t byfield on Tue, 3 Jun 1997 08:49:55 +0200 (MET DST)

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Re: <nettime> The Piran Nettime Manifesto

At 8:25 PM -0400 on 6/2/97, John Perry Barlow wrote:

> >If "pan-capitalism" is "the natural state of things," then there's
> >no point in talking about it: it has all the conceptual clarity of
> >the word "stuff." I suppose you can evaluate "the natural state of
> >things" in a positive way, but what you're pretty much saying that
> >the world's a great place. Indeed it is--now what? Well, now we'll
> >need to think about it in clear terms that convey *some* amount of
> >specificity.
> What I meant to say is that nature is itself a free market system. A rain
> forest is an unplanned economy, as is a coral reef. The difference between
> an economy that sorts the information and energy in photons and one that
> sorts the information and energy in dollars is a slight one in my mind.
> Economy *is* ecology.

Ah. I disagree. A tree is a "construction," and so is a man-of-war
(I mean those multispecies jellyfish-like creature), as is a city:
they're all "constructions." Each of these statements is true, but
none of them is *adequate*: in each case, this description loses a
great deal of specificity, and the specificity that's lost is what
distinguishes each entity from the others--in fact from everything
else. So you may be right than economy is ecology; the question is
how much that statement reveals and how much it conceals. And, I'd
say, it conceals more than it reveals. You'll likely disagree with
me on that point, so let me put it a bit differently: I think that
statement's usefulness won't last forever. Almost every intriguing
idea has a seed of truth in it--but human society has moved beyond
discussing most of the ideas it came up with. And so with the idea
that economies can be seen as ecologies: OK, so now what? Where do
we go from there? Or, if you prefer, where should we go from there
when this idea's vitality starts to grow feeble? You are, I think,
an ecologist of sorts, so you'll surely recognize how important it
is to adapt, to develop, to absorb, to encompass, to mutate and to
grow--so how should we elaborate on the idea that economy is, in a
way, ecology? I'd suggest that we start to digest the two terms of
this statement, to break them apart. Mind you, I disagree with you
about this: I think that an economy *can be seen as* an "ecology,"
but I *don't* believe that ecologies should be seen as economies--
and that lack of transitivity suggests, to me at least, that there
is much more to be learned in questioning what you've said than in
accepting it. So I'll buy what you say in order to move beyond it.

> .So let's do that... The notion that every regime that
> >has imposed a planned economy has failed is clearly false: there's
> >been a recent wave of collapsing governments in a specific region,
> >and they followed a limited range of economic planning strategies;
> >but they were never the monolithic bogey that the US made them out
> >to be when they were in power--and nor were they the only examples
> >of "planned economies."
> Very well. Can you give me an example of a planned economy that seems to be
> healthy...and appears likely to remain so for the long term?

Absolutely: The Roman Empire. The British Empire. The Ming Dynasty.
Feudalism. Byzantium. Venice. The Netherlands. De Beers. The EEC. I
don't toss these out to be glib; rather, I mention to point up just
how many people have constructed very impressive regimes: every one
of them seemed (or seems) quite sensible--that is, according to its
own terms. I don't see the Netherlands collapsing anytime soon; but
for some pretty long stretches no one saw how Rome would fall apart
or why Byzantium would collapse, but they surely did. I have little
doubt that the nation-state will fall apart and be replaced by some
other, similarly heterogeneous "solution"; and that that "solution"
will in turn collapse in the face of something else, and so one and
so forth. Is this state of flux what you are advocating? Or, do you
believe that we're on the verge of a  terminal solution to the non-
problem of historical change? If economy is ecology, then, it seems
to me, pan-capitalism will be, like everything, a flash in the pan.

> > No amount of quibbling can change the fact
> >that every major industrialized country imposes an incredibly wide
> >range of procedures that serve to regulate their economies, and to
> >do so with the aim of meeting very specific goals: *planning*. And
> >they *all* do so through a range of techniques, which rely on both
> >"incentives" and "coercion."
> There is a lot of tinkering with industrial economies through regulation
> and tax incentives, but I would say more of these techniques are in decline
> and increasing low repute. Look at what is happening with
> telecommunications worldwide. I don't know a single country that still
> believes the PTT model is the way to optimize communications.

And I don't know of a single country that really believes that its
citizens can eat electrons. Telecoms are only one facet of a broad
array of questions, all of which must be approached as necessarily
interrelated. That is the essence of the problem we're faced with.

> >Maybe that brings us full circle, to the
> >claim that pan-capitalism is somehow "natural"; but if it does, it
> >does nothing else--and leaves us wondering whether you're claiming
> >that whatever you mean by "planned economies" was unique in all of
> >world history as an unnatural creation of man.
> I'm not sure that anything humans do is unnatural.In a sense, it's all
> nature. But some our efforts are so mechanistic as to be
> counter-productive. I would assert that planned economies have been about
> as successful as many planned ecologies: tree farms, drained wetlands, etc.
> Mother Nature is cruel, but she can be far kinder than the unintended
> results of our best intentions.

And I would assert that unplanned economies have done about as well
as planned economies: the vast majority of them have collapsed, and
now lie in ruins. One could infer from this that it's futile to try
anything; but neither one of us has inferred that. OK, so now what?


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