I must have been no older than five or six when my dad introduced me to the idea that technological progress forces the pace of history. I remember him explaining how written records coincided with humanity’s ability to smelt copper tools. Of how history accelerated when ancient smiths progressed from copper to forging iron tools and, later, weapons made of steel. Of how the invention of iron engines that could harness the power of steam begat capitalism.
Dad was a chemical engineer by profession, who spent countless hours in his spare time studying ancient technologies, and an accidental young communist. By the late 1980s, when History supposedly ended, he had lost most hope that we would manage in our time to replace capitalism with something better. He assumed capitalism would survive for a long time even though he knew it would not last forever. Like many of his generation, dad had settled for the ambition that, since we are doomed to live under capitalism for a long while, we might as well to civilise it.
Still, every now and then, he would speculate on how capitalism might end. His wish was, I remember him telling me, that it would not die with a bang, because bangs had a tendency to fell good people in awful numbers. At around the same time, dad sought my help in making his first desktop computer work. At first, he marvelled at it as a cross between glorified typewriter and impressive calculator. But then, one day, when I helped him connect to the fledgling internet, he asked: “Will this network make capitalism impossible to overthrow? Or might it finally reveal its Achilles’ heel?”
Only now do I have an answer for him: “Dad, it was capitalism’s Achilles’ heel, after all. The digital technologies it spawned proved capitalism’s comeuppance. The result? Humanity is now being taken over by something that I can only describe to you as a technologically advanced form of feudalism – a technofeudalism that is not what we had hoped would replace capitalism.”
Alas, caught up in my own projects and dramas, by the time I was ready to have this chat with him, dad was already ninety-five and finding it hard to follow my musings. And so, here I am, a few weeks after he passed, doing the next best thing: Explaining my weird theory to my great friend and comrade Slavoj Zizek.
For our complete, two hour hour-long conversation, which took place as part of the Indigo Festival on 21st October 2021, click below