Capitalism as Temporal Slavery: We Are Time’s Prisoners

Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the worker works is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has bought from him. If the worker consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.

– Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1

Alienation is the transformation of people’s own labour into a power which rules them as if by a kind of natural or supra-human law. The origin of alienation is commodity fetishism – the belief that inanimate things (commodities) have human powers (i.e., value) able to govern the activity of human beings. This technologization of desire in Marx’s notions is at the heart of most of my investigations. I’ve decided to return to my original name for this blog: alien ecologies. An exploration of the “World Interior of Capital” (Sloterdik) within which we live alienated from our very humanity in an Infosphere closed off from our actual history and possible futures.

In my own reading of Marx and many who have followed the gist is simply this: Capitalism is a utopia closed off in a frozen time: a time that no longer recognizes the movement of history. The self-imposed exile of time from capital is regulated as a system in which as Marx says “relative surplus-value is produced by raising the productivity of the worker, and thereby enabling him to produce more in a given time with the same expenditure of labour”.1 Shorter hours, and faster pace equal more profits for the capitalist. Through the compression of the movement of human labor-time through a “compulsory shortening of the hours of labour” the “development of productivity and the more economical use of the conditions of production” is attained.2 Ultimately what capitalism wanted is a machine, not a human. As Marx will explicate:

It imposes on the worker an increased expenditure of labour within a time which remains constant, a heightened tension of labour-power, and a closer filling-up of the pores of the working day, i.e. a condensation of labour, to a degree which can only be attained within the limits of the shortened working day. This compression of a greater mass of labour into a given period now counts for what it really is, namely an increase in the quantity of labour.3

So that Capital time no longer moves forward but remains constant circling in a void of the present, while the worker himself must produce more in this new numerical and quantified time in shorter and shorter intervals of condensed or compressed time. That in capitalism this systematic “squeezing out more labour in a given time” is a product of the efficiency of the principle of speed: – speed of the machines in increasing productivity, and at the same time allowing the worker receiving a “greater quantity of machinery to supervise or operate” leading to more productive power. With the replacement of humans by machinic processes the expulsion of humans from the labor-time itself is assured. Slowly humans are being excluded from the processes of capital production itself, and time is running out for humans who are both inefficient and time-intensive. Machines are shaped to withstand the entropic pressure of Time, while humans decay at organic rates that are no longer cost effective in the scheme of a capital economy.

As Paul Virilio will tell us “Since speed earns money, the financial sphere has attempted to enforce the value of time above the value of space” and while this has led to massive profits for the few and increasing inequalities, to truly understand the phenomenon of an economy of speed, the left has to jettison its old framework that insists capitalism is dead, and all we need is more social justice. This is a false deduction that proceeds from adopting the same old materialist analysis.” (see Speed, Power and the Physics of Finance Capitalism by Michael A. Peters) Peters will ask:

“If we accept that the financial crisis and increasing financialization is an expression of the exhaustion of the neoliberal model of capitalist development, that its continuing abstraction and increasing speed are ultimately unstable, untraceable and unable to be properly regulated, and that its perpetual expansion while not anchored in anything productively real nonetheless controls the price mechanism and leads to extensive global inequalities, then how long can it last and where are its suitable substitutes? Financialization characterizes the politics of late neoliberal capitalism allowing it to extract value from the commons: to raid social security and medicare, to privatize education and infrastructure, to monetize medicine and medical insurance, to massively mortgage student debt, to confiscate depositors’ funds, to asset-strip state enterprises. These are all forms of enclosure that permit a tiny but powerful minority to plunder the commonwealth in the same way that this global elite plundered the personal wealth of the majority via the housing bubble and the huge drop in household wealth for all but the very few. Finance capitalism trumps industrial capitalism, but what trumps finance capitalism? This is the first planetary crisis of this global magnitude and it is linked closely with a wider ecological, social and unemployment crisis. Both the scale and speed of its inexorable development might indicate that nothing can save the system and it must continue to the end of an inevitable collapse.”

