(Why We Can’t) Let the Machines Do It: A Response to Inventing the Future

The fourth post in our (already pretty popular) forum on Nick and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future, this time from Sophie Lewis and David M. Bell. Sophie is at the University of Manchester, writing up a PhD on surrogacy’s uneven ‘cyborg’ geography and thinking about its utopian potential. She has written about surrogates for JacobinThe New Inquiry, and The Occupied Times; currently, excerpts are included in the 2015 “Technotopia” symposium. She also writes with the Out of the Woods (anticapitalist ecology) collective. She has co-translated Bini Adamczak’s Communism For Kids and written things that appear in Mute, Open Democracy, the ‘Demanding the Future’ tumblr, and on Novara WireDavid M. Bell is a Research Associate on the ‘Imagine’ project in the Department of Geography, University of Sheffield. He is interested in the potentials and dangers of utopia(nism) within, against and beyond capital, the state and itself. He has written on the politics of musical improvisation, utopian fiction and participatory arts practice; and is currently working on two book projects: Rethinking Utopia: Place, Power, Affect, to be published by Routledge in 2016; and A Future History of Sheffield: Art Practice, Hope and the City, with Jessica Dubow and Richard Steadman-Jones.

To The Future! But Whose?

To The Future! But Whose?


Inventing the Future provides a ‘plausible programme for ‘a world free of work’. It ‘shows us how we can organise’ to ‘realise a postcapitalist world’. So state its back-cover endorsements by Mark Fisher and Paul Mason. You should never judge a book by its blurb, but these claims are not to be sniffed at: here are two prominent thinkers of the UK left positioning this book as, if not a blueprint for utopia, a blueprint for utopianism – a roadmap that doesn’t quite cover the future but certainly takes us to its outskirts. The hyperbole continues away from Verso’s official promotional campaign too: Novara Media founder Aaron Bastani has publicly suggested that Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet receive copies of the book’s chapters as bedtime reading pamphlets. We are not so sure. There is much of value in Inventing the Future (hereafter ItF); and it certainly opens up space for thinking about what might be and how we might get there. But there are serious questions about who this future is for, whose labour (re)produces it, and who it will continue to exclude.

Before the reader is let in on how we can invent the future, however, they need to be disabused of various notions that are holding it back. These are grouped together under the rubric of ‘folk politics’ – a supposed ‘constellation of ideas and intuitions within the contemporary left that informs the common-sense ways of organising, acting and thinking politics’ (p. 10). Its key features are the privileging of ‘local particularisms’; the spatially and temporally ‘immediate’ (and ‘unmediated’); ‘resistance’; and the ‘natural’. The attitude that Srnicek and Williams (hereafter S&W) take to this assemblage is remarkably similar to Marx and Engels’ position on utopian socialism: it was necessary in that it locally kept alive the possibility of alternative ways of living while large-scale political change was impossible, but once the material conditions for totalizing political change (supposedly) arrive, revolutionaries should embrace them and move beyond their quaintly uninspiring New Lanarks, exchange banks and workers’ associations. The time! is! (was!) now! (then!).

Against ‘folk politics’, S&W believe that a return to universalism is necessary for the invention of the future. Whilst acknowledging the colonial history (p. 76) of the universal and rejecting ‘Eurocentricism’ (pp. 77-78), they nonetheless argue that abandoning this structure of thought entails ‘licensing all sorts of oppressions as simply the inevitable consequence of plural cultural forms.’ (p. 77) This seems odd given that so many Indigenous and pre-colonial practices, identities, sexualities and cosmologies with liberatory potential have been destroyed in the name of universalism; and whilst these are acknowledged with the claim that there are non-European forms of ‘reason’, ‘science’, ‘progress’ and ‘freedom’ (p. 77), we are not convinced that these decidedly European terms are the most suitable labels for them. (What does ‘progress’ mean for cultures whose temporalities are nonlinear, for example?). We are more heartened, however, by the call for a universalism that is ‘pluri-versal’ and ‘does not entail homogeneity…does not necessarily involve converting diverse things into the same kind of thing’ (here, S&W refer to capitalism’s ability to sustain and draw power from diverse forms of social organization); and which ‘must recognise the agency of those outside Europe…in building truly planetary and universal futures.’ (p. 78)

