“Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge” an interview with Bernard Stiegler [translation]

Bernard Stiegler being interviewed

In this short interview published inLibérationin March 2017, Bernard Stiegler reprises his argument for a contributory income, as is being trialled in the Plaine-Commune experiment. This is more or less the same argument and ideas presented in previous interviews I’ve translated, such as the Humanité interview, in which Stiegler attempts to provide the answer (albeit rather sweeping) to an incredibly gloomy prognosis of unemployment through full automation and peniary for the majority and with it the ever increasing loss of knowledge. Stiegler’ solution is the economic recognition of the value of work that currently is not captured economically. The device to achieve this is the contributory income, which unlike the Universal Basic Income seems to have a vague set of conditions attached.

The main idea here is Stiegler’s interesting distinction between what you get paid for and what you *do* – your employment [emploi] and your work [travail] – which gets to the heart of a whole host of debates (some that are quite long-running) around what we do that is or is not ‘work’ and how/whether or not it gets economically valued. It also builds on longstanding discussion about knowledge and care as a therapeutic relation [with each other, society, technology and so on] by Stiegler [see, for example, the Disbelief and Discredit series]. I think this may be useful for some of the critical attention to the gig economy and the ways in which people are responding to the current bout of automation anxiety/ ‘rise of the robots’ hand-wringing.

What is interesting to me about this interview is how little it moves on from Stiegler’s past articulations of this argument. There’s some sweeping generalisations about the extent and impact of automation based on questionable and contested sources (which I think does a disservice to Stiegler’s intellectual project). It is curious that the contributory income is still talked about in such vague terms. It is supposedly an active experiment in Plaine-Commune, so surely there’s a little more detail that could be elaborated? It would be interesting to see some more detailed discussion about this [sorry if I’ve missed it somewhere!].

The principle basis of the contributory income seems to be a fairly institutional (and as far as I can tell – peculiarly French) state programme for supporting workers in the creative industries. As in previous written work and interviews, Stiegler uses the idea of the “intermittents” or “intermittents du spectacle” to signify the idea of work that is subsidised through some form of state administered allowance, such as unemployment benefit. In France people working in the performing arts are entitled to claim for social security benefits designed for people without regular employment [as per the definition provided by Larousse online.]

So, here’s a fairly quick translation of the interview. As usual clarifications or queries about terms are in [square brackets]. I welcome comments or corrections!

Bernard Stiegler: “Reconstructing the economy by rediscovering the value of knowledge”

The philosopher Bernard Stiegler determines a difference between employment, which today is largely proletarianised, and work, which transforms the world through knowledge, and thus cultivates wealth.

Philosopher, Director of the Institute of Research and Innovation (IRI) of the Georges-Pompidou centre and founder of the Ars Industrialis association, Bernard Stiegler has for several years concerned himself with the effects of automation and robotisation. He has notably published The Automatic Society 1: The Future of Work (Fayard 2015) and In Disruption: How not to go mad?(Les liens qui libèrent, 2016). Today he is deeply engaged with a project which beings together nine towns in the Plaine-Commune territory, in Seine-Saint-Denis, to develop and experiment with a “contributive income” which would fund activities that go unrecognised but are useful to the community.

Amazon intends to gain a foothold in the groceries sector with cashier-less convenience stores, like in Seattle. Is automation destined to destroy jobs?

For 47% of jobs in the US, the response from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is potentially “yes”. The remaining 53% cannot be automated because they are professional roles. They are not proletarianised: they are valued for their knowledge, which gives a capacity for initiative. What makes a profession is what is not reducible to computation, or rather reducible to the processing of data by algorithms. Not all jobs can therefore be automated. But this does not mean they are entirely removed from the processes of automation: everyone will be integrated into automatisms.

For you “employment” and “work” are not the same thing…

For two hundred and fifty years the model of industrial employment has been proletarianised employment, which has continued to grow. At first it was only manual workers, today it has largely exceeded the tertiary sector and affects nearly every task. More and more functions of supervision and even analysis have been proletarianised, for example by ‘big data’, doctors have been proletarianised – which means they are performing less and less of their profession. Proletarianised employment is sublimated by closed and immovable system. Work, on the contrary, transforms the world. So there is employment that does not produce work in this sense, rather the reverse: there is work outside of employment.

The big question for tomorrow is that of the link between automatisms, work outside of employment, and the new types of employment that enable the valroisation of work. The aim of contributive income is precisely to enable the reorganisation of the wealth produced by work in all its forms and cultivate, using the time freed up by automation, the forms of knowledge that the economy will increasingly demand in the anthropocene, this era in which the human has become a major geological factor. It is a case of surpassing the limits through an economy founded on the deproletarianisation of employment.

Optimistic discussions would like automation to free individuals, by eliminating arduous, alienating jobs. But today, it is mostly perceived as a threat…

It is a threat as long as we do not put in place the macroeconomic evolution required by deproletarianisation. The macroeconomy in which we have lived since the conservative revolution is a surreptitious, hypocritical and contradictory transformation of the Keynesian macroeconomics established in 1933. Contradictory because employment remains the central function of redistribution, whereas its reduction, and that of wages, drives the system as a whole towards insolvency.

Employment can no longer be the model for the redistribution of value. And this can no longer be limited to the relationship between use value and exchange value. Use value has become a value of usury, that is to say a disposable value that “trashes” the world – goods become waste, as do people, societies and cultures. The old American Way of Life no longer works: which is why Trump was elected… However if employment is destroyed it is necessary to redistribute not only purchasing power but also purchasing knowledge by reorganising all alternative employment and work.

In what way?

We must rebuild the economy by restoring value to knowledge. Proletarianised employment will disappear with full automation. We must create new kinds of employment, what we call irregular employment [emplois intermittents]. They will constitute intermittent periods in which instances of work that are not instances of employment are economically valued. The work itself will be remunerated by a contributory income allocated under conditions of intermittent employment, as is already the case in the creative industries.

In Intermittents et précaires [something like ~ Intermittent and precarious workers] Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato that irregular workers in the creative industries [intermittents du spectacle] work mostly when they are not employed: employment is foremost a moment of implementing the knowledge that they cultivate outside of employment. We must encourage the winning back of knowledge, in every area [of work]. This implies on the one hand to evolve the relationship between individuals and education systems as well as professional associations lifelong learning and so on.