Closed off in its own circular or cyclic history of an eternal order of the timeless present the rationality of neoliberalism seeks to extract time from those who produce history’s flow: labor’s surplus-value is time’s slippage that capital captures and reincorporates into its own cyclic dynamics of profit. But it is not a pure circle, instead it is a spiral that allows for an ever-accelerating movement of the circle through cyclic phases of accumulation and critical depressive junctures: these are the critical crisis’s that we experience as the bubbles of the market moving between spiraling dead time as it continuously realigns the potential threat and risk of real time leaking into its entropic system. As we see in the crisis of Greece today, there is no escape from the system other than total disconnection, which as Grexit entails would end in both economic and social suicide or civil-war. The total loss of all life-support systems made available by the tyranny of the EU neoliberal economic system of capitalism hides behind a façade of rules-based rationalizations that excludes any form of real communication between partners, only the indifferent gaze of the stern legalism of a rationalism become insane and inhuman. In such a merciless system one becomes either a slave or dies; there is no escape, no other choice. Or is there?

The Second Machine Age

As Brynjolfsson and McAfee demonstrate, the unequal distribution of wealth in the second machine age is a natural corollary of how digital technology works and is used. Specifically, computer technology produces an economy that favors capital over labor; skilled labor over unskilled labor; and superstars (who are able to reach and corner entire global markets) over local players.4 The point here is that human-labor no longer counts in the scheme of things: only skilled (think: smart-machines) over unskilled (think: human intelligence); and superstars (think: Cosmopolitan Elite – %1 at the top) over local players (think: the rest of us as marginalized and disposable).

Think of it this way in our time most people produce services or knowledge in the main First World nations, while the older industrial forms of labor have been pushed further and further into the periphery of Third World nations for whom slave-labor is still efficient and routinely enacted in sweat-shops around the globe. (here) As Brynjolfsson and McAfee discovered in their research computer technologies tend to play favorites, thereby increasing inequality globally. It also steadily erodes human employment outright. For as computer technology advances, more and more jobs that could once be carried out only by humans, becomes possible (and cheaper) for computer intelligence systems to accomplish. (p. 4)

According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee the first Industrial Age helped us overcome physical and material limitations, while the Second Industrial Age is overcoming the immaterial and mental limitations of capitalist expansion. Yet, in their optimistic non-dialectical reading of this the new age of digital technology has improved at an exponential pace since its inception— and this pace shows no signs of slacking; and, secondly, digital information continues to be amassed at an ever– quickening pace, and we are only beginning to tap the economic potential of this new flood of information; and, third, ideas and innovations tend to build and multiply off other ideas and innovations, and we are in a time not only of exploding ideas and innovations, but a time when these ideas and innovations are easier to access than ever, and a growing body of people has this access. (p. 9)

Yet, as the liberal sociologist will attest on the supposed progress at the heart of modernity, and not post-modernity of the cognitive revolution: the task set for each successive area or round of modernization, yet hardly ever seen through to the end (if reaching such an end was ever feasible), was to impose a transparent and manageable design over unruly and uncontrollable chaos: to bring the world of humans, hitherto vexingly opaque, bafflingly unpredictable and infuriatingly disobedient and oblivious to human wishes and objectives, into order: a complete, incontestable and unchallenged order. Order under the indomitable rule of Reason.5

So that in our time as Luis Suarez-Villa will tell us in Globalization and Technocapitalism the globalization of technocapitalism, of its experimentalist ethos, and of the new form of corporate power it embodies attempt to regenerate the relations of power of capitalism. Those relations of power embed multi-faceted aspects of domination— domination of corporate power over society and over its governance, domination of the corporate elites and the richer classes over other component classes of society, domination of the supporting ideology of governance over alternative visions of society, and domination over the means and sources of accumulation. None of these facets of domination are new. In various forms and guises, they have been part of capitalism since its earliest days— corporate forms, the supporting ideology, the approach to governance and the modes of accumulation may have changed due to the dynamic and malleable nature of capitalism, but the fundamental framework of domination remains. The globalization of technocapitalism regenerates these facets of domination by expanding the reach and scope of conquest, and by providing more ways to tap the resources needed by corporate power.6

