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Movies by Michael Betancourt
 Going Somewhere
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archives begin in 1996


Value and Use Value (a note)

story © Michael Betancourt | published September 22, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


A transformation in the nature of currency reflects underlying shifts in the nature of value production: the dominance of semiotic production has produced a shift in the function of currency from its historical foundation in preserving past labor (value) to being a lien against future production (a debt that acts to set labor in motion). This change in the nature of productionthe rise of semiosis that is the primary technique of digital capitalismhas come to dominate value and the organization of labor, with the concomitant effect on the nature of currency. The shift this change entails is a rupture with both classically conceived value and Karl Marxs own set of basic assumptions about the organization of labor. In these historical views value resides with labor already performedpreserved in the commodities thus generated, and whose value is linked to the use value that the commodity has. This construction brings human wants, needs and desires into the framework of valorization both directly (through the functional role of the commodity) and indirectly (through the consumers desire for the commodity, quite apart from its uses).

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Surveillance, Agnotology, Security

story © Michael Betancourt | published July 17, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


My article that I started writing in 2007, begun before we had good confirmation of the NSA surveillance programs, could only be finished because of what we now know: The Demands of Agnotology::Surveillance addresses the complex links between surveillance, agnotology, and security:

Surveillance is the logical antithesis of agnotology: it acts to produce certainty rather than uncertainty. 'Security' provides a far-reaching, nebulous justification for a range of actions, from expansions of surveillance (immaterial production) to war and imperialism (primitive accumulation). The periodic crashes of capitalism are a symptom of the overextension inherent in capitalism itself, however, moments of 'systemic failure' are not indicators that capitalism will implode; instead, what occurs is a retrenching that results in an expansion of capitalist processes into new domains.

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The Security Apparatus

story © Michael Betancourt | published April 24, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


Linkages between agnotology, hyperreality, and surveillance converge in the security apparatus: a paradigm of observation and control whose function is both immaterially productive (it enables the autonomous semiotic generation of value) and restrictive (it enables the mobilization of physical/immaterial force to defend this immaterial production). These productive-restrictive activities are distinct, yet mutually reinforcingthey form a dynamic cycle masked by the aura of the digitals stripping of physicality from conscious consideration. Without this distanciation of the physical, the productive-restrictive cycles would become apparent through their necessarily disenfranchising actions as human agency is usurped by automated processes and autonomous oversight. The security apparatus appears as an impartial, disinterested alternative to the variable contingency of human agency: its uniformly applied mechanical responses create an illusion of objectivity. This mechanical response is a crystalized ideology, an inflexible restriction iterated by the all-or-nothing logic of digital protocols that are incapable of ambiguity, plurality or contingency apparent in the right to read implemented as Digital Rights Management (DRM)either you have authorization or you do not. This authorization implicitly demands a continuous monitoring and maintenance where its authoritarian machinic surveillance, whether as immaterial production or socio-political control, serves to reify the security apparatus in the implementation of digital technology itself. DRM is the most visible prominence of this implicit, ubiquetous system that directly impacts the human readable form of digital objects, but this most apparent example is precisely an isolated surfacing of larger, dominant systems for control and observation that lie within the database that enables immaterial production.

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Autonomous Tools (a fragment)

story © Michael Betancourt | published June 22, 2013 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


While the "Luddite Fallacy" clearly applies to some kinds of mechanization--the implementation of machine tools and automated processes which amplify and create efficienciesthe creation of autonomous tools raises fundamental questions about the assumption that new technological innovations that eliminate human labor necessarily simply shift it to other sites within the economy. This assumed validity for the Luddite Fallacy remains true if and only if the invention of autonomous tools do not function in a fashion similar to slaverythat the robot (a word derived from the title of Karel Čapeks 1920 play which means in Czech serf labor")does not displace or entirely replace human labor because it is a conscious agent capable of performing the same essential rolethe intellectual component of facturecurrently held exclusively by human labor. This agency is the difference between an automated process and an autonomous one: the automated process requires the oversight provided by human agency, an autonomous one, by definition, does not (autonomy means there is no required oversight).

Bitcoin and the Political Economy

story © Michael Betancourt | published June 18, 2013 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


My analysis of Bitcoin has been published on CTheory.

What is apparent in Bitcoin is a dramatic reification of capitalist ideologies and valorization of commercial exchanges as the currency itself (new Bitcoins are mined through the exchange of existing Bitcoins) in a direct expression of the capitalist imperative to expand into new domains: the valorization of social activities -- such as friendship circles, browsing in a bookstore, or shopping without purchasing -- becomes valuable as the "authorship" already present in social media is taken to its logical conclusion as the Bitcoin.