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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Against property (and sumak kawsay)

A beautiful theme that emerges from Noys book on accelerationism (Malign Velocities, Winchester: Zero Press, 2013) is the appeal to innovative, even glamourous ideas to counter the seemingly daring gestures of accelerationism (and one-track left reasoning in general). Noys stresses the importance of rethinking work. (See my post on Noys'book.) To reconceive work in order to make it less precarious and also less dull requires rethinking property. The left is nowadays very vague or very modest in its critique of property in general, as a political and ontological outrage. It is vague because Marxists insist on the various processes of proletarisation (of dispossessed peasants, of illegal migrants, of those rendered redundant by technological advances) and make clear that a work force has to own nothing but their labour, in contrast to those who own means of production. But it rarely proposes policies and strategies to weaken property. It is modest because people like the Pirate Party are clearly against intellectual property but rarely make clear that the problem is more general and lies in property in general. I think the left ought to make clear that property is something that would better go.

Property of non-humans by humans has to be replaced by different sorts of stewardships. A proletarian society means: no one has property of the means of production. I mean, not even the state; not even the commons. To abolish property means to undo the concept altogether so that care for the non-human could take other shapes. It is to exorcise the potestas idea that one has all rights over something - no one does. The idea that there are taxes over property is a step in the direction of understanding that there are things that are more important than ownership (good use, meaning also general well being in the sense that squatting corrects the absurd of having unoccupied states in a city etc). In a sense, to abolish property is an accelerationist measure for property is the ultimate territory of capitalism, and the flow of capital is such that it has to go around property - to brake for it - and not to make it flow. But it is also something that can be thought against the drive for production - it is not about producing more, it is rather about common sumak kawsay, that is good actualization of potentialities within a community. I take sumak kawsay to mean something like openness for ideas to take space, as opposed for them to wait for capital to help or property rights to allow. This is why so much can be done when intellectual rights are more flexible and also why so much can be rendered possible by devices like crowd funding. There is much to be explored in a critique of property, but I believe to replace it by stewardships of all sorts is what can make the left vibrant and enthusiastic again. There is much to imagine in a world without ownership.

Phil Jones tells me the right believes it has evidence in favor of private property, evidence linking private property to some general good, a sort of a conditional imperative argument. They say people take better care of what they own. It seems like no more than a disguised form of the old form of appeal to human nature, but there is something more to the point. Even though they know that gas and water corporate ownership in Bolivia was a disaster, they seem to believe that land reform is a bad idea because productivity goes down. Well, it is hard to establish this is the case in the long run. But if they are right on this, there is an interesting point: folks that defend the opposite of economic growth as a way out of capitalism would be right in that productivity cannot be the only measure of a good (access) policy. Private property of the means of production has generated capitalist wealth but also loads of misery through proletarization. Things only got better when a different model was a real possibility (as Piketty's results suggest) and collective (meaning state) property was on the political agenda (and not only as a token of the reactionary left). Again, a better take would be to consider something like sumak kawsay. What does a regime of stewardship has to offer to the general (human and non-human) well-being of a collective?

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