Which implies that corporate power depends on the commodification and exploitation of creativity through research, on the appropriation of any results of research, and on the extraction of profit that commercial exchange may provide. As well as the notion that underlying the global relations of power and domination that technocapitalism imposes involves both the corporate commodification of creativity and its dependence on the reproduction of this most precious resource. Also under the pressure of economics over governmentality the underlying relations of power and domination involves corporate control over public spaces of governance and over the surveillance of society at large.7

The political economy is dead, only economics survives as demonstrated in the new form of governance as seen in the current crisis with Greece and the economic imperialism of Germany against the EU. In this sense corporate manipulation of governance and society is therefore not a phenomenon specific to a given nation or to some nations— it is a global phenomenon, a problem made all the more difficult by the fact that many corporations already have more power, resources and influence than most national governments. Because of the vital importance of the new sectors that technocapitalism is spawning, technocapitalist corporations are bound to gain greater global power than their industrial predecessors.8

Under the new research regimes of time typical of technocapitalism we see the complete systematization of research, which must be undertaken in a systematic and continuous way, such that streams of inventions and innovations can be generated in the shortest possible time. The systematization of research is deeply entwined with the commodification of creativity. Time pressures, and the need to manipulate all aspects of commodification for the sake of corporate profit and power, thus lead to a sense of urgency which pervades this new form of corporatism.9 Squeezing time for more profit is the core of capitalism’s dynamic. Creativity is its engine: now Time becomes lord of creation once again.

The Militarization of Time

We will learn from Jonathan Crary in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep that over the past five years the US Defense Department has spent large amounts of money to study the sleepless patterns of migrating birds. Researchers with government funding at various universities, notably in Madison, Wisconsin, have been investigating the brain activity of the birds during these long sleepless periods, with the hope of acquiring knowledge applicable to human beings. The aim is to discover ways to enable people to go without sleep and to function productively and efficiently. The initial objective, quite simply, is the creation of the sleepless soldier, and the white-crowned sparrow study project is only one small part of a broader military effort to achieve at least limited mastery over human sleep. Initiated by the advanced research division of the Pentagon (DARPA),  scientists in various labs are conducting experimental trials of sleeplessness techniques, including neurochemicals, gene therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation. The near-term goal is the development of methods to allow a combatant to go for a minimum of seven days without sleep, and in the longer term perhaps at least double that time frame, while preserving high levels of mental and physical performance. Existing means of producing sleeplessness have always been accompanied by deleterious cognitive and psychic deficits (for example, reduced alertness). This was the case with the widespread use of amphetamines in most twentieth-century wars, and more recently with drugs like Provigil. The scientific quest here is not to find ways of stimulating wakefulness but rather to reduce the body’s need for sleep.10

Sleep deprivation as torture can be traced back many centuries, but its systematic use coincides historically with the availability of electric lighting and the means for sustained sound amplification. First practiced routinely by Stalin’s police in the 1930s, sleep deprivation was usually the initial part of what the NKVD torturers called “the conveyor belt”— the organized sequences of brutalities, of useless violence that irreparably damages human beings. It produces psychosis after a relatively short period of time, and after several weeks begins to cause neurological damage. In experiments, rats will die after two to three weeks of sleeplessness. It leads to an extreme state of helplessness and compliance, in which extraction of meaningful information from the victim is impossible, in which one will confess to or fabricate anything. The denial of sleep is the violent dispossession of self by external force, the calculated shattering of an individual. (Crary pp. 6-7)

Capitalism has moved into a 24/7 globalized space of presence devoid of historical change or time, and replaced it with a non-social model of machinic performativity in which humans must conform to the limitless time expansion of capital in which sleep has no sense of necessity or inevitability. Sleep is theft from capitalism in this new economy of sleeplessness, one in which you are no longer free to choose and do but are rather chosen by the digit time that controls our planetary existence: a 24/7 world without Sleep. Neoliberalism realizes it cannot extract profitability from sleep, nor can it colonize it, so it seeks only to eliminate it from the equation and from its sphere of power. The new global work ethic requires 24/7 temporalities for its realization. Be awake or else. Some day you will be taxed for your time asleep. Who said they couldn’t make a profit off sleep?

