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When capitalism feeds off life
(in reference to Techno Casa)

by Vanni Codeluppi

Capitalism has changed. No longer is it content just to use human bodies as mere instruments of work, but it increasingly seeks to extract economic value from each and every biological component and mental, emotional and social dimension of the individual. It follows that capitalism is changing into biocapitalism, the most evolutionarily-advanced form of the capitalist economic model. Sure enough, “biocapital” has made a recent appearance in the capitalist system, a new form of capital which is based on a new form of economic value - namely “biovalue” - which can be extracted from a living creature’s vital qualities. From this point forward, the entire human body will become the subject of economic exploitation.

The transition of capitalism to its “bio” phase is also happening because companies are no longer content just to benefit from the functional bodies of their employees; instead, they must also increasingly take advantage of their thoughts and creative ideas. They must exploit their employee’s brain which, as it is closely related to the employee’s personal identity, continues to work even outside of the factory. It duly represents an element of continuity between work time and free time, which is these days making the latter ever more similar to the former.

According to classical economists, in the capitalism of the first factories, the worker worked for a number of hours to produce economic value for himself and his employer, and then had a period of time in which he was completely free and could regain his strength. Biocapitalism however is not content to just take advantage of the hours of work, but also tries to produce value through free time. As these hours are used primarily by individuals to define their social identities, they are inevitably intertwined with the most intimate parts of the human personality, which are then exposed to exploitation by companies.

Free time is occupied mainly by consumption, especially because it is through these activities that individuals can build and maintain their identities over time. Accordingly, working within the sphere of consumption, businesses are able to participate in an individual’s emotions and feelings in an ever closer manner.

Thus, we have gradually seen a sensory stimulation strategy come into play alongside the window display strategy (vetrinizzazione) that followed the birth of the shop window in the eighteenth century and accordingly imposed a social communication model based on visual language. We have sought in this way to continue to produce economic value by penetrating the inner and emotional sphere of the human being. It is thus no longer just the body as a functional tool that the capitalist system will use to produce economic value, or even the external component of the body, which is increasingly on display according to consumerist and media patterns. It is the body in its entirety.

It is clear, therefore, that biocapitalism has an absolute need to feed off human being life in order to produce economic value, and yet at the same time also tends to stifle such life. We could therefore say that it eats itself. It is to be wondered whether this might become an irreconcilable predicament for capitalism in the future. If so, the vision that Marx took from Hegel, namely the idea – which is based on an inseparable union of use value and exchange value, quality and quantity, and the material and the abstract – that goods transfer their particular nature to the entire economic system, still remains valid. Such an idea states that use-value constitutes a limit which exchange-value’s tendency for unlimited self-growth will continually encounter. However, the current development rate of biocapitalism seems to cast doubt on this idea.

©Vanni Codeluppi, 2013