Friday, March 22, 2013


To be honest I don’t  think I really understand  Federico Campagna’s “Happy Precarity” at all.

Here’s what I understand him to be saying. The  desire for fluid  living in the 70s, the escape from 9 to 5 drudgery into more autonomous forms of “self-employment” have shifted from a liberatory “line of flight” to a generalized state of “precarity”. We must not abandon the commitment to Fluidity and Precarity, i.e re-attach ourselves to discredited institutions such as Labour parties and Unions, the social democratic model of the State etc but instead reclaim the liberatory potential of precarity, the conditions for which are now really, actually present in a way they weren’t before because of (ta-da!) the Internet, or  more specifically the deep-net a kind of Utopian inner space (rather tellingly eroticized, exotisized and orientalised here in Campagna’s representative choices of the Silk Road and platforms for online sex work) putatively permanently beyond the reach of Capitalism. The  medium of exchange being that indisputably revolutionary and  unregulatable new currency, Bitcoin! ( I winced a bit while reading it, just a day after this.)

There are  couple of things I don’t get here, and maybe that’s because I am ignorant about Autonomia, though like any good comrogue I listen to Novara (and, like everyone else presumably, have developed an unseemly crush on James Butler) and did read half of Bifo’s “Precarious Rhapsody” last Summer (though it seemed to be all over the place and not really worth plowing through to the end of. Maybe I should return to it.) Then again. presumably this short essay is also supposed to serve as a persuasive introduction to its importance and relevance.

Basically though I can’t see any huge distinction between this happy precarity of  disintermediated autonomous exchange and alternate “competitive” currencies to the arguments of Randians/ Rothbardian Anarcho-capitalists. They also want a labour market in  which the government doesn’t have monopolistic control over the currency and in which onerous regulations are swept aside in favour of a purer market structure, one in which I and the Employer/Customer encounter each other face to face without the distorting effects of the State.  Campagna’s marketplace of happy precarity seems to be Adam Smith’s invisible hand sweetened with a dash of affectivity, “a union of  egoists” sounding not unlike Smiths butcher, brewer and baker but with added benevolence, because all egoists (here I understand this to mean those not constructed through “terroristic” metanarratives, religion, Marxism etc, “freethinkers” in other designations “bohemians” the “counterculture” etc) must, in recognizing the right to otherness as  constitutive  of their  own  subjectivity, automatically respect that right in others.

In a sense then the pursuit of self interest not only guarantees us the goods and services we demand/require but also the sociality that we yearn for, if only the State would get  out of the way. Thus from the state, that coldest of all cold monsters, we are also affectively destituted. The essay  in no way  question  the assumption  that a certain  kind of “egotistical calculation” is the  problem, the  problem here is (as for many on the anti-statist right) that the state distorts both the affective/social and economic markets from fulfilling their potential. Libertarians wouldn’t care much about the affective dimension, they are too ruggedly individualistic for that, but I’d struggle to see why what’s proposed here is much  different. From a true market exchange all good things will flow, here the true market is a really existing “immanent” Arcadia called the deep-web, a kind of “Autonomia of everyday life” that requires but some skilled midwifery in order to radically alter and de-alienate relations of all kinds among men. Friendship is, after all, just another form of utility maximisation.

The book is available here. It’s a quid!

As an aside, not to get too anti-Utopian and raise practical transitional questions rather than assuming that  immanent tendencies will somehow burgeon and sweep away the existing order in a happily bloodless circumventing of the state and the withering away of its repressive capacity because now we have mesh networking and e-currencies and social media, I am myself a precarious worker here in Japan, a freelance English teacher. And I would consider myself to be in a state of happy precarity for a couple of reasons, but primarily because I can pay my month’s rent and bills in the centre of Fukuoka (considered one of the 20 best cities to live in globally by Monocle magazine, so whatever your tastes, no slouch infrastructure and services-wise) on three hours work plus travelling stipend a week. If I also do a few hours on a Saturday afternoon I can eat for the month and have a bit of leisure (though given that my leisure is basically the internet it’s not a huge expense). That’s right, my rent is low and I am comparatively well paid per hour (and I enjoy my job, lucky me) but even a worker on minimum wage would be able to rent their own place here (Fukuoka), eat and crucially ( for the Japanese), have a mobile, they would also be able to find that work quite easily and quickly. That’s why, right now I am not in London, or Tokyo. My happy precarity is predicated on low rent and the potentially huge looming oversupply in the Japanese housing market outside Tokyo, on the long period of deflation post bubble plus relatively stable wages.Some pretty heavy macro-economic and demographic considerations in other words.

Now I would love to be able to transfer my happy precarity back home. What’s the plan for increasing housing supply/reducing housing costs drastically in the UK, as an affordable and secure, reasonably comfortable dwelling place seems to me the fundamental prerequisite for any kind of happiness, especially a happy precarity. Is the disintermediated deep-web going to get more affordable houses built or radically reduce rents? I have often rented  in London via that traditional form of disintermediation, the dusty precursor to the liberatory depths of deepnet, the Post Office window, me and the landlord one to one!

He still wanted “the going rate”.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everytime you actually start talking practicalities a theorist loses its wings.