Upstream, (Upstream 2022)

Summary

A discussion of Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

Notes

[Della Z Duncan]

And so what about this term, fully automated luxury communism? How might you introduce that to someone who’s never heard of the term like, what might you say by way of introduction?

[Eric Wycoff Rogers]

Yeah, I would say essentially, it’s a position that insists that with the advent of automation, and robotization – in other words, machines doing much of the work without human assistance or with as little human assistance as possible – our society should leave most work to robots to produce abundance; that you can get away from a scarcity oriented economy towards an abundance oriented economy, and that we should equitably distribute what’s produced in that economic system in some kind of a post capitalist economy where everyone is taken care of no matter what.

I should also say it really pushes back on the image and stereotype of a sort of bleak drab, sort of breadline poverty that many people associate with the term communism and tries to reinvent that term, from a position of abundance. So fully automated luxury. Communism really emphasizes communism instead of capitalism to because capitalism has these internal mechanisms that prevent it from generating abundance, it really relies on scarcity. Moreover, in a world where human labor is largely valueless in the production process – that is a world where robots can do it so much better – wages no longer makes sense. So you just gain either an income or some version of access to material benefits without necessarily putting in working hours.

It’s also worth mentioning and we can talk maybe more about this later, there’s actually a manifesto style book that explains the concept by Aaron Bastani, entitled [Aaron Bastani | Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto], published by verso in 2019. But those are the broad strokes of the term, I’d say.

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[Della Z Duncan]

[…] Eric, I’m wondering what about you like you describe this sense of being in a grocery store and machine kind of delivering the goods on the on the shelves? What else might we see or feel in under fully automated luxury communism?

[Eric Wycoff Rogers]

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think like Mark Fisher, I also start with the questions of urbanism.

I think urbanism is really important, it’s important to imagine our built environment operating under a different logic. So when I try to imagine a fully automated luxury communist world, the key thing I ponder is how our relationship to space and time would change. And something I really want to know is what cities would be like, again, if they were not oriented around work and consumerism. I mean, think about like how much of the street level experience is dominated by those things, and what it could be like if it wasn’t.

This is something that a friend of mine and collaborator, [unclear] Bria and I were working on and a project we were we had going last year called Imagining the Postwork City, where we invited artists and designers to submit visions of what postwork cities and an automated society could look like. And these are some of the prompts, which I think start to really answer the question.

So in terms of public space, you know what kinds of public spaces might exist in place of offices and factories and stores that currently dominate the landscapes of our downtown’s and central districts? What facilities and attractions might exist to occupy the time that’s freed from work? How might people interact with the forms and functions of the city and determine its uses? In terms of housing? What kinds of dwellings would people have in such a world? Would people even continue to have homes and the traditional sort of fixed sense? Or might they just drift, either from fixed place to fixed place, or else become part of a sort of urban hunter gatherer society, just eating, sleeping, playing wherever you happen to be at the time entirely in public spaces, never really claiming these as your own? Or perhaps we would always be on vacation and just follow some around the world? Who knows? This also leads into questions about the sort of regional distribution of the population would you know, if you’re not, if you’re no longer working, then you’re not going to be somewhere based on economic opportunity, that being the key driver of both migration and settlement patterns throughout history. So who knows? Maybe everyone would live in tropical regions, or maybe people who live in the types of regions that make them happy.

This begs questions of whether certain regions would perhaps depopulate and others would grow because they’re just more conducive to human happiness. Would existing cities dissipate as people became free of the economic tethers that keep them there? Would everyone become rural? I like to think we would continue to value cities but for new and better reasons.

There’s infrastructural questions, what kinds of transit might we have, how we get around? How would goods be distributed? I mean, this vision of the grocery store that’s just sort of roboticized? Isn’t an interesting one. Would it continue to be a grocery store? I’m not sure. I don’t even know if you’d need walls around it anymore because there’s no point in stealing in a world where all the things are available to you.

Lots of questions too to ask about how we spend our time. And there’s no more sort of distinct breakdown between like leisure time and work time, you’re kind of always being creative. You know, you’d have new kinds of divisions between space and maybe have spaces specifically for rest and other spaces specifically for healing or for thinking or for feeling good, I don’t know, it becomes a really exciting design problem, really.

And it was fun to see what these artists and designers came up with in response to these prompts. There were lots of visions of green spaces, multi layered urbanism, drawing inspiration from resorts, you know, seeing resorts, and currently like luxury and exclusive spaces almost as like prefigurative little aspects of what the whole world can be like.

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[Zarinah Agnew]

Yeah, there’s one other thing I want to mention, which is, I think important, because I think when people think of communism, they think a lot of austerity and bleak equality, where everyone has access to the same things, but the things that they have access to a kind of rubbish. And I wanted to mention something from David Graeber, his most recent book, in which they reference indigenous and native forms of economics. And they talk about, you know, in these early forms of economic societies, people still had private ownership, they could have trinkets and objects and symbols, things that they use to denote the individualism, things that they gifted to others to sort of, say, thank you, and so on, and so forth. But crucially, the things that were privately owned, could not be turned into power over others. And the resources that were fundamental for collective survival, like land couldn’t be privately owned. And so I think what luxury communism points to is both the ability to make sure that everybody’s needs are met, and we have a good life. And also the sort of luxury and quality of being able to have our own aesthetic and our own ways of being and adorning our lives, I think is really important.

References

Upstream. 2022. “Fully Automated Luxury Communism.” https://soundcloud.com/upstreampodcast/fully-automated-luxury-communism.