Consumer and leisure Time

In the future your consumer and leisure hours will be dominated by time devices that block, filter, rate and track your life 24/7. Consumer discretion technologies are split into three groups: time period-based blocking, filtering, and transmitted ratings-based blocking. Time period-based blocking allows viewers to determine how much time is spent watching television. When a viewer’s predetermined time amount has expired, the television turns off. One example is the TV Timer BOB, which also controls video game consoles and computers. Screen time is selected by parents. The child-user then has to enter a PIN in order to use an electronic device time-managed by BOB. Once the allotted time expires, the system shuts down. While filter based systems like the TV Guardian Model 201 and Model 301 from Family Safe Media were designed in this way. These devices police language within television vision programming. They automatically scan the closed-captioning signal that provides metadata for television ratings to identify words judged “offensive” according to their database. These include profanity and sexual and religious references. Once identified, these words or phrases are automatically muted out. Lastly, independent devices like Intelevision (Spruce Run Technologies) are designed to work in conjunction with additional ratings systems.11

As Guins tells us not only is the domestic space becoming the site organized by the computer screen that our eyeballs are locked upon, the domestic space locks onto the space of the Internet as filtering technology attempts tempts to extend the protective security systems well beyond the domestic structure that it is attached to so that the Internet is an introverted experience – an extension of the domestic and private-rather than an opening forth to public spaces.12

In such a world time becomes an anticipatory analytic, a way of modulating and control labor. As David Savat will remind us a return to modulatory power returns us to a continuous anticipation of events in an otherwise turbulent environment, irrespective of whether these events or flows may constitute a specific identity or ‘form’ at any given moment. The event, or rather the objectile, is not controlled or produced to be of a specific form. In such a context, there can be no control in the same sense that one uses the word when discussing disciplinary power. Instead, what emerges is a form of control that operates almost solely by way of anticipation, at times inviting events to happen. It is in that sense that with modulatory power objectiles are prepared for in advance.(ibid)

When used for marketing purposes, analytics applications such as ‘dwell time’ are useful not in gauging danger so much as desire: to identify whether customers stop at product displays and how long they remain there, absorbing the seductive messages conveyed therein. Here the event is not something to be prevented so much as courted: the object left stationary too long is none other than the spellbound shopper, dwelling in the image of an idealized world.13 An example of this he cites Crandall (2010), “when commenting on ‘dwell-time’ analytics, makes the point that we should not only think about this in terms of identifying objects that have been in one place too long (such as parked cars, or packages or people) that might suggest a violent event: When used for marketing purposes, analytics applications such as ‘dwell time’ are useful not in gauging danger so much as desire: to identify whether customers stop at product displays and how long they remain there, absorbing the seductive messages conveyed therein. Here the event is not something to be prevented so much as courted: the object left stationary too long is none other than the spellbound shopper, dwelling in the image of an idealized world.” (Savat, p. 52)

As Guy Debord would once state “as for the social image of the consumption of time, it is exclusively dominated by leisure time and vacations — moments portrayed, like all spectacular commodities, at a distance and as desirable by definition. These commodified moments are explicitly presented as moments of real life whose cyclical return we are supposed to look forward to. But all that is really happening is that the spectacle is displaying and reproducing itself at a higher level of intensity. What is presented as true life turns out to be merely a more truly spectacular life.” 14

Our Spectacular Resistance

In our age even protest movements are bound to time-laws. What are termed soft-line control methods are used across the world now as mobilization of nonviolent means to silence, discredit, credit, or eliminate oppositional ideas and personages. Soft repression assumes a negative notion of power – one that inhibits and restrains, albeit in a pliable manner.15 One activist    sees us moving into an age of “kairopolitics,” a politics centered, with some qualifications, upon kairos, the emergent tempo – and technoculture of now-time or immediacy.16