This pluri-versalism sounds almost folk-political at times: S&W use it to argue for ‘[the] ‘self-determination of cultures in mutual horizontal engagement’ (p. 200). Yet there is also substantial engagement with François Jullien, who one might be forgiven for interpreting as saying that universalism is its own best antidote. If the relationship between uni- and pluri-versalism seems laced with abstraction and contradiction (as they did to us) then S&W’s highlighting of the ‘universal’ aspect of Universal Basic Income (one of their four ‘demands’, which we cover shortly) is perhaps illustrative. It is this non-negotiable characteristic, they argue, which would enable everyone to forge new lives for themselves and would, presumably, result in a proliferation of ways of living (p. 119). Perhaps, then, it is useful to differentiate between two universalisms: on the one hand universal representational cosmologies (which deny multiplicity); and on the other universal (infra)structures or tactics (which make multiplicity possible). The former, we believe, must be avoided; we endorse the latter.

Unfortunately, S&W display their ‘only after the revolution’ tendencies here, stating that ‘[p]luri-versalism…relies upon the elimination of capitalism and is dependent upon a counter-hegemonic postcapitalist project as its presupposed condition of existence’ (p.200). Bummer! Here, we argue, S&W conflate the two forms of universalism explicated in the previous paragraph to potentially damaging effects. The elimination of capitalism, to us, is all about prefigurative pluri-versalism, as frustrating and messy as this may be; and to illustrate this we want to point to the importance of Indigenous struggle (conspicuous by its absence in ItF).[1] Indigenous people have frequently been equated with the natural; whilst Indigenous politics is necessarily ‘local’ in focus (even if it is often all-too-aware of the global dimensions of power) and frequently entails resistance against enclosure. Do S&W see Indigeneity as a ‘folk political’ drag on the future? The consequences of their claims for Indigenous politics are – seemingly – that it should get on board with a ‘universal’ left-modernity in return for the promise that it be allowed to develop autonomous ways of living once capitalism is overthrown. The caveat that resistance ‘can be important in some circumstances’ (p.47) seems insufficient, particularly given that we are given no criteria by which to recognise such circumstances.

A number of S&W’s binary oppositions come together here in a particularly problematic manner. Resistance is opposed to action, leaving us mired in the local (instead of the global); and protecting the past (against the future). The linear temporality at play here would, of course, be challenged by many Indigenous cosmologies; and we suggest as that as a creative, productive act, resistance frequently opens up space for the future. This future, however, should not be positioned as being ‘different from and better than the past’ (p. 72) – but rather as what Jose Esteban Muñoz refers to as a queerly ‘ecstatic’ time in which various temporalities merge. (Indeed, is S&W’s ‘future’ of space travel and automation not itself strangely of the past?)[2] We suspect that works at the intersection of queerness and indigeneity may well be of value in theorizing this further; and at the level of praxis would point to the manner in which Zapatismo draws on Indigenous knowledges in seeking to forge alternative futures, or to the utopianisms of figures such as Sun Ra, Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler, which draw heavily on ‘local’, ‘folk’ and Indigenous knowledges in imagining futures. We are not, of course, calling for fetishization of Indigeneity as having all the answers (the ‘noble savage’). We also note that it is important to be mindful of Vanessa Watts’ critique of Euro-Western knowledge production for treating Indigenous histories as ‘as story and process – an abstracted tool of the West’; and call on non-Indigenous people interested in transformative politics (ourselves included) to engage more substantively with Indigenous thought on its own terms.

