Shirky: . . . Somehow, watching television became a part-time job for every citizen in the developed world. But once we stop thinking of all that time as individual minutes to be whiled away and start thinking of it as a social asset that can be harnessed, it all looks very different. The buildup of this free time among the world’s educated population—maybe a trillion hours per year—is a new resource. It’s what I refer to as the cognitive surplus.

Pink: A surplus that post-TV media—blogs, wikis, and Twitter—can tap for other, often more valuable, uses.

Shirky: That’s what’s happening. Television was a solitary activity that crowded out other forms of social connection. But the very nature of these new technologies fosters social connection—creating, contributing, sharing. When someone buys a TV, the number of consumers goes up by one, but the number of producers stays the same. When someone buys a computer or mobile phone, the number of consumers and producers both increase by one. This lets ordinary citizens, who’ve previously been locked out, pool their free time for activities they like and care about. So instead of that free time seeping away in front of the television set, the cognitive surplus is going to be poured into everything from goofy enterprises like lolcats, where people stick captions on cat photos, to serious political activities like, where people report human rights abuses.

. . .

Shirky: Right—because television crowded out other forms of social engagement. Look, behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity. So if you see people behaving in new ways, like with Wikipedia and whatnot, it’s very unlikely that their motivations have changed, because human nature doesn’t change that quickly. It’s quite likely that the opportunities have changed.

. . .

Pink: . . . Both of us cite research from University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci showing that if you give people a contingent reward—as in “if you do this, then you’ll get that”—for something they find interesting, they can become less interested in the task. When Deci took people who enjoyed solving complicated puzzles for fun and began paying them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles during their free time. And the science is overwhelming that for creative, conceptual tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm.

Shirky: You talk about the laws of behavioral physics working differently in practice from what we believe in theory.

Pink: Yes, often these outside motivators can give us less of what we want and more of what we don’t want. Think about that study of Israeli day care centers, which we both write about. When day care centers fined parents for being late to pick up their kids, the result was that more parents ended up coming late. People no longer felt a social obligation to behave well.

Shirky: If you assume bad faith from the average participant, you’ll probably get it. In social media, the design principle that has worked remarkably well is to treat good faith as the normal case and to regard defections from that as essentially a special case to be solved.

Pink: Same goes with organizations. We don’t realize how much our unexamined assumptions take us to radically different places. If I’m running an organization and my starting premise about human beings is that people are fundamentally passive and inert, that they won’t do a damn thing unless I threaten them with a stick or entice them with a carrot, that takes me down one road. But I think that’s the wrong premise, the wrong theory of human nature.

Shirky: The power of the default setting.

Pink: I think our nature is to be active and engaged. I’ve never seen a 2-year-old or a 4-year-old who’s not active and engaged. That’s how we are out of the box. And if you begin with this presumption, you create much more open, flexible arrangements that almost inevitably lead to greater satisfaction for individuals and great innovation for organizations.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Irish Anarchist Review

Issue 1 out now. Details and pdf here.

Always Interesting

David Graeber, that is, being interviewed here by Yiannis Aktimon of the Void network. Some highlights:

Void Network: what are the major challenges of antiauthoritarian movement of today? Is there really a revolution to be waited for, or in truth, the radical procedure of present, has to do with the ideas and forces of a general daily reformation of life?

