Currently, there are three pitches sitting in my email inbox from people I read and respect – they know who they are – for various forms of crowdsourced funding for their projects. The amounts asked are small, but I have no doubt the requests will expand exponentially over the next few years until everyone I know is asking everyone else I know for money, maybe myself included.
The emails are exuberant, joyful – but they are also presuming on non-monetary forms of connection, of solidarity, in their pitch. Yet they are also, however well-intentioned, an individualisation of such solidarity, an appeal for this or that project. Some of it is a little too full on, my friends, a little OTT.
Yeah, uh, time to get a handle on this. Because we’ve seen it before. It is the intoxicating magic of capital, whereby something comes out of nothing. You have an idea, and suddenly it is a project and then it’s crowdsourced, and suddenly it’s an enterprise.
The process recapitulates exactly the formation of the business firm in thirteenth century Venice (and for this see Jane Gleeson-White’s peerless Double Entry). With the invention of the firm, a series of individual deals became a unified thing, a real abstraction known as a company.
A debt became both debt and asset via double-entry book-keeping, and a whole different way of thinking, of being came into the world. These early capitalists had the same intoxication as today’s kickstarters – read The Merchant of Prato, and you hear of merchants spending thirty-six hours writing business letters, the same as wired hackers today, grooving on new forms of possibility.
And very good it was too, if we are any sort of materialists, for the firm and the abstract commodity to come into the world. But the process colonising Left intellectual life is regressive, petty-bourgeoisifying. That’s true even though nothing is being offered in terms of shares etc. Instead, people are beginning to compete against each other using forms of affective capital – choosing which project you most support.
So we need to think about this. Personally I think a collective project with multiple authors that asked for money for an ongoing project of writing and publishing, with transparency and accountability, would be much, much better than the current process by which high-profile activists are spruiking. And I think those people should think about what they are doing, and the more complex consequences of it.