There is much more to say about ‘folk politics’ than there is space to do so here, and we think that Joseph Kay already provides an excellent critique of S&W’s conception of nature. But there is one specific manifestation of the disavowal of folk politics that we cannot allow to pass unchallenged: that ‘emotional and visceral elements’ in the contemporary left ‘replace and stymie (rather than complement and enhance) more abstract analysis.’ (p. 8) Social media is, we are told, partly to blame for this: ‘“[o]nline “politics”’ (scare quotes in original) apparently ‘tend[ing] towards the self-preservation of moral purity’ through which people ‘are more concerned to appear right than to think about the conditions of political change.’ There is talk of ‘vitriolic crusade[s]’ and the claim that ‘public demonstrations of empathy’ trump ‘more finely tuned analysis, resulting in hasty or misplaced action – or none at all.’ (p. 8) It is crypticism of this type, with publicly coded allusions to specific but unnamed events, which functions to suggest a false consensus about these events. Later on, S&W argue that disappointment is a ‘more productive’ affective mode than anger as it ‘indexes a yearning for a lost future’ (p. 141).

Our response to this is emotional and visceral, both angry and disappointed. It is, of course, possible for anger and moralising to cripple movement (though this may sometimes be for the best: not all movement is good movement). But by failing to set boundaries or give examples to demonstrate when affect’s ‘complementing and enhancing’ gives way to ‘replacing and stymying’ ‘abstract analysis’ (a binary opposition we do not accept), S&W leave the door open to those who see every expression of anger about abuse in leftist spaces as an unnecessary drag on the future. In a climate where opposition to safer spaces and accountability processes is worryingly common this is deeply damaging. Perhaps they do not mean to align themselves with these, but it is incredibly difficult to tell – their critique is so vague as to function as a ‘floating signifier’ that the reader can fill in with their own experience. So where one might associate ‘moralising’ with sneering critiques of people who eat fast food, another is thinking of how pesky feminists demand that we don’t tolerate abusers in our spaces until they have gone through accountability processes. Nor is it clear what they mean by ‘misplaced action’: trolling the commentariat on Twitter? Paint-bombing Cereal Killer Cafe? Excluding transphobes from our spaces?

Nor are the outrages Srnicek and Williams speak of simply daily. Of course there are twitter storms, but the oppressions they often highlight are many peoples’ everyday reality,  to which anger – rather than (or as well as) – disappointment is an entirely understandable response. This anger is often not concerned with the ‘self-preservation of moral purity’ but simple self-preservation; and we read ‘public demonstrations of empathy’, quite simply, as solidarity. Those in need of this solidarity are also desperately in need of a future that welcomes them, and have much to offer its creation: a point powerfully made by Sara Ahmed, who suggests that we stop seeing those who introduce ‘bad feelings’ as being ‘oriented to the past, as a kind of stubbornness that “stops” the subject from embracing the future’. Rather, she notes, we must accept that ‘to share what deviates from happiness is to open up possibility, to be alive to possibility’. As we will see shortly, Srnicek and Williams correctly identify work as one major contemporary source of unhappiness, but we must not privilege combating it over other sources.


And so on to work. It is everywhere and it is our enemy. Waged work, housework, piecework, sex work, grunt work, and – in our view – the real and wearing work of facing life on the sharp end of classed, gendered and racialized embodiments. It can and should be reduced to quasi-absence from every human life. Would that this were a truth more universally acknowledged (the claim that work is character-forming and dignified is spouted not just by Conservative chancellors but by many on the left as well)! In other words, we agree with Srnicek and Williams wholeheartedly: it’s not Mondays you hate, it’s your job (p. 114).

A core contention of ItF is that the ideology of work could be effectively combatted by organising around four key demands: 1) full automation, 2) the reduction of the working week, 3) the provision of a Universal Basic Income, and 4) the diminishment of the work ethic. Through these, automation – which under capitalism means ‘the misery of not being exploited’ (Joan Robinson, quoted p. 87 and 92) – is transformed into the joy of not being exploited. This is exciting. We are enjoined (or reminded) to struggle for ‘post-work imaginaries’ and make them flesh. Four simple demands lever open the future such that we can start to think what we would do with increased free time; how we might reorganise our childcare, our ‘leisure’, our creativity. As work is reduced, we have increased time to ‘slow down and reflect, safely protected from the constant pressures of neoliberalism’ (p. 121). An insistence on struggling for these four demands together (p. 127) makes it harder for capitalism to incorporate particular elements of them into a new ideological and bio/necropolitical formation, although we should be alert to the fact that this remains a very real risk: we have, after all, seen our demands for liberation from drudgery and gendered oppression regurgitated as creative, flexible and feminized labour, allowing neoliberalism to present itself as what we wanted all along.