D.G.: Globally, I think we are at a turning point, but that turning point has been, as it were, endlessly suspended. One reason the alter-globalization movement slowed down so in the second half of the '00s was not just the lingering effects of the war on terror and resultant stepping up of repression, but the fact that the other side simply couldn't get their act together. They were faced with enormous structural crises, really, the effects of the same broad diffuse popular resistance of which are movements were perhaps the most self-conscious, explicit, and articulate form. Yet all they did was bicker with each other at their summits - they didn't really seem to have a strategy, and thus, it was very hard to come up with a strategy of opposition. This might be changing now. As for the grand strategic question: well, I don't think the transformation of daily life, and the larger question of revolution, can any longer be clearly separated. How might radical transformation happen? We can't know. We're really flying blind. But I also think we've been working with a very limited set of historical analogies: the history of revolutionary movements first in Europe in the 18th and 19th century, then globally in the 20th, but that's it. It's a tiny tiny slice of human history. There have been hundreds of successful revolutions in world history we don't even know how to see. It's quite likely that many of the "primitive communists" in say, the Eastern Woodlands of North America that so inspired Engels, or in Amazonia, weren't primitive at all, but the descendants of revolutionaries, of people who had overthrown earlier centralized states. The world is much more complicated, and the history of resistance much deeper than we have been taught to imagine. Or another way of making the same point: we have come to accept, over the last couple hundred years, since the Enlightenment basically, that there is only one paradigm for fundamental social change, "the transition from feudalism to capitalism" - which must then be the model for the next one, "the transition from capitalism to socialism" (or whatever). It's becoming screamingly obvious that the transition to whatever comes next is not going to look like that. So people think no revolutionary change is possible at all. Nonsense. Capitalism is unsustainable. Something will replace it. For me, I think a more useful paradigm right now is the transition from slavery to feudalism, at least in Europe. Remember, under Rome, huge percentages of the population of the empire were outright chattel slaves (maybe a third, even, and much more if you count the coloni and debt-peons and so on who were effectively slaves). A few hundreds years later, the number of slaves in Europe was almost none. This was one of the greatest liberations in human history (and similar things did happen in India and China around the same time.) How did it happen? How were all the slaves freed? Well, since we're only used to seeing it from an elite perspective as "the decline and fall of the Roman empire" and can't see any explicit anti-slavery movements, we're unable to write the history at all, but it happened. Will wage-slavery be eliminated in a similar apparently catastrophic and confused moment? It's possible. But it could only happen the first because of pressure from below, based on certain egalitarian values that were always there, all operating below the historical radar screen. Obviously, there were also horrific thugs taking advantage of the chaos, as there will be now too. But we need to think about how to mobilize similar bottom-up alliances when things start breaking down.

Void Network: Is there really a national and international debt? What would you like to put as a small analysis of what it seems to be the Greek paradigm in the great saga of domino financial collapse of many countries economies after the 2008 broke of international crisis?

D.G.: Money nowadays is a purely political instrument. Some people - central bankers, to some degree ordinary banks and even the financial divisions of large firms - have the right to generate it, to make up money, relatively as they wish. Banks after all don't mostly lend money they actually have, they lend money they just made up - if under certain constraints. So the rhetoric people use, that "there's only so much money" is nonsense. Money isn't like oil, it's not even like bananas, you can't actually run out of it. So the scam is to allow some people to just whisk it into existence and then, even more importantly, to say that other people can't. In a way banks' ability to make money is not so outrageous since money is basically debt, it's an IOU, a promise, and in a free society everyone should have the right to make promises. In a way that's what being "free" means. The problem is in our society, the only really important promises are financial, and some people are granted the political right to make as many of these as they like, with no little or responsibility for keeping them, and others (the politically powerless) are not, and everyone acts as if the most important moral responsibility everyone has is to pay back money that others were allowed to simply make up. This is particularly ridiculous in the case of governments, who grant the banks the right to make up the money, and then act as if they have no choice but to honor their commitments to these same people. It's all nonsense. But it's just a new variant of an age-old pattern. Conquerors, tyrants, powerful lords throughout human history have always tried to convince their subjects or those they conquer that they owe them something, at the very least, that they owe them their life, for not having massacred them all. It's basically the logic of slavery (I could have killed you, I didn't, now you owe me everything) but it's also the foundation of what we like to call "sovereignty." The unusual thing about the present day is just that this sovereignty has been transferred from states to this semi-independent financial establishment as a way of undercutting any notion that sovereignty any longer belongs with what they used to call "the people."

. . .

