An 'Obsolete' Human Resource vs. Automated Production

story © Michael Betancourt, October 16, 2011 all rights reserved.


The earlier ability to consider machine labor as an extension of human action—as the mechanical amplification of human labor—is replaced by models where the machine does not augment but supplant, in the process apparently removing the human intermediary that historically lies between the work of designer-engineers and the human production required in the fabrication of their plans.

This transition point marks a shift from the fragmentation of the assembly-line where tasks are organized around the repetitive action of masses of human labor (itself an organization that implies semiotic disassembly and standardization) to the automated fabrication where the design is generated on digital machines and then implemented by other digital machines with only a minimal role of human labor in the facture process. In such a transformed factory, there is only a limited role for humans, and it necessarily renders large sections of the “human resource” idle as their manual functions in production are now automated.

The digital translates social activity into commodity forms; a herald of the ideology of automation’s expanding force is apparent in the intersection of automated immaterial labor with the formerly intellectual labor of human agents, and is a literal realization of the bifurcation between the designer and the fabricator, one where the devaluation of the producer reaches its apogee: rendered obsolete by the machine, hypothetically there is no longer any need for human agency once the machine has been built except to switch it on. This situation is the implicit horror/terror common to computer technology (and its earlier realization as the golem or homunculus) as an actor in society; it reveals the ideology of automation’s close relationship to the earlier ideology of the “self-made man” whose success is not a product of family, investment, or privileged position in society—shorn of the requirement for a network of human actors working in concert to produce wealth (material or immaterial), the automated system enables an ideology where the productive human population appears obsolete, parasitic, on the “designers” whose plans they formerly executed—this is the ideology of automation; it is reified in the digital, reflecting a denial of the physical realm and the necessary role of human agency in creating and sustaining the social structures which enable the ideology of automation’s fantasy of “freedom” from social (re)production and the constraints required by human society reflects the underlying bias of digital capitalism against the social.

Such a framework suggests that to some sectors of digital capitalism, this "excess" population serves as a means to further reduce the costs of labor—since with a standing reserve, there is always an incentive to "waste" potential because it can so easily be replaced. When that "resource" is human, the potentials for horrible social injustice is in place, and all attempts to redress that injustice must be met with force: the current climate of union busting and attack on organized labor is a recognizable effect of this shifting from manual to autonomous production.

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  October 16, 2011  all rights reserved.

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