Whilst we welcome and endorse these four demands we need to attend to their situatedness, which substantially defines what they mean. We do not think them a sufficient mandate for instigating a refusal of work by all. Rather, they depend on – or at least perpetuate – the work of particular (gendered, racialized and classed) subjects across global, national and domestic divisions of labour. Globally, it is difficult to see how the technologies enabling automation can be produced – or even self-reproduced – without the continuation of what is currently some of the most dangerous, badly (if at all) paid and racialized work on the planet: the mining of raw materials, for which automation looks a long way off. And at the national level, it is hard to see how any demand for automation will be met given the ready, low-cost availability of prisoners’ labour-power, which is utilised, for example, to make circuit boards for IBM and Compaq. S&W do call for the abolition of ‘mass incarceration’ (p. 105), but this demand (or, better still, the demand for the abolition of prisons) must surely be as central as the four listed above.

Unless the call for the end of work is recentred, then, what is left is a call not for the overcoming of work but rather a disavowal of work. Or rather, the displacement of work onto the globally and nationally distributed racialized poor: prisoners, miners, slaves. To note this is to centre the politically indigestible point that most work on this planet is performed for the benefit of others – in order that they (whomsoever they may be) might work less, or work less dangerously. The many labour so that the few can live more fully, to paraphrase Kalindi Vora (and even if this is reversed it remains unacceptable). If the majority of work across the world today were to cease, then those who ItF is aimed at would see their smartphones, their families and their bodies fall apart.

The privilege of these ‘others’ to ‘work less’ is not distributed evenly either; and the displacement of work also operates on racialized, classed and gendered divisions of domestic and care labour. In a footnote referencing the work of Ruth Schwartz Cowan and Silvia Federici, S&W note that the introduction of household technologies ‘have tended to place greater demands on household maintenance, rather than allowing more free time’ (p. 219). This casts doubt on the utopianism of assigning (however non-committally) ‘highly personal and embarrassing care work’ to ‘impersonal robots’ (p.113-114). Whose work will the robots relieve, and what additional burdens will they create? Even if we could imagine a world where all ‘highly personal and embarrassing’ human touch – from the placenta and the pre-school child to the prostate and the penis – could be eliminated (in Burundi as well as in Britain), we do not think that any of S&W’s four demands are sufficient to achieve this, despite their claim that ‘[i]n a post-work society…care labour could be given greater value’ and that ‘the free time that accrues from full automation could also facilitate experimentation with alternative domestic arrangements’ (p. 113, emphasis added). Here we are reminded of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backwards (1888) and William Morris’ News From Nowhere (1890), in which the dramatic reduction or eradication of the working week (and, in the former, increases in automation) allow society to be reproduced as a ‘utopia’. Yet, as Chris Ferns notes, they continue to be deeply patriarchal and heteronormative; whilst Dohra Ahmad has noted that they appear to be predicated on the continued existence of colonialism. Things could be different, but they are not, and this is not an accident.

Whether robots might be able to perform ‘highly personal and embarrassing’ care labour or not, S&W accept they are never going to do all care work. Here, a point that Nina Power raises in her thoughtful critique of S&W’s ‘#ACCELERATE: Manifesto for Accelerationist Politics’ remains relevant for ItF (even if S&W have largely shed the ‘accelerationist’ branding).[3] She notes that they have ‘bought into an image of labour that fails to capture the reality of both industrial and postindustrial service work, the latter of which might use machines no more complex than a mop or a coffee machine and which depends on highly embodied, deeply material, and emotional modes of exploitation.’ Such work continues to present a difficulty for the post-work imaginary offered in ItF given the vast amounts of labour – predominantly undertaken by women – that is performed such that economics cannot see it: unquantifiably, as with wiping a child’s runny nose; or part-unconsciously, as with contract gestation. S&W point to Project Cybersyn – the Allende government’s attempt to utilise cybernetic computing to instigate a decentralised socialist economy in Chile – as a model for a possible answer given increases in computing power since then. But you can’t manage what you can’t measure. What is to be done when labour is invisible, and cannot easily be made visible?

