Previously we spoke about how Capital is a form of AI. How commodities are artificial lifeforms, given life by the congealed blood of labor. Now we’ll discuss the ecosystem these creatures live in.
Like natural life arose from the waters, artificial life emerged swimming in money. As P. Diddy et al said in their seminal 1997 work:
Swimmin’ in women with they own condominiums
Five plus fives, who drive Millenniums
It’s all about the Benjamins, what
With that as an epigraph, let’s dive in:
Money is like water in that it can take the place of any commodity. It can take the form of a teapot, a tea plantation, or the tea pluckers time.
It’s like Bruce Lee said:
Be Water, My Friend.
Empty your mind.
Be formless, shapeless, like water.
You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup.
You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle.
You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.
Now water can flow or it can crash.
Be water, my friend.”
This echoes Marx saying “Money is the absolutely alienable commodity, because it is all other commodities divested of their shape, the product of their universal alienation.”
If you buy a cup with money, it becomes the cup. If you buy a bottle, it becomes the bottle. Money can flow… or it can crash. Be money, my friend.
Just as water is the universal solvent (eroding even rocks), all commodities can dissolve into money.
A table-maker can dissolve their tables into cash, stripping off their commodity form. They can then buy chairs, returning to the commodity-form again. Marx calls this a circuit, (C-M-C). Commodity becomes Money becomes Commodity again.
“The two inverted phases of the movement which makes up the metamorphosis of a commodity constitute a circuit: commodity-form, stripping off of this form, and return to it”
Now that we understand how money is like water, what are commodities doing inside of it?
Well, they fucking.
Water is the original thirst trap. It’s where single-cells decided to mingle into multicellular life. It’s where fish invented sex. Water is a literal melting pot. Lightly charged water enabled the first circuit of life, and then formed the substrate for more and more fantastic evolution. So it is with money.
Money lets all sorts of commodities mingle. As Marx said, “prices [are] those wooing glances cast at money by commodities.” Prices enable commodities to have intercourse with each other, to remix and reproduce.
To paraphrase Cardi B. from 2020, “bring a bucket and a mop, for this wet-ass economy.”
Because of money you can combine the labor of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker into a romantic meal. Or you can package all that labor into a new commodity called a ‘restaurant meal’. Then you can sell shares in the restaurant itself. Artificial evolution goes on and on, in ever more fantastic ways.
Besides dinner, money enables people to make really complicated things like cell-phones with lithium from Bolivia, graphite from India, screens made in South Korea, labor from China, and design from San Francisco.
Money reduces all these complicated acts of differentiate labor to numbers that can be combined on spreadsheets, like gene editing. As Karl said:
“When they thus assume the shape of values, commodities strip off every trace of their natural and original use-value, and of the particular kind of useful labour to which they owe their creation, in order to pupate into the homogeneous social materialization of undifferentiated human labour.”
In this way, money has enabled the evolution of higher and higher forms of artificial life, including the forms controlling the process now. Almost all commodities are produced by artificial beings called corporations. And these corporations are also commodities. They can be bought and sold, along with the human labor they contain. The inmates are running the asylum.
As Marx said, money thus enables “the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things.”
It’s endless, the permutations artificial evolution can take. What we call ‘the economy’ is really an ecosystem, teeming with life. Commodities are constantly turning into money, money is turning into commodities, and it’s all combining, recombining, and competing in myriad ways.
Vulgar economists reduce this entire process to supply and demand, which is missing the ocean for the waves. Supply and demand is part of the evolutionary environment, but certainly not the whole. There’s an absolute orgy of activity beneath the surface.
In natural evolution, nothing evolves alone. Every creature lives in an ecosystem, a distribued metabolism of resources. The scale of these ecosystems can range from your gut to a coral reef to the entire climate.
Artificial evolution is the same. Commodities are connected to natural resources, to human labor, and to each other. They form ecosystems which are connected to but also independent from human society. We call these artificial ecosystems ‘economies’.
As Marx said,
“The velocity of circulation of money is merely a reflection of the rapidity with which commodities change their forms, the continuous interlocking of the series of metamorphoses, the hurried nature of society’s metabolic process, the quick disappearance of commodities from the sphere of circulation, and their equally quick replacement by fresh commodities”
Marx constantly refers to this idea of a metabolic process (ie living biology) which I take literally. Just as your gut metabolism involves more bacterial life than human, so does any corner of the artificial economy.
