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February 12, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Marine Voskanyan

THE CONFLICT OF CAPITAL AND INTELLECT. Part 2

Postindustrialism generates new social antagonisms. Can they be resolved, and how?

Part 1: http://www.rpmonitor.ru/en/en/detail.php?ID=8319

KNOWLEDGE THAT DIVIDES

Though the transition towards the "society of knowledge" opens broad possibilities for a selected number of persons, talented both in computer knowledge, personal energy and communication, the cocktail of informatization and globalization appears not very tasty for lots of others.

The existing contradictions between the post-industrial classes may exacerbate mot only for the above described economic reasons. For decades, the Western society had been convinced that the ghost of class struggle is eradicated, as most of the population has bourgeoisified. However, the informational revolution has not made the society more socially and psychologically harmonic.

An ordinary office worker of today, staring for hours at his monitor where electronic document, e-mails, ICQ messages and news change one another, has nothing to talk about with a "socially equal" foreman from a construction site. His class self-identification is determined not with his salary but with the sphere of activity, characterized with a specific perception of the world, and a specific set of values.

At the same time, intellectual workers are divided among themselves as well. An office worker, spending time at his job for visiting porno websites, as well as a housewife, using the web for reading society gossips, don't use the possibilities offered by new technologies. In order to acquire real knowledge, one needs to have an initiative. For making a career in the post-industrial society, one needs to be educated, curious, active, capable of communication, seeking new horizons, and flexible enough to adapt to permanent technological improvements. However, exactly this kind of an active person is especially sensitive to infringement of his freedom of decision-making and activity.

 

THE RESOURCES OF THE "REVOLT OF CLERKS"

Intellectual workers are frequently despised by the traditional working class, being regarded as parasites incapable of producing anything really essential. However, the inhabitant of cyberspace with weak muscles and lack of trivial mechanical skills may be socially influential.

The significance of the Internet as a means of high-speed information exchange implies an enormous potential of self-organizations of persons who had established personal connections in the virtual space. Not surprisingly, British military experts believe that the Internet is going to become a primary means for coordinating activity of all the dissatisfied classes in case of serious political destabilization.

The forecast of the British special report is unpromising for readers of traditional media: they believe that papers are likely to be completely ousted by more flexible and operative web resources, allowing not only to acquire valuable information but to immediately discuss it in the web.

Curiously, many forecasts of an imminent doom of Marxist ideology were based on the assumption that the real, highly concentrated proletariat is gone while the intellectual workers are not supposed to team up in squads and assemblies. This assumption proved to be erroneous since new communication technologies opened a possibility for super-concentration and super-exchange of minds. The "intellectual proletariat" has a far higher potential of unification than the industrial workers of the XIX century.

 

THE DIAGNOSIS FOR THE WORLD OF POSTMODERN

These broadly available tools of self-organization have not yet produced a visible political effect. However, British military experts believe that the community of intellectual workers, though developing as a product of liberal education in a liberal social system, may be once massively fascinated with ideas of social transformation on the ideals of equality and justice: "Feebleness of moral principles and domination of bare pragmatism in the world of today may steer an increasing amount of people towards religious sectarianism, or towards doctrinarian political ideologists of a Marxist type which they are likely to develop into a harsher system of views".

In other words, the problem lies not only in the economic but also in the psychological sphere. Religious and social ideologies may become a refuge for those who are tired of everyday cynicism. It is noteworthy that massive involvement of minor scientists and engineers in the Russian democratic movement of late 1980s was described by a number of authors as a “revolution of clerks”. But those clerks did not possess Internet. An insurrection of office plankton, sharing similar dissatisfaction with social reality, may generate a powerful effect, especially in case it involves massive anti-governmental cyber-sabotage.

The permanent search of new methods of bypassing all kinds of protection devices invented my monopolist software producers, making them universally accessible, indicates that the ideals of justice and equality are not alien for the inhabitants of cyberspace.

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard has already formulated the diagnosis for the world of postmodernist culture where all the ideas are equally accessible and equally vacuous: "We reside in a world of permanent reproduction of ideals, phantasms, images, dreams that exist side by side with us and that are likely to re-emerge again and again due to our fatal indifference". One more French author, Gilles Lipovetsky, author of a research in contemporary individualism entitled "The Era of Void", still relies upon "responsible individualism: "Consumption can't satisfy all our demands, and this fact is being recognized by people. In particular, consumption can't provide us the feeling of being useful". The post-modernist freedom from any framework of a canons, be it logical, aesthetical or ethical, may be acceptable as an abstract philosophic construction but not on the level of a real everyday life where each of us has to seek for these landmarks. Therefore, the ideal of social humanism is likely to be highly demanded again.

 

HOPES FOR "CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM"

Patricia Aberdeen, a well-known US futurologist, co-author of the Megatrends series, recently issued a new volume "Megatrends 2010", with a subtitle "The Rise of Conscious Capitalism". What consciousness does she refer to?

In Aberdeen's view, the current economic problems – such as recession, crises, corporate scandals, reaped by an individual in the form of unemployment, decline of income, terrorism and wars, will force the society to revise the ideology of capitalism, especially the "Profit above all" principle. "Capitalism is to be cured with eternal values. It once became so powerful because of being founded on the principle of justice and equality of opportunity", she writes. What she means far exceeds the traditional meaning of "social responsibility of business", as well as EU's "corporate social responsibility".

Patricia Aberdeen believes that Milton Friedman's axiom that the corporation's only destiny is to bring profit to shareholders, is a misjudgment. She is convinced that today's corporation could and should consider people, the environment, and justice. The time when business was responsible only for shareholders, has passed, she says, quoting Timberland's CEO Jeff Schwartz: "When millions of humans are unable to read and write and can't feed themselves, can we be concerned only with the incomes of shareholders?"

 

GREEDINESS MAKES LOSSES

It would be naive to conclude that capitalists have recovered their sight, finally recognizing the contradiction between its ethics and human values. Possibly, business sharks have jus realized that these values don't prevent but contribute in making profits. After all, isn't it better to be known as rich and kind than rich and evil? If one can gain a reputation of a good guy, why need the fame of a cynical villain? Aberdeen insists that self-interest, the cornerstone of capitalism, should not be confused with greediness, and that business activity does not contradict to spirituality, humanitarian and cultural values.

Amalgamating this forecast on the predictions of British military analysts with the contemplations of theorists of post-industrialism, we acquire a curious picture. The contradictions between new social groups the super-rich, "gold collars", new proletarians, and the lower class, are seemingly insurmountable, if judged from the standpoint that the rich are never going to share their fortunes with others; that the intellectual proletarians are not interested in anything but self-actualization while the poor are fatally expelled from the society of knowledge. The opportunity for a change of status quo could be seen only in conscious re-orientation of an increasing number of people to social humanistic values. This sounds perfectly Utopian. Still, an attempt to build a peaceful Utopia is a more decent task than to prepare for a global clash of "everyone against everyone" which the postindustrial world is going to face in case of exacerbation of its chronic problems. This is the very case when one sincerely wishes that a futurological forecast come true.


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