The “Alter-economy” of Blockchain and Affect in Massumi’s 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value

Good philosophies on technology, creativity and business are quite rare. For our BA Creative Business, I can spend ages searching the internet for the best, forward-thinking literature and visionaries. Imagine my surprise when I saw all these topics covered in one deep philosophical argument. Brian Massumi’s open-access work 99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value: A Postcapitalist Manifesto is a thought-provoking, daunting philosophy of post-capitalism. Yes, one of his main points is that the system is broken, but there is hope. Massumi present the reader with different alternatives to capitalism. The “alter-economy” of blockchain, amongst others, brings hope.

faircoin.jpg

That is not to say that this is an easy read. Much like his previous work, such as Politics of Affect, this book is heavy on post-Deleuze and Guattari references and vocabulary. You need to read carefully to follow the language, but I promise you – this is worth it. And it is also why blogging about this manifest will never truly work. You need to take it all in and emerge into the language. I will present you with some reasons why I like this book, and then some favorite quotes. Because really, there’s no summary that could do justice to this layered argument. Like in many of his works, fragments don’t work – you can’t skip a beat, or you will loose track.

But I’ll try to summarize the main point anyway – value needs to be revalued. Value is lost now in a financial world of excess. Growth is the norm, and value is only associated with money. This is a huge problem. We need to rethinking the economy and somehow separate it from the market. The market, after all, is volatile and at the mercy of affect and external pressure. Its market mechanisms include crises, speculative bubbles, and problematic practices such as hedging. The market ideology is ingrained in all facets of our society. In the neoliberal market, even individuals even read themselves as capital and personal brands. Humans become capital and capitalism ‘is a processual driver of human becoming’.

The only way out is “creative duplicity”, Massumi argues, being self-sustaining while “interfacing”  with the existing economy. The subversion has to happen in alliance with the economy, not outside of it, Massumi stresses. Blockchain and other platforms provide a solution and can create the ecosystems that we improve the world. Ideally that takes the shape of a “creative process engine theoretically capable of sustaining itself economically”. This system has to be collaborative, self-sustaining, self-governed, and implies direct democracy.

Best practices according to Massumi that lead to the “alter-economy”?

Holochain, owned by users themselves, light and decentralized. Outside of the blocks.

Faircoin, tries to divorce tokenization from monetization (if I may say so). The community decides the value. ‘The ongoing revaluation process of FairCoin contributes to distributing the wealth inside the community using the coin.’

SenseLab, an attempt at inventing a non-market-based collectivist economy running directly on play

Why I love this work

1. Systems and ecologies – This is the next big step away from capitalismMassumi is a true system thinker and he unpacks the emergent qualities of these systems as well. Don’t forget, he loves Deleuze, and ideally the platform systems of the future function as rhizomes.

2. Creativity – the “alter-value” that he coins early on and also finishes his theses with. He is aware that the term by now has a capitalist and neoliberal connotation, but he believes in it, and in creative (non-violent) destruction. In fact, Massumi celebrates the idea that to some extent we have to be complicit with the market to overturn it.  This is why he’s such a true believer of blockchain – it presents an alternative but it’s not outside of the capitalist logic. This is a powerful subversive tool.

3. Affect – Massumi’s previous works on affect have made a true impression on the humanities, but scholars of affect should pick up this manifesto as well. In thesis 68, he for instance argues that emotion is shot through with affect, and that emotion is the narrative development of affect: ‘The unitization of affect as emotion is a narrative coding as affect. Affect as such is neither unitizable nor codable. It is more-than-narrative. That is why narrative can be escaped – and why escape can be narrative’. Moreover, this manifesto sheds more light on affective intensities of creative play, which I love (considering that I often frame cosplay through affective theory in my own work).

4. Critique on Trumpism – His theses include critiques on Trumpism which are well-embedded in the argument. In fact, they are a part of his ontology since affect is truly embodied by these groups. The alt-right is read as neo-reactionary with ‘unpredictable powers of contagion’. He urges readers to think through The Donald as “wholly and completely a media figure- as an immediate mode of existence“. His narrative is a post-truth one: ‘Shards of narratives are produced in profusion. But they are always refracted through the distorting prism of a hypermasculinity exaggerating its generic template to absurd dimensions.

Read 99 theses here

Read another blog about it here

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