Void Network: Are there any values that have to be defended against the formulated extremity of extreme nihilism and elitism?

D.G.: Someone once said that the ultimate stakes of any political struggle is the ability to define what value is. Autonomy does not just mean making up one's own rules, as Castoriadis says, though that's important - it also means being free to collective establish what you think value is. In that way, any enclave that preserves a system of value even relatively autonomous from capital is a form of freedom that should be defended. One of the terrible mistakes of old-fashioned socialism was to subordinate everything to the revolution in the same way that capitalists subordinate everything to profit. It's funny because I'm often accused of criticizing anthropologists and academics for not helping radical social movements. That's not true at all. I think it's a scandal that many seem actively opposed, or pretend to be leaders when they're not, or refuse to engage with people who want their help. But I also think that it's absolutely great that there are people who get to spend their lives thinking about, I don't know, Medieval Provencal musical instruments as an end in themselves. I call this the utopian moment in academia. Don't we want people to be able to do this? Anyway, for me, a free society is one where there are endless varieties of forms of value, and people can decide for themselves which they wish to pursue. Therefore the key social question is "how do we provide people with sufficient life security, in a free society, that they are able to be as free as possible to pursue those forms of value (moral, artistic, spiritual, hedonistic, communal, etc, etc etc) they feel to be the most important - whatever these may be."

. . .

Void Network: what is your present attitude about the end of traditional labour? Would you like to give us some more analysis of your current approach?

D.G. : Well, our horizon has to be the abolition of work in its conventional form. For me, I again find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with the Italians who say the production of value is now dispersed through all forms of social life, so we need to think about a social wage. My objection is they seem to think there's something new here, that "immaterial labor" or the dominance of such is a new development. I find this racist and sexist. They seem to think that in the 19th century, value was produced exclusively by factory work, or anyway paid employment, but that now, especially since the '70s, the real cutting-edge is the production of the informational and stylistic content, and context, or commodities - "immaterial labor" (a stupid phrase, it's not immaterial in any sense). Why? Well, when looking at such analysis, the way to understand it, I always say, is to follow a simple principle: "follow the white guys." Was there no one working outside the factory on the informational or stylistic or cultural aspects of the commodity, etc.? Of course. But they were mostly women, so they say, well, who cares, that's not part of the production of value, it's all in the factories where the white guys are. Now, most factory work is being done by women and/or people of color so suddenly, factory work is unimportant and it's the white guys working on computers, etc., who are really producing value. Nonsense. What we need to start thinking about is how all these new forms of labor, and some very old ones, draw on one another. For every person who can push a button and instantaneously do a transaction with Japan that would have taken weeks in the past, there's some guy in Brazil or Pakistan who has to work twice as many hours or spend hours more on the bus just getting to work so he can do it. We need to look at the world as a whole. We also need to understand that war and imperial extraction still operate and how, which brings us back to the money system again (modern credit money is basically war debt created by governments who borrow the money to create the means of coercion, then allow the bankers to lend that debt to everyone else - and use the means of coercion to enforce the debts. This is the regime under which all labor now operates.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Erm . . . Mirage

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, in the New York Times last week, asking whether the Irish economic miracle was real or not.

Ireland was one of the first nations to introduce tough fiscal austerity in this cycle — in spring 2009 the government slashed public-sector spending and raised taxes. Despite the cuts, the European Commission forecasts that Ireland will have one of the highest budget deficits in the world at 11.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2010. The problem is clear: when you cut spending you also lose tax revenues from people who earned incomes from that money. Further, the newly unemployed seek benefits, so Ireland’s spending cuts in one category are partly offset by more spending in another. Without growth, the budget deficit still looms large.

Ireland’s problems are, sadly, far deeper than the need for simple fiscal austerity. The Celtic Tiger’s impressive reported growth over the past decades was in part based on its aggressive attempts to help major corporations in the United States reduce their tax bills. The Irish government set corporate taxes at just 12.5 percent of profits, thus attracting all sorts of businesses — from computer services like Google and Yahoo, to drug companies like Forest Labs — that set up corporate bases and washed profits through Ireland to keep them out of the hands of the Internal Revenue Service.

