Dusk Somewhere

First thoughts on 'Mute Compulsion'

Posted at — Jul 26, 2023 by Izzy Meckler

Mute compulsion is a very nice book. So far I’ve read the first few chapters and found it to have one the most accurate and sophisticated description of Marxism I’ve seen written in a single place. It is an understanding of Marxism that many have come to, but only through reading many works. Here it is all in one place.

I have not gotten to the main argument of the book yet, but I’m guessing it will go like this:

Suppose we have a world consisting of actors (with minds, i.e., with some kind of decision procedure for acting in the world based on their memory and sense data) embedded in an environment.

If one actor (or group of actors) A wants to modulate the behavior of another actor B, they can do so in three and only three ways:

  1. They can act on the body of B. (Violence)
  2. They can act on the mind of B. (Ideology)
  3. They can act on the environment of B.

I‘m not sure as I haven’t gotten there yet, but I believe it is this 3rd way of modulating behavior that Mau investigates.

So far there also seems to be hints of a description of individual humans as something like processes in a distributed computation.

Of course I am filtering him through my programmer brain so I’m not sure if that’s what he had in mind. There are many other metaphors that could be appropriate but I like the basic idea of conceptualizing an individual human as merely a node in a network of information and resource propagation.

Then we can began to talk about the kind of software that is running on this distributed computer, moving our analysis beyond the behavior of the individual nodes (which are merely performing a small computation, from which one cannot see the overall behavior).

Moreover we can begin to apply concepts like fault tolerance and error correction. There are mechanisms that prevent each node in a distributed computation from having much influence over the overall execution; mechanisms in which divergent behavior on the part of any one node is “corrected” or ignored by its neighbors.

It also hints at the embedded-systems understanding of Marxism by describing

  1. Value-form theory as the acknowledgment of the abstract system of Capital
  2. Socialist feminism/social reproduction theory as the study of the Capital’s embedding in the human social organism.
  3. Marxist ecology as being about the embedding of Capital in the non-human world.