And, on the other hand, to precisely distinguish between information and knowledge. Automated systems have transformed knowledge into information. But this is only dead knowledge. To overcome the anthropocene we must resuscitate knowledge by inteligently practising information – through alternative periods of work and employment. Only in this way can we re-stabilise the economy, where the problems induced by climate change, for example, are only just beginning, and where vital constraint [contrainte vitale] is going to be exercised more and more as a criterion of value. It is a long term objective… But today, what should we do? Nobody can pull a rabbit out of their hat to solve the problem. We must therefore experiment. This is what we are doing with the Plaine-Commune project in Seine-Saint-Denis, which in particular aims to gradually introduce a contributory income according to the model of irregular work [l’intermittence]. With the support of the Fondation de France, we are working with residents in partnership with the Établissement public territorial [something like a unitary authority area?], Orange, Dassault Systèmes and the Maison des sciences de l’homme Paris-Nord [a local Higher Education Institution]–and through them the universities Paris 8 and Paris 13– in dialogue with small and medium enterprises, associations, cooperatives and mutual associations [les acteurs de l’économie sociale et solidaire], artists, cultural institutions. It’s a ten-year project.

Embarrassing ourselves… translations and mental flounderings

A colleague shared this fascinating and perhaps difficult piece in the LARB by the highly regarded Derrida scholar Geoffrey Bennington on the publication of the anniversary edition and revised translation of Of Grammatology by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, with a new ‘Introduction’ by Judith Butler. I really encourage anyone with an interest in Derrida’s work, in language and in translation to read this article, I think it’s really quite something.

What is perhaps extraordinary about Bennington’s incisive analysis of the new edition is the acute nature of the problems he reveals with translating Derrida’s insight, which Bennington asserts: “is quite simple, yet in its very simplicity hard to grasp”. For “il n’y a pas de hors-textes is just as apposite to the issues Bennington highlights as it is to the understanding of Derrida’s wider project.

I won’t attempt to précis what is an erudite and rigorous article that also necessarily confronts some perceived (it appears fairly) problems and/or errors in understanding on the parts of Butler and Spivak. In this regard, it’s also worth paying attention to the footnotes

Bernard Stiegler: “The time saved through automation must be granted to the people” [translation]

The interview with Bernard Stiegler translated below comes from the l’Humanité.fr website. This follows nicely from the other interview about ‘how to survive disruption’ I recently translated. It’s interesting for a number of reasons, but I think principally because he offers a little more detail on how one might go about creating an ‘economy of contribution’ by discussing the experiments with Plaine Commune and what he means by “contributory income” and how that differs from a ‘universal basic income”. For those interested in Stiegler’s work, beyond the philosophical texts, this is quite an enlightening read (I think).

As usual, clarifications and original French are in square brackets. In this case, all of the footnotes are by me. I hope some others find this of interest… I did.

Bernard Stiegler: “The time saved through automation must be granted to the people”

In the face of the upheavals created by digital data, the philosopher [Bernard Stiegler], developing his research in concert with the think tank Ars Industrialis and the Institute of Research and Innovation [of the Pompidou Centre], invites us to comprehensively [de fond en comble] rethink work. He advocates the establishment of an economy of contribution based on a new type of value production and social justice.

We are entering the era of big data. Does the quantitative explosion of digital data signal a new industrial revolution?

Bernard Stiegler Yes and it is already upon us. A study for the board of Roland Berger [a global strategy consultancy] suggests that three million jobs will be destroyed in the next ten years. But, other studies predict that 47% of jobs in the US, 50% in Belgium and France, will be automated in the course of the next twenty years. We are entering the third historical wave of automation. In the 19th century machine tools enabled capitalism to achieve enormous gains in productivity, while distributing the resulting profits only amongst the bourgeoisie. The second wave was created through Taylorism and the assembly line, which in part benefited the working classes because the workers consumed the goods they played a part in producing, creating mass markets. The third wave is not solely constituted by robots but also by the data we all generate, notably with our smart phones. All of these data that we deliver to platforms, such as Google, banks or shopping websites, are processed in every country and in an immediate manner by algorithms. Their exploitation allows, for example, a company like Amazon to predict what it may sell and to encourage us to buy in an extremely efficient manner, all with the minimum staff. Further, automation is allowing the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, to design very simple robots, capable of placing and retrieving stock incredibly quickly, without human interaction, controlled by software.

Does this means that in the near term a company like Amazon will be able to do without employees to pick, pack and send out packages?

Bernard Stiegler Warehouse workers will be replaced by robots. The “robolution” [1] is becoming increasingly possible for a large number of companies. The humanoids that are reaching market now are much less expensive and more advanced than the large automata already in use. Even SMEs can invest in them.

In the medium term then, such automation concerns everyone?

Bernard Stiegler Driverless lorries are already on the roads of Nevada and soon will be in Germany. Artificial intelligence will be able to replace lawyers who put their legal studies on file. All analytical jobs will be effected. Even medics. A high performance robot is able to conduct prostate surgery… In his Foundations of a Critique of Political Economy [the Grundrisse], Karl Marx formulated the hypothesis: what if everything  is automated? If nothing changes, in particular regions, 80 to 90 percent of the under 25s will soon have no other perspective. The markets will collapse, because there will be no more purchasing power, and with them will go the social security system that relies on workers’ contributions. A new society is being formed and it is not very compatible with that of today. We urgently need to rethink everything, to develop trade based on a new type of value production and social justice. I strongly believe in experimentation, which is why we have launched a project related to Plaine Commune [2] in the urban community of Seine-Saint-Denis. Beginning with a 10-year pilot programme, the aim is to create a district of learning [territoire apprenant] whose inhabitants are not only consumers of but also providers [prescripteurs] of digital services.