The remarkable success of this tax haven means that roughly 20 percent of Irish gross domestic product is actually “profit transfers” that raise little tax for Ireland and are owned by foreign companies. Since most of these profits are subject to the tax code, they are accounted for in Ireland where they are lightly taxed; they should not be counted as part of Ireland’s potential tax base. A more robust cross-country comparison would be to examine Ireland’s financial condition ignoring these transfers. This is easy to do: a nation’s gross national product excludes the profits of foreign residents. For most nations, gross national product and G.D.P. are nearly identical, but in Ireland they are not.

When we adjust Ireland’s figures accordingly, the situation is dire. The budget deficit was about 17.9 percent of G.N.P. in 2009, and based on European Commission projections (and assuming the G.N.P.-G.D.P. gap remains the same) it will be roughly 14.6 percent in 2010 and 15.1 percent in 2011, while the debt-to-G.N.P. ratio at the end of this year is expected — by our calculation — to be 97 percent, and 109 percent at the end of 2011. These numbers make Ireland look similarly troubled to Greece, with a much higher budget deficit but lower levels of public debt.

Ireland’s politicians, rather than facing up to their problems, are making things ever worse. Simply put, the Irish miracle was a mirage driven by clever use of tax-haven rules and a huge credit boom that permitted real estate prices and construction to grow quickly before declining ever more rapidly. The biggest banks grew to have assets twice the size of official G.D.P. when they essentially failed in 2008. The government has now made a fateful choice: rather than make creditors pay some part of the losses, it is taking the bank debt onto the national balance sheet, effectively ballooning its already large sovereign debt. Irish taxpayers are set to be left with the risk of very large payments to make on someone else’s real estate deals gone bad.

There is no simple escape, but if the government hopes to avoid a sovereign default, the one overriding priority should be to stop bailing out the banks. Instead, the government should wind down existing banks in a “bad bank,” while moving their deposit base and profitable businesses into new, well-capitalized banks that can function without a taxpayer burden. This will be messy, but it is far better than a sovereign default.

I guess Not.


In Our Time: Anarchism

Persons Unknown Trial

Following on from the post below, a series from one of the jurors at the Persons Unknown trial, in which Vince Stephenson was involved. There are a couple of "anonymous" comments from Ronan Bennett, also one of the defendants, under some of the posts.

Post One

Post Two

Post Three

Post Four

Post Five

Post Six

Post Seven

Post Eight

final part (closing credits) in my post below.

While Googling, I also found a nice post at Darren's worth a look, even if you've read it before. It even manages to get Mike Leigh's High Hopes in! :-) There's a link there to an interview with Stuart Christie in 3:AM magazine.

Halcyon Daze

The Kill Your Pet Puppy website has a post about the old Autonomy Centre in Wapping. In the early 80s I used to pop down on a Friday afternoon after a visit to the Freedom Bookshop in Whitechapel, just to see what was going on. Normally nothing. Just Vince Stephenson reading a book or looking for a game of chess (I never took up the challenge. I was useless at the time . . . in so many ways). A copper strolled in on one occasion for a nose around, but he didn't stay very long.

My fellow Brummies UB40 played a benefit gig for the Autonomy Centre at Woolwich Odeon. I believe it was the first time they performed stuff from their second album, Present Arms. I still have the T-shirt. The support band was The Nervous Kind, another Brummie band.

Bizarrely/coincidentally, Paul Comaskey from Nervous Kind turns up here. His sister-in-law used to be married to Richard Buckner.

It's a very small world indeed.

How to Understand the Economy

More a bookmark for my own future reference, I think, there's a review here at the New York Review of Books, by Robert Solow, of Duncan Foley's book Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology, a book I've already read. The review itself is interesting, however, for what it has to say about theories of value. Solow for the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on economic growth. He's the author of Growth Theory: An Exposition, which should keep you going through the warm summer nights ahead.

