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Left Liberals, New Media, Railroads

Besides Bach, I’ve been having a back and forth with this kid who’s been attempting to read Lukács. I say attempting, because he hasn’t gotten his head around Marx sufficiently, and, as he is a good liberal, he isn’t really willing to make the concessions that he needs to come to terms with Lukács’ argument — whether he then rejected it of course isn’t important, what’s important, I guess, intellectually is that he attempt to understand what it is Lukács is going on about. He can’t really make heads or tails of what’s going on in the text — he’s reading the “Reification” essay — but he keeps at it anyway. And he supplements it with Débord. His motivation seems to be to prove Lukács wrong and to vindicate the contemplative stance, to chock one up for rationalism and calculability. Anyway, his work is a mess and not that interesting. But he represents that odd strain of left liberalism that so loves new media, gadgets, and everything tech that, in itself, isn’t interesting either, though it, as a continuation of a historical pattern, is instructive.

I’ve never understood this technophilia — that’s a lie: I understood this impulse as a child and an adolescent, though now I’ve come to understand that all is not run by bits and bytes and that not everything’s to be fixed by shiny new patents. I don’t understand, as an adult, how other adults can believe that the problems of representative democracy will be solved by this or that new voting machine, or this or that method of biofuel production will instantly cure the environment of our ills, or how any other problem that is produced, at base, by a relation between people will be fixed by sticking another mediate layer of technology between them. MySpace and facebook are not going to usher in a golden era of democratic participation, when students can (effectively) virtually protest a transnational’s massacre of striking laborers, though both will continue to provide Murdoch and In-Q-Tel with revenues. Corn ethanol will not make the US economy green, though Monsanto will continue to hybridize salable strains to produce it. The problem with oil depletion and vampiric corporations is not a technological one; it is a sociological one.

But the technology fetish is old, old. Probably as old as capitalism itself, oppression itself. Maybe it dates to the first witnesses of the power of relatively advanced weapons of war, and so is a fetish of relative power. But this is not important, because we don’t need to know the historical origin of this fetish (if one even exists) to realize its inanity, and so realizing to shatter it and worship it no more.

At any rate, the partisans of technology were around in Marx’s day at the very least, expounding on the revolutionary capacity of rails and telegraphs — somewhere I read a chapter on this, I think maybe in Harvey, but I can’t find the quote I’m thinking of now — and rails and telegraphs and automobiles and airplanes and mobiles and the atomic bomb could not bring about an era of fat and plenty and equity. Why? Because an increase in physical production means nothing until it is caught up by society and insofar as our society isn’t equitably its use of technology won’t be. So the New Media are not likely to bring about an era of fat and plenty and equity in and of themselves, either. To say otherwise is to be a dolt.

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