Humans think that we ‘control’ the economy but c’mon, we don’t even control our own farts. In evolutionary terms, we’re just water sacs that evolved so bacteria could walk on land. If evolution could populate our butts, why couldn’t it populate the brain fart we call an economy?
‘Artificial’ and ‘natural’ are distinctions relevant only to us. To evolution, it’s just another place to live.
Human society is just the latest ecosystem to become teeming with life. Commodities and corporations swim through money, suspended in the bubble of our belief. As Marx said:
“One thing is necessary, however: the symbol of money must have its own objective social validity. The paper acquires this by its forced currency. The state’s compulsion can only be of any effect within that internal sphere of circulation which is circumscribed by the boundaries of a given community”
Thus each economy, each currency, forms a relatively stable ecosystem for artificial life to evolve, like coral reefs amidst a great ocean of capital. Or like individual guts. If you think humans have meaningful control of this metabolic process just think about your own ecosystem. Can you even control your farts?
As Marx said,
“We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks through all the individual and local limitations of the direct exchange of products, and develops the metabolic process of human labour. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of the human agents.”
So here we are, well beyond the control of human agents. This was somewhat theoretical at Marx’s time, but now… just look around.
Corporations have more control of western democracies than humans. The stock market goes up while millions get disabled and die. The climate can collapse as long as ‘line goes up’. There’s another ecosystem at work here, and it’s obviously more important than ours.
Asking most people about this alien ecosystem is like asking a fish “How’s the water?” The response is, “What’s water?”
The nature of Capitalist Realism is that the ‘Capitalist’ part is redundant. Capitalism is just reality. From eating breakfast to having a roof over our heads to consuming media, capitalism is all we know. We just swim through this world of money, not questioning what we’re swimming in. We’re like Dory from Finding Nemo:
just keep swimming,
just keep swimming swimming swimming,
what do we do we swim swim
ha ha ha ha ha ha i love to swim
And so we live in this alien realm, strangers in our own advertised paradise. We are so used to commodities evolving in our own pockets that we don’t notice them. We’re so used to living inside Capitalism that we can’t even imagine another reality.
This is just the soup we live in, even as it’s starting to get suspiciously hot.
Not Our Scene
The pointy end of evolution is ‘out with the old, in with the new,’ and I hate to break it to you, but we ain’t new.
We call this age the Anthropocene, but lol. The emissions are coming from machines, not us. We’re on the same iceberg as the polar bears. This is the period we’re dying in, why name it after us? It’s really the Machinacene.
The thin sliver of dominance we cling to is that we’re smarter than all these dumb machines, that we are their masters, but c’mon. You can cancel your Spotify subscription, but you can’t cancel Spotify, let alone the metabolic processes that make a Spotify necessary.
We’re sitting here sucking on the tailpipe of history like it’s a blunt. We’re tripping balls.
Marx Is A Grower, Not A Show-er
People been telling us shit was going to go down for centuries, but now it’s happening. Vulgar economists told us the economy was some bloodless thing that just spit out commodities based on supply and demand, but now the devil has come for his due. Those commodities all came from somewhere and somewhere is pissed.
God knows there will be blood.
We have trashed the ecosystem we live in to build up the ecosystem that Capital lives in, and so we die. Mainstream economics can’t tell us shit about this because it doesn’t take an ecosystems view. They can’t see the forest for the trees.
Unique among his peers, however, Marx did apply an ecosystems view. As his contemporary reviewer Sigmund Mayer said in 1871:
“The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the illumination of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development and death of a given social organism and its replacement by another, higher one. And in fact this is the value of Marx’s book.”
The value I hope to add is by taking both this reviewer and Marx completely literally. When Marx speaks about ‘the metamorphosis of commodities’through their ‘larval’, and ‘pupa’ stages I take him at his word. I’m not saying that Capital is life-like. I’m saying that it’s alive.
Commodities really are lifeforms, like insects, and now—150 years later—they’re far too powerful to squash. They’re everywhere, and they’re not just individual bugs. Capital is a hive mind, and it has already spread across the globe.
You don’t have to take my word for it, just listen. Hear the buzz of the air conditioner, the hum of the refrigerator, the cars on the road. That’s the sound of Capital, moving all around you. While each individual part is small and easily squashable, the whole is huge and squashing you.
If you can hear it, then we’re getting closer to the real meat of Marx’s Capital. The discussion of the big-boss AI itself. It’ll still take us a while to get into it, but no need to hurry. Capital is patiently waiting, right there in the room with you.
Part 1: How Marx’s Capital Is About AI
Part 2: How Commodities Are Artificial Life