Foley's book is a primer in economics and, as Solow observes, it has its flaws even in that regard. There are more interesting things you could be doing with your time.

How Fucked Are We?

Spotted over at Progressive Economy, this article from the Financial Times, by David Gardner.

Encouraged by venal politicians who actively discouraged regulation and provided a phenomenal array of tax breaks to builders, and in an environment of cheap money and easy credit (partly created by the lower borrowing costs brought by membership of the eurozone, partly because risk disappeared from the international financial radar), Irish banks went on a reckless lending spree. They lent, above all, to property developers. When that bubble burst – and with devaluing the currency no longer an option – it all but bankrupted the country and triggered a painful sequence of tax rises and pay, pension and public spending cuts.

When the banks started to wobble, the government, led by the populist Fianna Fáil, insisted Ireland’s economic “fundamentals” were sound and such problems as there were had blown in across the Atlantic. But when the banks inevitably crashed and the state stepped in to rescue them, every Irish citizen got saddled with many thousands of euros in debts that will weigh the country down for years to come. The current generation – the first in Ireland’s history to know real wealth and success and, with it, international admiration – is very, very angry.

Whatever politicians say, moreover, Ireland knows this was almost entirely a home-made crisis, which happened to coincide with an international credit crunch. Colm McCarthy, who teaches economics at University College Dublin, is the author of last year’s comprehensive spending review of the public sector: “300 pages, and a cut on each page”, as he genially puts it. This one-man-International Monetary Fund is no populist. But he’s clear on what brought Ireland to this pass. “This was a very old-fashioned banking collapse, nothing to do with derivatives and US toxic assets,” he says. “Until a few years ago I thought AIB [Allied Irish Bank] and Bank of Ireland were dull, ­boring banks run by granite-faced bastards who wouldn’t lend money to their own relatives. It seems we were wrong.”

In its report on Ireland last year, the IMF concluded: “The Irish economy is in the midst of an unprecedented economic correction. The stress exceeds that being faced by any other advanced economy and matches episodes of the most severe economic distress in post-World War II history.”

At the height of the lunacy, around three-quarters of the total lending by Irish banks – €420bn or about two and a half times the size of the economy – got bound up in property, construction and land speculation of one sort or another, a sector which amounted to more than a fifth of economic output. It became what Ireland did for a living. By comparison, investment in real estate in Spain peaked at about a tenth of national income – half Ireland’s level.

Morgan Kelly observes here:

Fifteen fat years allowed the Irish government to cut income taxes, increase spending and still run a budget surplus. Between 2007 and 2009 however, tax revenue fell by 20%, while expenditure rose by 9%, moving the state from a balanced budget to a deficit of 12% of GDP. In contrast to its inept handling of the banking crisis, the Irish government has moved decisively to reduce expenditure and increase tax rates, and appears on target to reduce its deficit to 3% of GDP by 2012.

Ireland’s government debt is still moderate. At the end of 2009 gross debt was 65% of GDP and, after subtracting the state pension reserve and pre-funded borrowing, net debt was 40% of GDP. Assuming that deficit targets are not missed too badly, gross debt should still be under 85% of GDP by the end of 2012.

This debt would probably be manageable, had the Irish government not casually committed itself to absorb all the gambling losses of its banking system. If we assume – optimistically, I believe – that Irish banks eventually lose one third of what they lent to property developers, and one tenth of business loans and mortgages, the net cost to the Irish taxpayer will be nearly one third of GDP.

Adding these bank losses to its national debt will leave Ireland in 2012 with a debt-GDP ratio of 115%. But if we look at the ratio in terms of GNP, which gives a more realistic picture of the Ireland’s discretionary tax base, this is a debt-GNP ratio of 140% – above the ratio that is currently sinking Greece. Even if bank losses are only half as large as we expect, Ireland is still facing a debt-GNP ratio of 125%.