As Adams will tell us that while the concepts of speed and acceleration could be employed to similar effect, the specificity of time today is neither of these, in any general sense. Rather it is marked by the reconstitution of experience in accordance with the speed limit. Or, at a bare minimum, the search for the speed limit, for the immediacy of realtime. With realtime comes not only immediacy, but along with it, simultaneity and ubiquity: thus, much as the altermondialisation movement followed the path set by the Zapatista uprising, today’s kairopolitics follows that set by the Arab Spring, in particular, the January 2011 overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.17

There is, of course, a spatial component at play in both cases, but today, this spatiality that has been forever altered by the new experience of time as immediacy. Thus, while the etymology of “Cairo,” in Arabic, comes from khere-ohe, or “place of combat,” it bears comparison to that of kairos in Greek, which, in one of its meanings, refers to “opportune moment.”  Both refer to a space-time— or, as David Harvey famously put it, a time-space— in which past and future are confronted with a present pregnant with the reconstitution of temporality as such, as well as the spatial distinction of “here” and “there.” Rather than accepting the kairos-as-kronos imposed by an imminent police attack, for instance, we consider here the significance of a tactics in which space is temporarily evacuated and then reoccupied once security forces are no longer present, leading to a countertemporality we describe as kairon and kronon. Immediacy, simultaneity and ubiquity in such approaches enable the telepresence of resistant bodies to one another even when they are not assembled in “realspace.” (Adams ibid.)

Living in Dystopian time: A time of monstrosity?

“Well, if this is the kind of life philosophy and life strategy that used to distinguish generation Y from its predecessors, our young people are due for a rude awakening. The most prosperous countries of Europe expect mass unemployment to return from oblivion and from its allegedly permanent exile. If the dark premonitions materialize, the infinite choice and freedom of movement and change which the contemporary young have come to view (or, rather, were born to see) as part of nature is about to disappear – together with the ostensibly unlimited credit they hoped would sustain them in the event of (temporary and brief) adversity, and would see them through any (temporary and brief) lack of an immediate and satisfactory solution to their trouble. To the members of generation Y, this may come as a shock. Unlike the boomer generation, they have no old memories, half-forgotten skills and the long unused tricks to fall back on. A world of harsh, unnegotiable realities, of scarcity and enforced austerity, of times of trouble in which ‘quitting’ is no solution is for a great many of them a totally foreign country; a country they have never visited or, if they have done they never seriously considered settling in, a country so mysterious that it would require a long and hard and not at all pleasant apprenticeship to accommodate.”18

–   Zygmunt Bauman

“Perhaps the most succinct characterization of the epoch which began with the First World War is the well-known phrase attributed to Gramsci: “The old world is dying away, and the new world struggles to come forth: now is the time of monsters.” Were Fascism and Stalinism not the twin monsters of the twentieth century, the one emerging out of the old world’s desperate attempts to survive, the other out of a misbegotten endeavor to build a new one? And what about the monsters we are engendering now, propelled by techno-gnostic dreams of a biogenetically controlled society? All the consequences should be drawn from this paradox: perhaps there is no direct passage to the New, at least not in the way we imagined it, and monsters necessarily emerge in any attempt to force that passage.”19

– Slavoj Žižek

“Now, as if the terrible flood of time had been leapt across in a timeless instant, no more trouble than being switched over to a different track . . . Troth continued to live, in some way more tangible than memory or sorrow, eternally young, while they were still courting, before they fell prey to Time, all in a cascade unstoppable as a spring thaw, what he not that slowly at all understood to be accelerated views of her face and body, of hair lengthening to prodigal fair masses to be then pinned up, and released, and re-piled again and again, woman upon woman settling into the lamplit ends of days full of care, the gingham redoubts of matronhood, the rougings, redefinings, emergences and disguises, dimples and lines and bone realities, each year’s face tumbling upon the next in a breathtaking fall. . . .”

