It's Dusk Somewhere

On the human mode of history (001)

Posted at — Aug 30, 2023 by Izzy Meckler

Several interesting properties of the human mode of history:

  1. Humanity has the capacity for surplus labor. I.e., in $N$ hours, a group of humans can act on its environment to procure sufficient material resources to sustain the lives of that group for more than $N$ hours. The surplus labor time is radically unconstrained relative to the non-human environment. Its direction is entirely and solely subject to human decisions.
  2. Some amount of human labor time (whether it is part of the necessary or surplus time may not be exactly clear) is dedicated to the manipulation of the physical environment in ways which constrain future human behavior. Some examples include the construction of roads, schools and media technologies which teach certain patterns of behavior, etc. We may call such accumulation of changes in the environment through labor external technology.
  3. Given that the allocation of surplus labor is directed by the social relations of the given society, it is likely that at least some part of the surplus will be dedicated towards bolstering the durability of those social relations by encoding them materially in the environment. Every known society has done this to some extent. This is what David Graeber and Wengrow cal “getting stuck” in their book The Dawn of Everything.

The accumulation of external technology is completely inevitable historically given the human capacity for surplus labor. This fact on its own completely undermines a simplistic primitivism which argues against technology as such. The technological encoding of social relations Is likewise more or less inevitable, to some degree.

The only real hopes for liberation within a class society are In the contradictions of its instantiation within the social and physical systems. I.e.,

  1. That the technological encoding of social relations and the organization of the necessary labor creates unforeseen conditions which allows some counter-hegemonic social force to abolish class society.
  2. That the contradiction between the organization of labor within a society and its environment creates unforeseen conditions which allows some counter-hegemonic social force to abolish class society.

“Unforeseen” here meaning conditions which arise from logics specific to the physical and social systems, that have no correlate inside the logic of the abstract social system.

More sophisticated “primitivisms”

The possibility of a more sophisticated “primitivism”, that relies on technology to foreclose certain technological dimensions is left open, and indeed is the only path to freedom available given that

  1. Certain technologies are incompatible with human freedom.
  2. The accumulation of surplus labor into technology is inevitable.

Therefore, in an ecologically conscious communism (a society of freedom in which the metabolism with nature is consciously monitored and regulated) will require the investment of surplus labor into social technologies which restrict the development of freedom-incompatible technologies.