Ireland is like a patient bleeding from two gunshot wounds. The Irish government has moved quickly to stanch the smaller, fiscal hole, while insisting that the litres of blood pouring unchecked through the banking hole are “manageable”. Capital markets may not continue to agree for long, triggering a borrowing crisis which will start, most probably, with a run on Irish banks in inter-bank markets.

Ireland may therefore present an early test of the EU bailout fund. However, in contrast to Greece, Ireland’s woes stem almost entirely from its banking system, and could be swiftly and permanently cured by a resolution which shares the losses of Irish banks with the holders of their €115 billion of bonds through a partial debt for equity swap.

I may consider emigrating. Greece looks nice.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's Friday. Let's Do Some Filing!

I,Ludicrous - Clerking Til I Die

(For Kathy)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Naming Names

Just spotted this interesting diagram over at the WSM Web site, taken from the TASC report Mapping the Golden Circle.

Together, these companies employed 310,000 people and had a combined turnover (or equivalent) of nearly €80 billion. They included both private companies and state-owned bodies.

The 40 companies studied in this report are household names and include Bord Gáis, the Central Bank, AIB, Smurfit, Anglo Irish Bank, Ryanair and Aer Lingus. The total number of directors involved in managing these companies was 572.

In the period 2005-2007, a network of 39 people held positions in 33 of the 40 top private companies and state-owned bodies. Between them, these 39 – referred to as the Director Network in TASC’s report – held a total of 93 directorships.

Mapping the Golden Circle also provides evidence that there was a trend of “excessive remuneration” for the CEOs of both state-owned and private companies. On average, their pay rose by over 40% between 2005 and 2007, while combined inflation for these two years ran at just over 9%.

You can download the full report here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

David Harvey: Gentrification in Baltimore and Barcelona

Just received a link to this on Facebook from AK Press.

It’s urban sociologist and Marxist geographer David Harvey in dialogue with our friend Marina, an activist and documentary videographer from Barcelona. In the video, David talks about the history of urban development and gentrification in Baltimore, and in Barcelona. It’s an interesting conversation, and a useful one, especially for those of us who are thinking hard about the nature of urban development in the United States and how that affects the work we do as activists and organizers. It’s a reminder that we need to look both inside the U.S. and outside of it to really understand how development happens, and to find models for how we can work to shape the social, political, and geographical worlds we live in.

There's also a link to Chris Ealham's book Anarchism and the City: Revolution and Counter-revolution in Barcelona, 1898–1937, which, as you can see from the sidebar to this blog, is the book I just finished reading, and a mighty good read it is too.

. . . in some ways, the struggle for control of the city’s spaces that Ealham discusses in the context of the early industrial period before the Spanish Civil War are still going on today. A friend of mine, one of the most brilliant folks I know, and an urban activist herself, told me recently that she thought that Chris’s book was the best analysis Barcelona she’d read to date, which I take as very, very high praise.

It also points to a deeper relevance of a book like Anarchism and the City than we might realize at first glance. When I talked to Chris about promoting his book, really early on, he talked about it as not just a history, but as a blueprint for contemporary action. He told me a story about a talk he gave in Barcelona, at the end of which an activist working in one of the city’s old industrial neighborhoods came up to him, and told him that their group was using Anarchism and the City as a “manual de lucha,” a fighting manual. How many historians can say that? So watch the video, and then check out Chris’s book for some historical context.

For those who watch the video to the end, there's a site here for the Hotel Vela in Barcelona that actually uses Harvey's quote!

Friday, May 07, 2010

It's Friday. Let's Ninja!

The New Pornographers- Your Hands (Together)

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Pleasure of the Text

Only just noticed this interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Raoul Vaneigem, courtesy of Wiki, from the May 2009 e-flux. Highlights:

HUO: You have written a lot on life, not survival. What is the difference?