– Thomas Pynchon,  Against the Day

In his Defense of Poetry the poet Shelley would once envision time as both killer and savior, speaking of the errors of humans as ultimately being “washed in the blood of the mediator and redeemer, time.” But in a time of no-time where time is the last commodity of the neoliberalist project there can be no mediator or redeemer. We alone have to power to break-out of our self-imposed exile from time, but have instead become so immersed in the belief-systems of our master’s that we’ve all fallen into a cultural amnesia that has in itself forgotten that history was once a moving revolution, and continuous progress into the bright future. Instead we cut ourselves off in anti-time, a time of no time.

Marx once envisioned a tendency inscribed in the present that would initiate our reentry into the future time of life beyond this nightmare of timelessness and oppression. As Berardi affirms: “The new space of activism is here, in the connection of poetry, therapy, and the creation of new paradigms”. 20 Maybe this is what Pynchon meant at the end of his great beast of a proem:

And on they fly. The ship by now has grown as large as a small city. There are neighborhoods, there are parks. There are slum conditions. It is so big that when people on the ground see it in the sky, they are struck with selective hysterical blindness and end up not seeing it at all. Its corridors will begin to teem with children of all ages and sizes who run up and down the different decks whooping and hollering. The more serious are learning to fly the ship, others, never cut out for the Sky, are only marking time between visits to the surface, understanding that their destinies will be down in the finite world. – Against the Day

Maybe that’s it after all – a life lived in a finite world, a world of time, irreversible time moving forward, always progressing into a future, both inexplicable and at risk, full of uncertainty yet also full of surprise, promise, and – yes… hope! A life both singular and unbounded, living with the knowledge that we are “all too human” (Nietzsche) after all. All we need do is walk away from the rational beast that enslaves us in its cage of illusions and false promises. Is anyone willing to do that?

1. Marx, Karl (2004-02-05). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: A Critique of Political Economy v. 1 (Classics) (Kindle Locations 7759-7760). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
2. ibid. (Kindle Locations 7761-7763).
3. (Kindle Locations 7763-7766).
4. Thibeault, A. D. (2014-01-27). An Executive Summary of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s ‘The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies’ (p. 4). New Books in Brief. Kindle Edition.
5. Bauman, Zygmunt; Lyon, David (2013-04-03). Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation (PCVS-Polity Conversations Series) (Kindle Locations 1066-1069). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
6. Luis Suarez-Villa (2013-01-28). Globalization and Technocapitalism (Kindle Locations 620-627). Ashgate. Kindle Edition
7. Luis Suarez-Villa (Kindle Locations 640-642).
8. Luis Suarez-Villa  (Kindle Locations 668-671).
9. Luis Suarez-Villa (Kindle Locations 2588-2593).
10. Crary, Jonathan (2013-06-04). 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (pp. 1-2). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
11. Raiford Guins. Edited Clean Version: Technology and the Culture of Control (Kindle Locations 604-607). Kindle Edition.
12. Raiford Guins. (Kindle Locations 1134-1137).
13. Savat, David (2012-11-27). Uncoding the Digital: Technology, Subjectivity and Action in the Control Society (p. 52). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
14. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle (Kindle Locations 1921-1925). Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.
15. Luis Alberto Fernandez. Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement (Kindle Locations 126-128). Kindle Edition.
16. Adams, Jason M. (2013-11-22). Occupy Time: Technoculture, Immediacy, and Resistance after Occupy Wall Street (Kindle Locations 93-94). Palgrave Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
17. Adams, Jason M. (Kindle Locations 94-104).
18. Bauman, Zygmunt (2013-10-08). Living on Borrowed Time: Conversations with Citlali Rovirosa-Madrazo (Kindle Locations 3647-3656). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
19. Žižek, Slavoj (2011-04-18). Living in the End Times (p. 479). Norton. Kindle Edition.
20. Franco Berardi. After the Future. (AK Press 2011)


taken from here

Foto: Bernhard Weber

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