Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, October 22, 2012

Is the Right to the City Just Fordist Urbanism?

David Harvey:
I’ve tried to think in very simple terms, which is that those people who build and sustain a city should have a right to residency and to all the advantages they’ve spent their time building and sustaining: simple as that.
Harvey also makes the point that the developmental displacement of the "infrahuman" precariat to suburbs to cater to the 1% exacerbates catastrophic climate change by demanding petrochemical subsurbanization -- so much for futurological "green cities"! I find myself strongly agreeing with Harvey's observations and his recommendations here, but also find myself wondering if he should so glibly identify his critique with "anticapitalism."

As with so much resistance to the neoliberal model of financialization and precarization and network-mediation it seems to me "anti-capitalism" takes the form more of a pining for older formations of capitalism over the latest one, rather than a transcendence of capital altogether. Doesn't Harvey's initial insight simply reproduce Fordist commonsense? Isn't the sustainability criterion he depends on in his second insight a notion introduced to protect capitalist progress ideology from the critique of deep ecology?

By the way, I am far from exempting myself from this tendency, as when I write, say, "LXXIV. Mine is an anti-capitalism that will be quite content with an environmentally sustainable social democracy in which universal healthcare, education, income, expression, recourse to law and franchise is funded by steeply progressive taxes even if everybody decides to call that outcome 'capitalism' for whatever reasons perversely appeal to them."

Debord's point that the Spectacle is very good at deluding combatants into imagining internecine skirmishing feeding plutocracy is revolutionary resistance to plutocracy is a good point, but the force of the point itself implies that it is not an Iron Law. The fandom of peer-to-peer democratization may enable ubiquitous corporate-military surveillance and advertorial harassment and the "participation" of zero comments, but that is not the whole story (it risks becoming the whole story only when the first observation is denied). The fight for commons may be -- as Zizek, Negri, and the like are prone to declare these days -- the contemporary face of communism, but that is not the whole story either (look what happens when what is championed is the "innovation commons" or "commonwealth" or "common law" with their not-communist communitarianisms).

I do think those of us who are struggling for democratization, sustainability, and equity-in-diversity should take greater care about what exactly we are resisting when we make glib recourse to terms like "anti-capitalism." There are and have been many capitalisms, and it is better to try to know which ones are we resisting, when and how?


Anonymous said...

Can you elaborate on what you mean by peer-to-peer democratization?

Dale Carrico said...

Well, I'm teaching an undergraduate course on the topic so of course I could elaborate on this all the livelong day! For simplicity's sake lets just say: One -- I define democracy as the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them (including decisions about what gets to count as "public" "decision" "affect" "them" in the formulation itself); Two -- Given the above, I define as democratization the historical struggles through which ever more people gain ever more of a say in ever more of the decisions that affect them; Three -- I define as peer-to-peer democratization the opportunistic delineation, development, and deployment of p2p networked formations in democratizing struggles (involving education, agitation, organization, criticism, expression, and so on), and in my own perspective on these developments, with a special emphasis on the anti-democratizing practices and potentialities inhering even in what appear to be -- and even are -- momentarily democratizing practices and potentialities (eg, corporate-military surveillance and harrassment via expressivity, isolation and assimilation via online participation, dirty tricks and provocateurs enabled via small aggregate organizing, complacent and unsustainable consumption via free information, and so on). That's a first approximation, much much more could be said.