RV: Survival is budgeted life. The system of exploitation of nature and man, starting in the Middle Neolithic with intensive farming, caused an involution in which creativity—a quality specific to humans—was supplanted by work, by the production of a covetous power. Creative life, as had begun to unfold during the Paleolithic, declined and gave way to a brutish struggle for subsistence. From then on, predation, which defines animal behavior, became the generator of all economic mechanisms.

HUO: Today, more than forty years after May ‘68, how do you feel life and society have evolved?

RV: We are witnessing the collapse of financial capitalism. This was easily predictable. Even among economists, where one finds even more idiots than in the political sphere, a number had been sounding the alarm for a decade or so. Our situation is paradoxical: never in Europe have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive. Still, insurrectional consciousness always sleeps with one eye open. The arrogance, incompetence, and powerlessness of the governing classes will eventually rouse it from its slumber, as will the progression in hearts and minds of what was most radical about May 1968.

HUO: Your new book takes us on a trip “between mourning the world and exuberant life.” You revisit May ‘68. What is left of May ‘68? Has it all been appropriated?

RV: Even if we are today seeing recycled ideologies and old religious infirmities being patched up in a hurry and tossed out to feed a general despair, which our ruling wheelers and dealers cash in on, they cannot conceal for long the shift in civilization revealed by May 1968. The break with patriarchal values is final. We are moving toward the end of the exploitation of nature, of work, of trade, of predation, of separation from the self, of sacrifice, of guilt, of the forsaking of happiness, of the fetishizing of money, of power, of hierarchy, of contempt for and fear of women, of the misleading of children, of intellectual dominion, of military and police despotism, of religions, of ideologies, of repression and the deadly resolutions of psychic tensions. This is not a fact I am describing, but an ongoing process that simply requires from us increased vigilance, awareness, and solidarity with life. We have to reground ourselves in order to rebuild—on human foundations—a world that has been ruined by the inhumanity of the cult of the commodity.

HUO: What do you think of the current moment, in 2009? Jean-Pierre Page has just published Penser l'après crise [Thinking the After-Crisis]. For him, everything must be reinvented. He says that a new world is emerging now in which the attempt to establish a US-led globalization has been aborted.

RV: The agrarian economy of the Ancien Régime was a fossilized form that was shattered by the emerging free-trade economy, from the 1789 revolution on. Similarly, the stock-dabbling speculative capitalism whose debacle we now witness is about to give way to a capitalism reenergized by the production of non-polluting natural power, the return to use value, organic farming, a hastily patched-up public sector, and a hypocritical moralization of trade. The future belongs to self-managed communities that produce indispensable goods and services for all (natural power, biodiversity, education, health centers, transport, metal and textile production . . .). The idea is to produce for us, for our own use—that is to say, no longer in order to sell them—goods that we are currently forced to buy at market prices even though they were conceived and manufactured by workers. It is time to break with the laws of a political racketeering that is designing, together with its own bankruptcy, that of our existence.

HUO: Is this a war of a new kind, as Page claims? An economic Third World War?

RV: We are at war, yes, but this is not an economic war. It is a world war against the economy. Against the economy that for thousands of years has been based on the exploitation of nature and man. And against a patched-up capitalism that will try to save its skin by investing in natural power and making us pay the high price for that which—once the new means of production are created—will be free as the wind, the sun, and the energy of plants and soil. If we do not exit economic reality and create a human reality in its place, we will once again allow market barbarism to live on.

HUO: In his book Making Globalization Work, Joseph Stiglitz argues for a reorganization of globalization along the lines of greater justice, in order to shrink global imbalances. What do you think of globalization? How does one get rid of profit as motive and pursue well-being instead? How does one escape from the growth imperative?

RV: The moralization of profit is an illusion and a fraud. There must be a decisive break with an economic system that has consistently spread ruin and destruction while pretending, amidst constant destitution, to deliver a most hypothetical well-being. Human relations must supersede and cancel out commercial relations. Civil disobedience means disregarding the decisions of a government that embezzles from its citizens to support the embezzlements of financial capitalism. Why pay taxes to the bankster-state, taxes vainly used to try to plug the sinkhole of corruption, when we could allocate them instead to the self-management of free power networks in every local community? The direct democracy of self-managed councils has every right to ignore the decrees of corrupt parliamentary democracy. Civil disobedience towards a state that is plundering us is a right. It is up to us to capitalize on this epochal shift to create communities where desire for life overwhelms the tyranny of money and power. We need concern ourselves neither with government debt, which covers up a massive defrauding of the public interest, nor with that contrivance of profit they call “growth.” From now on, the aim of local communities should be to produce for themselves and by themselves all goods of social value, meeting the needs of all—authentic needs, that is, not needs prefabricated by consumerist propaganda.

HUO: Edouard Glissant distinguishes between globality and globalization. Globalization eradicates differences and homogenizes, while globality is a global dialogue that produces differences. What do you think of his notion of globality?

RV: For me, it should mean acting locally and globally through a federation of communities in which our pork-barreling, corrupt parliamentary democracy is made obsolete by direct democracy. Local councils will be set up to take measures in favor of the environment and the daily lives of everyone. The situationists have called this “creating situations that rule out any backtracking.”

HUO: Might the current miscarriages of globalization have the same dangerous effects as the miscarriages of the previous globalization from the ‘30s? You have written that what was already intolerable in ‘68 when the economy was booming is even more intolerable today. Do you think the current economic despair might push the new generations to rebel?

RV: The crisis of the ‘30s was an economic crisis. What we are facing today is an implosion of the economy as a management system. It is the collapse of market civilization and the emergence of human civilization. The current turmoil signals a deep shift: the reference points of the old patriarchal world are vanishing. Percolating instead, still just barely and confusedly, are the early markers of a lifestyle that is genuinely human, an alliance with nature that puts an end to its exploitation, rape, and plundering. The worst would be the unawareness of life, the absence of sentient intelligence, violence without conscience. Nothing is more profitable to the racketeering mafias than chaos, despair, suicidal rebellion, and the nihilism that is spread by mercenary greed, in which money, even devalued in a panic, remains the only value.

HUO: In his book Utopistics, Immanuel Wallerstein claims that our world system is undergoing a structural crisis. He predicts it will take another twenty to fifty years for a more democratic and egalitarian system to replace it. He believes that the future belongs to “demarketized,” free-of-charge institutions (on the model, say, of public libraries). So we must oppose the marketization of water and air. What is your view?

RV: I do not know how long the current transformation will take (hopefully not too long, as I would like to witness it). But I have no doubt that this new alliance with the forces of life and nature will disseminate equality and freeness. We must go beyond our natural indignation at profit’s appropriation of our water, air, soil, environment, plants, animals. We must establish collectives that are capable of managing natural resources for the benefit of human interests, not market interests. This process of reappropriation that I foresee has a name: self-management, an experience attempted many times in hostile historical contexts. At this point, given the implosion of consumer society, it appears to be the only solution from both an individual and social point of view.

HUO: In your writing you have described the work imperative as an inhuman, almost animal condition. Do you consider market society to be a regression?

RV: As I mentioned above, evolution in the Paleolithic age meant the development of creativity—the distinctive trait of the human species as it breaks free from its original animality. But during the Neolithic, the osmotic relationship to nature loosened progressively, as intensive agriculture became based on looting and the exploitation of natural resources. It was also then that religion surfaced as an institution, society stratified, the reign of patriarchy began, of contempt for women, and of priests and kings with their stream of wars, destitution, and violence. Creation gave way to work, life to survival, jouissance to the animal predation that the appropriation economy confiscates, transcends, and spiritualizes. In this sense market civilization is indeed a regression in which technical progress supersedes human progress.

HUO: For you, what is a life in progress?

RV: Advancing from survival, the struggle for subsistence and predation to a new art of living, by recreating the world for the benefit of all.