We imagine that this area was not chosen at random. Plaine Commune is both rich in diversity, it’s network of associations but also home to a disadvantaged population, facing mass unemployment… 

Bernard Stiegler When I started talking about this project with Patrick Braouezec, president of Plaine Commune, 38% of young people under 25 were unemployed in Seine-Saint-Denis. That figure is now 50% and if we follow the projections, the rate could reach between 80 and 90% in ten years. This endemic problem of unemployment will affect all developed countries unless they invent something new: that’s what we want to do in Plaine Commune. The idea is to develop an economy of contribution in a completely different model to Uber. The time gained through automation must be made available to people, otherwise the economy will collapse. The Indian economist Amartya Sen has shown, through a study comparing the residents of Bangladesh and Harlem [New York], that life expectancy is better and we live in a better society when the sharing of expertise strengthens social ties. He discusses a Human Development Index. Plaine Commune is a bit like Bangladesh: the people there are exercising a remarkable energy. [Various] actors, businesses and residents are aware of the urgent need to invent something radically new, which is to use the mechanisms of contribution to develop a commons in a project that promotes the development, exchange, and transmission of practical knowledge [savoir-faire], life skills [savoir-vivre] and theoretical knowledge [savoir théoretiques] among the younger generations, associations, businesses, public services of the area, and doctoral students from around the world. Researchers will have the mission to facilitate and work alongside these changes.

So this project proposes to put people at the centre of an increasingly automated society [une société de plus en plus robotisée]?

Bernard Stiegler Standardisation, the elimination of diversity, and the destruction of knowledge produce high-dose entropy, characterised by the state of “disorder” of a system. Here was must engage in a little theory. In the nineteenth century, physicists established that, in the theory of a universe in expansion since a big bang, energy irreversibly dissipates. The law of becoming is entropy [La loi du devenir est l’entropie]. Erwin Schrödinger, a great theorist of quantum mechanics (which is the theoretical basis of nanotechnology), however, showed that life is characterised by its ability to produce negative entropy, which is also called negentropy. This delays disorder, that is to say death, which is a decomposition of living matter. Social organisations have a similar function. Automation, which is a hyper-standardisation, produces entropy. Google’s algorithms, which can translate the languages of the world through English, which acts a pivot language, causes an immense linguistic entropy. The impoverishment of vocabulary and dysorthography regresses individual and collective intelligence through a submission to the law of averages. Conversely, life produces, through exceptions, mutations that are impossible to anticipate but which are the very conditions of evolution. Poets and writers have shaped languages through their exceptional use of language. Algorithms erase all exceptions: they only work by calculating probabilities based upon averages. Crude automation produces a generalised (mental as well as environmental) disorder, which ruins the economy. In the economy of tomorrow, automation can instead be placed at the service of the production of negative entropy. It must allow for the valorisation of exceptions by developing the collective empowerment of everyone to make the commons [la valorisation des exceptions en développant la capacitation collective de chacun pour en faire du commun].

The upheaval that you describe considerably changes the concept of work. Are we facing the erasure of the organisation of employment around the notion of salaried work?

Bernard Stiegler In employment [l’emploi] today, the worker [travailleur] is deprived of their expertise [savoir-faire]. They must follow a process and rely upon software – until one day, the task has become automated and the employee [l’employé] is dismissed. Work [Le travail], by contrast, is an activity during which the worker enriches the task by exercising their knowledge [savoir] through its differentiation [en le différenciant], and continually bringing something new to society. This kind of work produces negentropy, that is to say, also, value, and it cannot be automated because it consists, on the contrary, in de-automating [désautomatiser] routines. Ongoing automation must redistribute some of the productivity gains in order to fund some time for everyone to build capacities [un temps de capacitation de tout un chacun] within an economy of contribution that enables everyone to enhance their knowledge. This is why we advocate the adoption of a contributory income, which is not the same as a universal income.

Precisely, the idea has even more trouble finding its way because it overlaps very different definitions … 

Bernard Stiegler Such an income, also called “basic” [income], is a safety net. A contributory income is at the intersection of the models of temporary work in the performing arts [intermittents du spectacle] and the practices of [creating] free software. It covers various levels of compensation that depend upon the periods of employment and the level of salary. The work of tomorrow will be discontinuous [intermittent]. Periods of employment will alternate with periods of acquiring, developing and sharing knowledge. The right to the contributory income will be “rechargeable”, based upon the number of hours of employment. In case of problems, the system will be accompanied by a minimum living wage [revenu minimum d’existence] – as a social protection system accompanying the scheme. The trial we have led with Plaine Commune includes testing a contributory income to benefit those who are younger, for whom the amounts could increase with age and where the contribution allowance [allocation contributif] outside of the employed period would represent a percentage akin to the model of paying unemployment benefit to those working in the performing arts [les intermittents]. The beneficiaries would be invited to “invest in themselves” [«s’encapaciter»], that is to say, to increase their knowledge through studies as well as professional experience. They would be invited to share their knowledge [savoirs] with their neighbouring community [communauté territoriale]. All of this calls for a new collective intelligence, capable of mobilising formal and advanced theoretical knowledge, which is why, with doctoral students, the aim is to develop a contributory research involving the young and local residents. The aim is to develop an economy of contribution founded on the production of negentropy. [3]

So, periods of paid employment remain in your system – what is the difference between contributory work [travail contributif] and precarious part-time job [petit job précaire]?

Bernard Stiegler The switchboard operator job at TF1 paid in the vein of someone working in the performing arts [comme intermittents du spectacle] is only made precarious [précarisée] at the expense of Assedic [4]. Contributory work must be defined by precise criteria. However, such a question cannot be answered a priori, except through the formal principal I have already stated, which is the production of negentropy, that is to say: practical know-how [savoir-faire], life skills [savoir-vivre] and formal knowledge [savoirs formels]. The PhD theses of our doctoral students are intended to inform these issues in close collaboration with the work carried out in Villetaneuse by Benjamin Corriat’s team on the economy of the commons. We will build on the experience of the architect Patrick Bouchain, who has shown how to put urban renewal projects in the service of a political economy of collaboration – where the residents, who are directly involved in the renovation, may be paid in shares of the development [l’habitat]. There are possibilities for developing the economy of contribution through associations, cooperatives, the social economy and solidarity, public services, as well as through industry, where new production methods will create new professions, which will be intermittent.

Have you any idea of how to fund this radical transformation to systems of production?

Bernard Stiegler A share of the gains in productivity must be redistributed. Taxes raised on trillions of euros passing through purely speculative markets might actually be invested in profitable, just and sustainable projects, without forgetting the fight against tax evasion. Vocational training credits [Les crédits de la formation professionnelle] – 38 billion Euros per year – should be involved in funding the economy of contribution, as should many of the exemptions from social charges or tax that could be diverted for this purpose. They represent 80 billion Euros. There really is enough there for this to be funded.

Notes [by me]

1. “Robolution” is a literal translation of the neologism used by Stiegler, i.e. a portmanteau of robot & revolution.

2. The project with Plaine Commune is specified in outline [in French] on the France Strategie 2017-2027 website, and is supported by the Fondation de France.

3.As in previous written work and interviews, Stiegler uses the idea of the “intermittents” or “intermittents du spectacle” to signify the idea of work that is subsidised through some form of state administered allowance, such as unemployment benefit. In France people working in the performing arts are entitled to claim for social security benefits designed for people without regular employment [as per the definition provided by Larousse online.]

4. Assédic or ASSEDIC is the partial acronym of “Association pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce” (Association for Employment in Industry and Trade).

How to survive “disruption” – interview with Bernard Stiegler (translation)

In a recent interview with the French-language Swiss newspaper (or at least the web version) Le Temps, Bernard Stiegler addresses some of the key issues underlying his most recent book (not yet in translation) concerning disruption. Addressing in one sweep the ideological uses of the term by those involved in technological entrepreneurialism (especially in the US) and the wider sense in which (as he has previously argued) Stiegler sees a form of widespread dispossession of knowledge, of life skills and indeed of livelihood across Europe through the rapid political, social and technological changes to work and everyday life – Stiegler continues to argue for his favoured political response: an economy of contribution.

Of interest here, perhaps, is the brief discussion of his (and, I think, Ars Industrialis) collaboration in the creation of a Chair of Innovation [one of a number of proposed ‘research chairs’] to be based in Plaine Commune an urban unitary authority, or greater Paris borough (established through the creation of Metropolitan Greater Paris [Métropole du Grand Paris] as one of the nine Établissements publics territoriaux or boroughs/unitary authorities) on the Northern fringe of Paris that is designated as le Territoire de la Culture et de la création, or ‘the borough for creativity and culture. As I understand it Stiegler proposes Plaine Commune as ‘territoire contributif‘ – a sort of region of contribution [a territory or zone delineated as an area in which the economy of contribution might take precedence, along the same lines as ‘free trade zones‘ perhaps, but with a very different ethics/politics]. The principle role of the ‘chair’ is to oversee the pilot of a kind of basic or citizens’ income (broadly akin to a universal basic income) that Stiegler suggest will be implemented through a formal agreement of ‘contribution’ – whereby the income is granted on the premise that the young people given it will use it to subside their own personal development, in turn making them greater contributors to society.

As always, I have done my best to clarify and offer original French terms where I think it helps but done so in square brackets. I welcome comments and suggestions about this translation – please understand it to be a ‘rough’ version, I am nowhere near fluent enough for this to be considered particularly authoritative!

[See the original in French here].

How to survive “disruption”

The vacuity of the “data economy” or the revitalisation of our societies in a contributory mode? For Bernard Stiegler it’s time to choose …

Bernard Stiegler does not define disruption within the five hundred pages that begin with “Inshallah” and end with “we must dream”. The term, borrowed from nuclear physics, and in particular, experiments in closed rooms suggestively called “tokamaks” denotes a “sudden onset of instability”. In the jargon of our digital age the word now means the ability of an innovation to destabilize entire sectors of the economy and society. It is also worth noting that in the (not unrelated) terminology of the American Medical Association, a “disruptive physician” is a practitioner whose deplorable behavior undermines the health of those around him. So, we’re all clear then.

Bernard Stiegler does not define disruption because that is not his objective. His new book is placed in the disruption: the subject is us, who are totally enveloped within it – all of us, with our “processes of individuation” devastated by the conversion of our interior being into data that is delivered for automatic calculation. All of us, with our “protentions” (that is to say “the desire and expectation of the future”) short-circuited by algorithms. All of us, who face the “hegemonic becoming of disinhibition” [désinhibition devenue hégémonique] exemplified by the repulsive figure of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We are all looking for tools to perform a split, the stakes of which are everything: on one side the void, on the other, if all goes well, the “reconstruction of a true society” [reconstitution d’une véritable société]. This is the conclusion of the French philosopher, theorist and practitioner of innovation, pioneer of digital and socio-technical thinking – and also, in previous lives, owner of a jazz club and former prison inmate, as he as highlighted himself – a combination of analysis with lived experience, which is, in this way, faithful to the foundations of phenomenology.

“How to not go mad?” Asks the subtitle of his book, and how did we arrive at such a question becoming inescapable? Via a long and winding path for society, answers Stiegler, that passes through “the inversion of the Enlightenment project” and leads to the “ultra-liberal capitalism” of the present, born from conservative revolutions that work towards the “pure and simple liquidation of public power”. Also, via a long technological path that has remained unthought since Plato, because philosophy essentially refuses to think technics. To represent the point where digital disruption converges with the climate crisis, Stiegler offers the testimony of a fifteen year old boy called Florian: “We no longer dream of having a family, of having children, a profession, ideals, because we are convinced that we are the last generation”. What is to be done? Surrender to madness? Allow suicidal thoughts to creep into the crevices of our minds like ivy? Let’s see…

Le Temps: Is the situation you describe the product of technology itself, or rather of the socio-political context?

Bernard Stiegler: When computing technologies can go four million times faster than us there are associated structural effects. However, we can use these tools in alternative ways to servicing the data economy. In any case, the web was not, initially, designed for capturing data: it was a space for publication, whose success was related to the opportunity to participate in public life through publication. In the Renaissance, printing opened out a public space that we call the Republic of Letters. The web potentially opens a new space that one can call the Digital Republic. The is what happened at first but quickly, and especially in the ten years since the introduction of social networks, the internet has become a system for capturing behaviour, for the development of what the Belgian lawyer Antoinette Rouvroy calls algorithmic governmentality, by which she means the control of individuals by algorithms.

– Is it still possible to split away from this?

– It is not only possible it is absolutely essential. The computational system as it functions today produces a standardisation, a homogenisation of existential spaces, which leads to a destruction of society. Increasingly, people are seen as the mediated reports of algorithms, and these are substituted for social systems. This results in a loss of a sense of existence that causes frustration, violence and madness, which is to say: despair and desensitisation [denoétisation]: the destruction of cognitive capacities. At an economic level, with the development of automation we see the destruction of more than half of the jobs in Europe and the United States. If we do not want to also thereby destroy half of the purchasing power, and thus consumption and economic activity, we must redistribute income outside of salaried employment, which exists less and less.

– We understand you have a plan…

– It shall be necessary to redistribute the gains made through automation through what we can call a contributory income, remunerating people who augment their capacities to act, in the sense understood by the Indian economist Amartya Sen. At the moment I am developing a project in the Seine-Saint-Denis district, which has more than 430,000 inhabitants, working with their unitary authority [l’établissement public territorial] Plaine Commune. Within the authority, we are creating a Chair of Contributive Research, in partnership with universities and businesses and with the support of three ministers. Primarily, this relates to the question of distributing a contributory income amongst several hundred young people drawn at random, whom we will support through a formal agreement [with them] based upon their acquisition of knowledge. The latter need not be purely academic, we are also speaking here of life skills [savior-vivre] and practical know-how [savoir-faire] in areas that could be [for example] sport or cooking.

In a famous study, Amartya Sen wondered why adult male mortality was higher in the New York neighbourhood of Harlem than in Bangladesh. In answering the problem he put forward an explanation based on [the idea of] collective knowledge that, he said, gave the Bangladeshis an ability to withstand incomparably greater adversity. In the Western world, people are thoroughly proletarianised: they no longer have [such] knowledge [savoirs], they only have the skills to operate a supermarket checkout, accounting software or financial data tools. They are therefore no longer capable of innovating [produire du changement], they only perpetuate the standardised nature of the system. A contributory income, on the contrary, remunerates people who acquire and enhance their capacities to enrich the social. We are also in favour of an unconditional income: both of these devices [dispostifs] are complimentary.

– So, in this way, there can be a future “in the disruption”…

– It is never too late for effective action [pour bien faire]. It is absolutely essential to develop an economy of contribution, using the algorithms that are already exploiting the data economy, that does not reject disruption, because that serves no purpose, because the reality of disruption is something nobody can prevent. This demands a new form of public power and a new European politics that develops an alternative model for these technologies. We must urgently reconstruct an ecology of dreams [une écologie du rêve], of thought [pensée], and social relations, and it must be created through experimentation, rather than solely through theorisation. Today we are in processes of denial, people do not want to hear talk of the extreme gravity of the situation. Yet as soon as there are real prospects [of change], they will [finally] be able to discuss it.

Bernard Stiegler, «Dans la disruption. Comment ne pas devenir fou?» (Editions Les Liens qui libèrent, 480 p.)

Reblog> Improvised Publics :: Control and Calculation :: Inheriting Liberation :: 6-17 June 2016

This event looks really interesting, check out the website for more information…

Emergenc(i)es – an event in Bristol between 6th and 17th June

Emergenc(i)es is an invitation to consider the emergency of the current historical moment.

The exhibition will dwell in the question of emergence within emergency.

Performance, education activities, visual art, screenings, installations, workshops and a library-cum-pharmacy will create time and space to diagnose, explore and understand the world we live in.

Enter – Relate – Improvise – Diagnose – Inherit – Public – Liberate – Gather

All activities are free to attend, thanks to generous funding from Awards for All.

In Disruption – new book by Bernard Stiegler

Yet another new book by Bernard Stiegler has been published in French recently: Dans la Disruption – Comment ne pas devenir fou?

One might translate this as: “In Disruption – How do we not go mad?”

Here’s the front and back covers, and I offer a quick translation of the back cover blurb…

For the lords of economic war disruption is “a phenomenon of the acceleration of innovation (…) which is going to happen more quickly in societies that allow them to impose programmes that destroy social structures and render public power impotent. This is a kind of strategy of tetanising one’s adversary”.

Facing the disruption thus imposed, social systems always arrive too late to seize technological evolution, now thundering ahead in the digital revolution. Faced with this state of affairs, which requires countless legal and theoretical loopholes establishing a lawlessness which is a kind of techonlogical Wild-West, individuals and groups are totally lost, often to the point of going mad, individually or collectively, and therefore becoming dangerous. The concretisation of what Nietzsche described as a growing desert of nihilism leaves 21st Century humans with no other perspective than facing the next of the limits of the Anthropocene.

What can be done with such madness, in such madness? It is by starting with this question, that Bernard Stiegler rereads Michel Foucault (Madness and civilisation: A history of insanity in the Age of Reason) and Jacques Derrida (Cogito and the History of Madness) while confronting Peter Sloterdijk and Jean-Baptise Fressoz’s analyses of capitalism as above all a process of disinhibition.

The author conducts these readings or re-readings starting from the forms of madness which reflects his own course, opening out the question of a new moral philosophy – in an age without age [l’époque sans époque], which he calls the “Strauss-Kahn generation”, that is a “lack of age” [“absence d’époque”], which imposes a general demoralisation that cannot last.

Stiegler: Stop the uberisation of society!

Posted below is a translation of a piece co-authored by Bernard Stiegler with Ariel Kyrou (journo),  Yann Moulier-Boutang (writer) and Bruno Teboul (Director of innovation at Keyrus) and published in Libération on the 10th April.

I suppose it doesn’t really propose anything especially novel, if you’re familiar with others involved in debates around “postcapitalism”, automation, worklessness and universal income (e.g. Srnicek and Williams, or Mason). What is perhaps novel is an application of the ideas in a distinctly European flavour, with examples in France and in the context of a much more robust unionised response to Uber (and the task/gig economy).

Anyway, it’s an interesting read I think…

The piece is rather conversational in tone and uses idioms I have only been able to infer (not being a fluent and native speaker) so it was quite difficult to translate, and so I’m pretty sure there are errors. As usual clarifications or original French are in [square brackets].

Stop the uberisation of society!

Libération, 10th April

The war by taxi companies against an Uber society cannot be reduced to the storyline of a film depicting an ancient evil battling benevolent forces of modernity. If on the one hand the participatory economy threatens our social structures, it can also, on the other, make possible a society with greater solidarity.

Since the first moves towards the draft Thévenoud law in June 2014[1], the urban transport soap opera has generated multiple variations on the theme of the standard storyline. On one side are the taxi federations, which have been labelled a horde of grumpy medieval malthusians by Uber, who in the opening of the second act of the performance of the trial of the 11th February demanded a whopping €100m in damages from Uber, on the other the ‘white knight’ of the new economic order, the high-tech Robin Hood of its pleb users whose UberPop service enables simple fellows in search of employment the opportunity to offer at cut-price their talents for automotive locomotion, between February 2014 and July 2015. This tale of jokers against modernisers is more attractive than the G7, queen of opaque rentier sorcery, who could not turn themselves with the wave of a magic wand into the cinderella of Parisian Transport.

Except that the movie script of the ancient evil against the benevolent ‘disruptors’ rings as hollow as any Hollywood blockbuster: seen quickly, soon forgotten. It works in the short-term, like the groan of the indefinite vigil for a taxi at 3 o’clock in the morning in the banlieue, but it hardly takes us any distance towards solving the questions about the future of our society and the search for sustainable solutions to the crisis we are experiencing.

Let’s not misunderstand this scenario: the agonism presented by this contemporary drama [série du moment] is neither the ardent need to pit global start-ups against French corporatism [corporatismes franchouillards] nor its exact opposite, namely the obligation to defend the capitalism of tired old barons against the hyper-capitalism of the rulers of the digital future. No, the issue that should be obvious to everyone with a stake in the debate is the urgent need to think about the society we want, and then act in order to build it.

For why should we anoint an ‘uberisation of the economy’ without interrogating its ideology and long-term deleterious effects? Uber, which declares only a fraction of its profits in France thanks to a complex form of tax evasion through the Netherlands, Bermuda and Delaware, is participating in the liquidation of our social structures. It embodies a short circuit that threatens the fragile economic balance between taxation, social law, transport policy, infrastructure investment at the local level and the pensions system. Worse still: its social and economic logic foreshadows the advent of a futuristic no-man’s land in which the a priori ideal of liberty becomes monetised against an a posteriori generalised casualisation throughout society. Indeed, the rictus predatory behaviour of platforms like Uber, Lyft and others such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is founded upon a low intensity of capital, little infrastructure, a minimum of salaried employees with more independent or self-employed workers.

The uberisation process forms the first wave in the tsunami of automation. Its primary consequence will be a net loss of five million jobs in industrialised countries by 2020, according to a report published on the 18th of January by the oracles of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the shameless apostles of the “fourth industrial revolution”. This deeply unappealing assertion has been amplified by several studies in the last three years (by Oxford, MIT, the Breugel Institute and Roland Berger) which predict around 47% fewer people in employment by 2025. This slow but inexorable extinction of of the salaried world effects not only warehouse workers, supermarket cashiers and lorry drivers but also barristers, solicitors, journalists, those working in medicine, and so on. Why should it remain necessary to use human beings for tasks that are reducible to systematic procedures? Which in our data economy robots and algorithms will soon perform much more efficiently. The combination of robotics and ‘big data’, algorithms and network effects, is already transforming us into the involuntary gravediggers for salaried employment. Welcome to a world that is ultimately ‘flexible’, boosted by robotic automation [robotisation] and work on the meter. A world where users and customers constantly account for themselves, where each becomes their own big brother and where most of the activity in every market, like with car insurance, will increasingly play out more in an automated big data-driven fashion than according to laws or to forms of trust that are not based in calculation.

Nevertheless we should beware skewed perspectives: such a world is not inevitable. The digital gives us an opportunity to reconsider work not only in terms of jobs doomed to become ever more precarious, provoking anxiety about self-exploitation, but also as a part of a project for a contributory society in which salaried employment would be one means amongst many, rather than an end in itself. A company like TaskRabbit certainly creates use value through its platform of small on-demand jobs, but it keeps for itself and its shareholders the [accompanying] exchange value in the form of profit. In contrast, Loconomics is a co-operative owned by those who use it to advertise their services. Against the platforms of the so-called sharing economy (which it is in name only) Trebor Scholz endorses a ‘platform cooperativism’ [2] to build a society of commons that operates beyond solely economic and financial dimensions.

This shambles needs to be urgently addressed. Thinking in the long-term, this is political in the principal sense of the word. To buckle down to the future of work equally concerns: expertise in data to use and liberate ourselves from algorithms and a care for people without the need for machines; to classify work in a way that is both protective of our ways of life and much less administrative than today; to examine the establishment of an adequate basic income, structurally justified by massive unemployment due to automation and the coming slow death of employment; to experiment with the extension of the regime of casual work in the context of a true society of contribution, with the acquisition and sharing of knowledge by and between everyone; to study tax reform based upon the principles of a financial transactions tax [la taxe pollen], beginning with the establishment of a European tax on the flows of High Frequency Trading, to finance a universal income.

Rather than the two opposing and yet complimentary nightmares that are the integral uberisation of society and the sovereignist protection of the capitalism of yesteryear we prefer the realisation of a dream: to imagine, to experiment, to build, step by step, a freer society with greater solidarity; preferring disagreement to the brainwashing that has played out, historically, through the carrot and the stick, or, in our high-tech times, through a blind obedience to shiny artificial devices [l’obéissance aveugle à de rutilantes mécaniques artificielles et augmentées].

1. For more information on the Thévenoud law see this article – Sam.

2. See this article on Medium by Scholz.

Reblog> The Geopolitics of Context: Mordor, Russia and Google Translate, by @Pip__T

An interesting blogpost by Pip Thornton on the Royal Holloway Geopolotics & Security blog:

The Geopolitics of Context: Mordor, Russia and Google Translate

“One does not simply walk into the Russian Federation”

Over the last week several media outlets, and many more Twitter feeds, have been spreading news of a series of ‘glitches’ in Google Translate which saw the word Russia being synonymised with Mordor when translated from Ukrainian to RussianFurthermore, Russians became occupiers and for a short time the name of the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov returned the result sad little horse. 


