Another Now

Last updated Dec 16, 2023

Another Now

In the same vein as Everything for Everyone and Half-Earth Socialism in the sense that it talks about an alternate future, even though the approach on how to get there is vastly different.

I learned a few things while reading it:

Highlights

“What does it mean to be a proletarian, really?” Costa continued, without waiting for a reply. “Let me tell you. From bitter experience. It means you are a cog in a process of production that relies on what you do and think while excluding you from being anything but its product. It means the end of sovereignty, the conversion of all experiential value into exchange value, the final defeat of autonomy.” — p. 3

“Capitalism and science fiction share one thing,” he replied coolly. “They trade in future assets using fictitious currency.” — p. 18

“Something deep inside him detests the dehumanizing ways in which new technologies are produced. If only the humans producing them were allowed to craft them like artisans – not like machines breeding machines. And yet this doesn’t stop him from appreciating the beauty and the virtues that they afford.” — p. 20

This extreme incident reinforced Costa’s opinion that waged labour was a form of submission. Just as the ownership of one person by another is intolerable, irrespective of how well the master treats the slave, so too is an illiberal and unjust wage contract, whatever the wage or the working conditions. — p. 46

The surest way to destroy a quality is to turn it into a quantity. Was this not what capitalism had done to us? Reduce every value to a price, every exchange into a transaction, every thing of incalculable beauty into a measurable object of desire? And yet, despite his idealism, Costa also recognized that a democratic, technologically advanced, large-scale economy cannot be run like a commune. It needs numbers. Quantification is unavoidable. — p. 63

“If we are to be turned into numbers, we might as well design a system in which the numbers are determined democratically” — p. 63

They celebrated the Luddites as history’s most misunderstood figures, whose vandalism of machines was a protest not against automation but against social arrangements that used technological innovation to deprive the majority of their dignity and life prospects. — p. 78

It was a common mistake to think that laws and written rules create networks of power. No, power networks merge first. They do so organically and only then crystallize into codes, rules, regulations and, finally, law. Removing the rules that enshrine hierarchy in law ill not end hierarchy any more than the retreat of organized religion has eliminated superstition. — p. 88

This is why trading in apples does not even come close to trading in shares. Large quantities of apples may produce, at worst, lots of bad cider. But large amounts of money invested in liquid shares can release demonic forces that no market or state can control. — p. 94

“Corporations go to great lengths to employ geniuses: technologists, designers, financial engineers, economists, artists even. I’ve seen it happen,” he said. “But what have they done with them? They channel all that talent and creativity towards humanity’s destruction. Even when it is creative, Eva, capitalism is extractive. In search of shareholder profit, corporations have put these geniuses in charge of extracting the last morsel of value from humans and from the earth, from the minerals in its guts to the life in its oceans. — p. 103

In PASS Eva recognized what academic economists refer to as self-revelation mechanism design – arrangements that motivate people to act honestly, as in the famous method of dividing a pie between two people, whereby one cuts the pie and the other chooses which piece they want. — p. 138

Initially, Eva had considered the harvesting of data by Facebook, Google and others for the purposes of advertising a pretty innocuous way for consenting adults to trade a little bit of privacy for some rather desirable free leisure services. But as Costa would point out whenever given half a chance, Facebook and Google, Twitter and Instagram, Amazon and the rest were not mere service providers. Nor were their profits rewards for services rendered. No, they were gigantic behaviour modification machines, addicting and provoking, teasing and enraging their users in order to maximize engagement and the profiling data – and profits – that came with it. — p. 144

This was what he meant when he said that social media was proletarianizing us all. Facebook’s users provided both the labour that went into the machine and the product that was sold by it. — p. 144

Every time an environmentalist demanded a new, cuddlier metric with which to replace GDP, Eva despaired. “If we want to protect trees or lakes that have no market price,” she argued, “we should just do it: slap preservation orders on them! What’s the point of concocting an arbitrary price substitute by which to measure their intangible value?” — p. 149

Humanity’s tragedy, she argued, was that common interests do not guarantee cooperation, even when the stakes are sky high. Something else is needed to bring people together first. A bond of trust and allegiance. Some sort of shared identity. What identity was it that the members of these conflicting social classes shared? What did they have in common as people that allowed them to establish common ground on wages and working conditions, on legislation and matters of state? Iris’s answer caused much consternation among both the men and the women who heard it: it was their shared entitlement as men to use women. — p. 160

It reminded her how the forces of evil never fail to acknowledge and support each other, how effortlessly and consciously they cooperate. Whereas the forces of good know only how to betray and abandon each other when it matters most. — p. 175

“I didn’t mean that you are the rodent,” replied Costa. “No, your attention is. Big tech gobbles it up through these games you play, while the invisible parasite breeds through their search engines and apps, making it harder and harder for you to hold on to your autonomy, to your capacity to direct your attention where you choose. Freed of fear of slavery, you surrender more and more to them.” — p. 183

“Power always rests on the law of large numbers,” Costa replied. “No despot, oligarch or entrepreneur has enough power to rule millions without their tacit consent. The truth about despotic power lies not in the despot’s weapons, bank accounts or computer servers but in the minds of those the despot controls. As long as the many believe they are powerless they remain so.” — p. 194

“Moments of truth are a fiction,” Iris said, adding, “Truth grows organically, Thomas. There was never a particular moment or event that pushed my thinking and your mother’s closer together. Epiphanies are an illusion that our minds conjure up to explain our failure to realize the obvious earlier.” — p. 201

“[…] a good life requires that we find, like Odysseus, a strong mast to which to tie ourselves when it matters, lest we remain slaves to our every whim. This mast must be good and it must be self-chosen, but crucially it cannot simply be another, higher or more powerful desire. It must be something separate from and independent of our self. Lashing ourselves to it is the only way of ensuring the true freedom and autonomy that we crave.” — p. 214

Market exchange dissolves what makes us human. It is why our souls feel sick. By allowing exchange value to triumph over doing things together for their own sake – for the sheer hell of it – we end up crying ourselves to sleep at night. — p. 218