Bad Consciousness or Bad Structure?

I frequently encounter arguments that the problems of our day — pollution, waste, economic decay, runaway corporate power — result from a lack of individual “awareness.”

But the problem in my opinion is not so much one of consciousness as a structural one. The consciousness is a problem in itself, of course, and a barrier to correcting the system. But it’s simply a side-effect of the structure, created as part of the natural process by which systems of power reproduce the kinds of “human resources” with the mindset required to keep those systems of power going.

The biggest room for hope is the potential of new technologies and forms of organization that will undermine the old structure of power.

The cultural reproduction apparatus has always functioned, at best, just well enough for the purposes of the system. Because of all the internal contradictions of the ideology, there have always been lots and lots of “factory rejects” who were imperfectly processed, lots of “glitches in the Matrix.” The internal inconsistencies of the ideology, and the inconsistency between the stated principles of the ideology and the actual practice of those running the system of power, are so obvious to anyone capable of noticing what’s in front of their own eyes that it would be a miracle if the system didn’t have trouble keeping people’s minds right.

The difference between then and now was that the people who saw contradictions in the system were isolated in a mass society in which information was controlled by the gatekeepers of a centralized, hierarchical, unidirectional hub-and-spoke media.

Now the transaction costs of such people getting in contact with each other, and aggregating into a critical mass, have fallen to near-zero.

And real technological alternatives — cheaper and more efficient alternatives — to large-scale, capital-intensive mass production are also presenting themselves. When a garage factory with $15k worth of open-source, homebrew machine tools, a 3-D printer, a circuit printer, an induction forge, etc., can produce manufactured goods of the kind that once required a million-dollar mass-production factory, the whole material basis for the wage system has disappeared. The wage system came about when technologies shifted from affordable, general-purpose craft tools to expensive, product-specific machinery. The specialized, capital-intensive plant and equipment cost so much that only rich people or large aggregations of rich people could afford to buy them, and hire other people to work them. But when a “factory” can be had for the equivalent of six month’s skilled blue collar wages, how ya gonna keep ’em down in the factory?

Meanwhile, the old mass-production economy and the centralized information system are experiencing a massive crisis of sustainability. Peak Oil, and the effect of the state’s fiscal crisis on its ability to keep maintaining subsidized infrastructure at existing levels, are making the old model of “warehouses on wheels/in shipping containers” non-functional. The high cost of fuel is the equivalent of a 20-30% industrial tariff on goods shipped from job-shops in Shenzhen. The digital revolution is making the use of patents by corporate HQ to maintain control over outsourced job-shop production, or to criminalize knockoffs and generic replacement parts from a garage factory in Cleveland, more costly than it’s worth. The digital revolution, likewise, is making the enforcement of copyright on naturally free information goods unsustainable, so pretty much all info, entertainment and cultural production will shift to the peer-production realm and cease to be part of the cash nexus.

And postwar record levels of long-term unemployment and underemployment mean that people will seize on any opportunity to shift basic needs toward self-provisioning in the household, informal, gifting and barter sectors. Unprecedented new technical possibilities are coming into existence at just the time when the desperate incentives to adopt them are also at an unprecedented level. It’s a perfect storm.

When the storm is over, the outcome will be a society in which the hollowed-out shells of state and corporate hierarchies — to the extent they exist at all — will be in constant retreat.  In their place will be a society of neighborhood micromanufacturers, neighborhood and community permaculture operations, low-overhead household microenterprises, and digital currencies, all networked together on an encrypted darknet economy.

When motive, means and opportunity coincide, the “consciousness” will take care of itself.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory