At the Verso blog, Alain Badiou excoriates the simplistic notion that pervasive digital technology is responsible for our dystopian present. The problem, writes Badiou, is not technology as such, but rather technology as it is shaped by the exigencies of capitalism. Escaping this dystopia, then, is not a matter of returning to nature. We must instead find a way out of the “Neolithic order,” which for millennia “has valu[ed] only competition and hierarchy and tolerat[ed] the poverty of billions of human beings.” Here’s an excerpt:
Today we need neither a return to primitivism, or fear of the “ravages” the advent of technology might bring. Nor is there any use in morbid fascination for the science-fiction of all-conquering robots. The urgent task we face is the methodical search for a way out of the Neolithic order. This latter has lasted for millennia, valuing only competition and hierarchy and tolerating the poverty of billions of human beings. It must be surpassed at all cost. Except, that is, the cost of the high-tech wars so well known to the Neolithic age, in the lineage of the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, with their tens of millions of dead. And this time it could be a lot more.
The problem is not technology, or nature. The problem is how to organise societies at a global scale. We need to posit that a non-Neolithic way of organising society is possible. This means no private ownership of that which ought to be held in common, namely the production of all the necessities of human life. It means no inherited power or concentration of wealth. No separate state to protect oligarchies. No hierarchical division of labour. No nations, and no closed and hostile identities. A collective organisation of everything that is in the collective interest.
All this has a name, indeed a fine one: communism. Capitalism is but the final phase of the restrictions that the Neolithic form of society has imposed on human life. It is the final stage of the Neolithic. Humanity, that fine animal, must make one last push to break out of a condition in which 5,000 years of inventions served a handful of people. For almost two centuries — since Marx, anyway — we have known that we have to begin the new age. An age of technologies incredible for all of us, of tasks distributed equally among all of us, of the sharing of everything, and education that affirms the genius of all. May this new communism everywhere and on every question stand up against the morbid survival of capitalism. This capitalism, this seeming “modernity,” represents a Neolithic world that has in fact been going on for five millennia. And that means that it is old — far too old.
Image of Alain Badiou via Monthly Review.