Twitter / Vadim Nakhankov (wired.co.uk)

Noting that ‘the terms mirror language used by some Ukrainians following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014″², some suggested the possibility of foul play; that the algorithm was ‘hacked by spies‘, ‘jokers’ or ‘mischievous pro-Kiev activists’,  or that the words had been inserted manually by users as alternative translations presumably in order to ridicule Russia and humiliate Lavrov. Other sources referred to a ‘bug’ or an ‘automated error’ in the algorithm, an explanation seemingly substantiated by the way Google quickly issued an ‘embarrassed apology’, stepping in to ‘fix’ their wayward algorithms as soon as the matter came to light.

Read the full post here.

Stiegler on Daesh and ‘the age of disruption”

I offer a here a quick translation of an interview for Le Monde published past week with Bernard Stiegler, following the attacks in Paris in which he addresses Daesh/ISIS within the context of his conceptualisation of ‘disruption’, which is the context of his forthcoming book [Dans la Dusruption ~ “In the Age of Disruption”].

Only by planning a genuine future can we fight Daesh

The philosopher Bernard Stiegler develops this thesis in his forthcoming book: “In the Age of Disruption”.

Interview by Margherita Nasi.

For the philosopher Bernard Stiegler “war is economic”. The collapose of employment egenders a dispair that in turn leads to violence. “There is no future without a fundamental reversal of economic value”, he explains.

Since the attacks of the 13th of November the President of the Republic insists” “We are at war”, do you recognise yourself in such a war?

No. What is this “we”? They are at war, not me. War is economic, it is theirs and it creates casualties, including me, who cannot sleep at night, not because of terrorists but because of a lack of future for my children. This is not a war against Daesh, as they suggest, but a global economic war, which takes us into civil war if we do not combat it.

Employment will collapse, especially amongst young people, and dispair breeds violence. We no longer produce reasons for hope today. The attacks of the 13th of November were suicide attacks, which is not insignificant – suicide is developing around the world, especially amongst those young people who know they will not work for a long time.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande failed to provide any kind of prospects for these young people. It is against this stupidity, this madness, that I am at war. A war within myself as well: we are all subject to this tendency to find scapegoats, not to think and not to care. This is barbarism, and that is exactly what Daesh wants: to create civil war. There will be more attacks if we do not change our politics. This is the context of my next book ” In the Age of Disruption”.

What do you mean by disruption?

Disruption is a phenomenon of accelerating inovation which is the foundation of a strategy developed in Silicon Valley: it is a drive to go faster than societies in order to impose upon them models for the destruction of social structures, rendering public powers powerless It is a strategy that tetanises the opponent. In my book, I analyse a text signed by Abu Bakr Al-Naji, as summarised by Ignance Leverrier [former diplomat and journalist], that defines a collective, including former officers of Saddam Hussein that became Islamists. It is a sort of Daesh manual, in the image of corporate bibles that detail the rules to set up a franchise. This book explains how Daesh actors should seize power. One must create chaos and thus exploit the need for some kind of authority.

I compare this strategy with that of the website “Les Barbares attaquent” [The barbarians are coming], founded by Nicolas Colin, a former tax inspector known for his report on the tax system and the digital economy, in which hie highlighted the inadequacy of the tax system for dealing with digital companies, which he describes as the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’, in this case GAFA [acronym for: Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple]. He has since moved to the other side, from public service into the economy which he described as so damaging, to create an investment fund that raises money to practice disruption on the French. Yet, repeating the strategy of GAFA, he can only extend their ecosystem and intensify the colonisation of Europe, wrecking transport, housing, education–all sectors–through new models such as Uber. However, such disruptive practices destroy the social balance, what [German Philosopher] Theodor W. Adorno anticipated by speaking in 1944 of a “new form of barbarism” in relation to the cultural industries.

It is not by declaring war on Daesh that this takes place. This declaration is one way of absolving oneself of one’s own responsibilities by scapegoating people that have become extremely dangerous and who we have co-produced with Daesh.

This radicalisation is thus built on the ruins of ultraliberalism?

Yes. We turn radicalism into a question of religion, and this is outrageous, Most recruits of radical Islam have no religious culture. It is not religion in question but despair. Richard Dur, the murderer of eight members of the Nanterre Council in March 2002, prefigures his actions by speaking about his feelings not existing: he wanted to become somebody by these actions.

In 2012 you launched a call for a global economic peace treaty, is this still a possible contemporary solution for eradicating barbarism?

We need to open out a debate in Europe, take things head-on, since the birth of the web we have all been losing. Exploited by the kinds of disruption practised by GAFA, digital technologies have accentuated the environmental toxicity that has been growing since the beginning of the anthropocene – an era in which humans have become the major geological factor – in terms of the climate, the atmosphere and in mental terms.

There is no future without a fundamental reversal of economic value: only the transition to an economy producing sustainable forms of value will overcome the challenges that are the subject of the COP21 next week.

We must launch a new European policy rather than aligning ourselves with the American model that is disruptive and suicidal/ We must invent a new Web in the service of viable marcoeconomic model, rather than developing a completely ruinous economy of data. These are the themes of the “Conversations about a new industrial world”, orgainsed at the Pompidou Centre on the 14th and 15th of December. Only by planning [projetant] a genuine [véritable] future for the planet can we combat Daesh, in other words to combat despair.

Jean Lievens introduction to Michel Bauwens’ Sauver le Monde

Earlier this year I posted rough translations of both Bernard Stiegler’s Preface and Dirk Holeman’s Postface to Michel Bauwens and Jean Lievens’ book Sauver le Monde: Vers une société post-capitaliste avec le peer-to-peer [To Save the World: towards a post-capitalist society with peer-to-peer].

I’ve translated a bit more now and I make this translation available, for free, to the publishers to do as they wish with it. I hope it helps in some small way…

These are the first few pages of the book following the Preface, in two short sections: Introduction and About this book.

As usual, clarifications or original French are in square brackets and I welcome any comments or suggestions – although I’m not trying to offer an ‘authoritative’ translation…


“We do not live in a changing age, but rather a change of age”
Professor Jan Rotmans
(Professor of the Theory and Management of Transition,
Erasmus University Rotterdam)

It would be pointless to try to convince the reader of a book entitled To Save the World that life on Earth, as we understand it today, is in peril. Following a recently published study in the journal Nature Climate Change, more that half of terrestrial plants and the habitats of around a third of animals will disappear because of climate change if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at the current rate. Scientists at the renowned Global Footprint Network (an international laboratory of ideas that measures ecological sustainability using ‘ecological footprints’) have calculated that, at present, we will need a planet and a half to maintain the current global economy. Furthermore, the growth rate required to maintain this system until 2053 would require the global economy to quadruple. In this case, we would need six planets. One does not need to be genius to understand that endless growth on a finite planet is a scientific nonsense and we are heading for a crash. Faced with this bleak perspective for the future, there are different ways to react: simple denial, to resign ourselves to it, or to attempt to do something about it.

