The one road of technical development

Deterministic theories of technology are typically premised on an implicit identification of capital with its technical manifestations. What really does present itself as a universalising, rationalising, totalising and automatic subject, with a single unilinear course at world level, is capital. It presents itself that way; this self-presentation is open to contestation. And there is a world of technique that can never fully be subsumed to capitalist ends. Every proletarian life actively constructs its own mediations from what affordances it finds, even if capital has already shaped the conditions of that construction. Every new act of materially-mediated problem-solving opens onto an alternative world, however minor the distinction may be. To imagine otherwise would be to allot undue power to capitalist management. There is always a tension between the drive towards an absolute mastery of the production process in which the worker is left with no room at all for their own initiative, and the simple categorical fact that labour-power is necessarily an indeterminate variable.

No single line of development then, but an unthinkable plenitude of different technical possibilities in every moment. A latent chaos, whose main ordering principle is the dominant social form, imposed in the tyranny of the labour relation. But there are other kinds of ordering which are not simply reducible to the prerogatives of the value form. Technical standardisation as such will be rational in any world where devices mediate relations between people. But that doesn’t tell us what the standard should be, and it doesn’t say anything about how those relations are mediated, or to what end.

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