To change the world, we can draw inspiration from the past, but we need a new way of addressing the challenges of the future. Michel Bauwens brings us such a vision. Not the visions, but a vision. The title of this book thus reflects a certain arrogance inconsistent with his character. Indeed, very intelligent people are often very modest, because they are very conscious of their own limitations. But who is Michel Bauwens? Beneath the title “The most stimulating Belgian thinker is an unknown philosopher” in the newspaper De Morgen (on the 23rd March 2012) presents him as follows:

“Do you know Michel Bauwens? Perhaps not. This 54-year-old cyberphilosopher is not well known. Bauwens is the first Belgian to figure in a list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He finds himself in the illustrious company of people such as Mahatma Ghandi (9), Martin Luther King (24), The Dalai Lama (28), Thomas Malthus (55) and John Kenneth Galbraith (70). Bauwens occupies 82nd place, a few rungs above Eleanor Roosevelt (87).”

The list referred to in De Morgen, “The (En)Rich List”, is a table of 100 people established by the Post Growth Institute, an international group of scientists that lobby for a sustainable society in which prosperity can be created without a need for economic doctrine [besoin de croissance économique]. The list of the “most enriching people” is a foil [clin d’Å“il – literally “a wink”, could be translated to ‘a nod’] to the 100 “richest people” in the world, published annually by the American financial magazine Forbes.

Cyberphilosopher, futurologist, economist, researcher, conference convener, entrepreneur”¦ These are some of the epithets given to Michel Bauwens by journalists. Wikipedia designates him as a “peer-to-peer theorist”, and he describes himself in this book as a commentator and thinker attempting to forge a coherent link between the theories, hypotheses and explications of peer-to-peer, and to do so in the most ethical way possible.

So what is ‘peer-to-peer’ (abbreviated to P2P)? This is a term not well known or understood outside of the world of IT enthusiasts and geeks, nevertheless the collaborative economy, forged through networks of peers, has rapidly gained in popularity throughout our countries. A year before the publication of that short article in De Morgen, the Dutch-language Belgian newspaper De Tijd (on the 23rd April 2013) published a detailed interview with Michel, across a double-page spread. Little by little, he has gained notoriety even in his country of birth. As is often the case, local recognition comes on the back of an international breakthrough, and not vice versa. It is well-known that: “No one is a prophet in their own country” [«Nul n’est prophète en son pays» – this is an idiom that some suggest traces back to the apostles Luke and Matthew].

About this book

This book is the outcome of twelve Skype interviews, of around an hour each, between January and February 2014. If I had arranged twelve more hours, if someone else had interviewed Michel, this would have been a different book. In any case, our aim is to share with you some ideas at the heart of peer-to-peer, production between peers, in the hope of inspiring you to further your understanding through other lectures, books and studies. As this book contains a number of important new and uncommon terms (for example, you may have already struggled with the term ‘peer-to-peer’ in the subtitle of this book), we have created a glossary that is situated at the end of the book.

Personally, I think that politicians, whether on the right or the left, have a tendency to see the future [l’avenir] through the rear-view mirror. Just as Marxism is an ideological construct of the 19th century, liberalism and nationalism find their origins in the 18th century. From a historical perspective these ideologies each have respective values but they no longer offer a response to the enormous difficulties that confront us today. This is also expressed in the way that politicians are unable to offer solutions. Not only because the political class tends to defend the status quo and their vested interests but also because many of the problems can only be solved at a global scale and thus local authorities are powerless. This certainly does not mean that nothing is possible at a local level, quite the contrary. On those occasions when everything is paralysed at national and international levels, only local level action allows real progress. This is reflected in particular by increased urbanisation (since the beginning of the 21st century more than a half of the global population has lived in towns and cities), or what Eric Corijn calls the emergence of “urbanity” as new form of post-national society, but also by the development of peer-to-peer mechanisms through which a number of people take their fate into their own hands by launching new projects from within the very institutional framework with which they have often clashed. In the face of the pessimism of the political world, there is optimism within the science of peer-to-peer. This is why solutions will come first from civil society.

We live in an era of enormous possibilities, but also of contradictions and gigantic obstacles to the full realisation of those possibilities. Machines have releaved us of a large part of manual labour (and increasingly of intellectual labour), but the automisation of production processes has not translated into the redistribution or the reduction of working time. Financial markets, often governed by mathematical algorithms upon which no one has a grip, have a greater impact than governments upon our lives. Our parliaments vote for laws that render collaboration and sharing illegal. Our economic model is founded upon the absurd idea of material abundance and immaterial rarity. We behave as if the world was limitless and exploit it to the utmost, to the point of jeopardizing the survival of the human species. Furthermore, we use copyright and patents to build artificial barriers around human knowledge to complicate sharing and collaboration as much as possible. Yet, from the society of the industrial revolution emerged new models and ways of working, heralding a new society. Thus, today, in the words of the Dutch Scientist Jan Rotmans: “We do not live in an era of change but in a change of era”.

The emerging model of peer-to-peer, inspired by the open source movement, seeks to circumvent the false logic of material scarcity and the artificial scarcity of the immaterial. In the apparent tangle of new phenomena such as the collaborative economy, peer-to-peer networks, open source, crowd-sourcing, FabLabs, micro-factories, the “maker” movement, urban agriculture and so on, Michel Bauwens sees a model that leads us to a post-capitalist society, in which the market finally submits to the logic of the commons (the common good). This book is a first attempt to articulate ideas concerning peer-to-peer formulated by Michel Bauwens. It is not simply the result of the reflections of a single person but rather the collective inteilligence of a growing minority of active pioneers who are developing and revealing thousands of projects and experiences amongst peers. Hopefully they will be an inspiration for all who are active in this area and work to build a new world, starting with what affects us directly.

Jean Lievens
9th July 2013