S&W are right to aver that the politics of post-work must be inherently scalable. They understand that the full automation and elimination of care work will not be possible, proposing instead that freeing up time from (implicitly, waged) work is the way to find out how to organise that socially reproductive work in anti-violent ways. In other words, the abolition of work, as traditionally understood, paves the way to rethink care and domestic work (p. 176). But of course, social reproduction has always been partially waged and professionalized, and Wages Against Housework can be seen as an archetypally accelerationist intervention, as suggested by Malcolm Harris. It may be that the authors of ItF don’t disagree, in which case it comes down to a question of priorities: what is centered and what is considered more incidental – to be worked out once we have more free time. Needless to say, experiments around caring strikes, motherhood strikes, sex worker strikes, and affective ‘work to rule’ are clearly far more scalable in the immediate-term, and more generative too, than the mass manufacture of robots who can tidy a room.


We cannot help but feel, then, that there is a privileging of (ending) predominantly white, male work in ItF. Although S&W propose a ‘broad ecology of organisations’ to ‘invent’ this new world (p. 163), we are not convinced that the manner in which this is envisioned allows for that focus to be challenged sufficiently. Whilst S&W are correct to argue that fetishizing particular forms of organization in the here-and-now as providing answers for all time is a political dead-end, we are concerned by their call for a degree of hierarchy and closure (p. 163); or, at least, would like more clarification on what this means. We are, for example, all for spaces of ‘strategic essentialism’ that exclude, say, white people or cisgender men (#WeStandWithBaharMustafa). And we know the importance of organising away from the glare of the media, the electoral apparatus, and infiltrations by the state. (Indeed, such tactics are common in what S&W call ‘folk politics’.) Yet we cannot help but be suspicious of the vanguardist ‘Mont Pelerin of the Left’ they propose (p. 65-67) (beyond the most obvious objection: who funds it?). Whilst we accept that relentless horizontalism can be a hindrance to the future, we do not think the recent track record of ‘hierarchical and closed’ organizations on the left is anything to be inspired by, and are concerned that this may become a way to shut out those who are ‘angry’ from the task of inventing the future. Thus, we insist that there is a place for projects such as Salvage – which co-produces knowledge about (how to combat) abuse in activist communities in the UK – in the ‘broad ecology of organisations’ that must struggle for (rather than invent) the future. It might not aspire to anything so grand as reengineering the ideology that dominates in our society, but its power comes precisely from its mole-like undermining in/of the present. It is a piece of critical utopian infrastructure every bit as vital as those that S&W invoke.

Chapter 2 of ItF is entitled ‘Why are they winning?’, to which S&W’s answer – in short – is ‘because folk politics’. Well, maybe ‘they’ are winning. But isn’t this question a form of negging – ‘why aren’t you winning?’. It certainly seems this way given that S&W include no thought of self-criticism, or, as previously noted, self-situating. Whilst they acknowledge that the ‘we’ is important, they underestimate the manner in which this ‘we’ mutates; fails generatively and fails better; and composes and recomposes itself: processes that we think are politically valuable. The opposition between winning and losing is perhaps not so clear cut as they suggest, and as Kristin Ross’ recent work on the Paris Commune shows us, we should not be so quick to simply label projects ‘failures’. (Indeed, as Ross and others have noted, the Paris Commune pushed Marx to reconsider the rejection of the immediate, the direct and the prefigurative.) As people struggling to realise our own freedom we fall consistently into inconsistency and contradiction; and in this the phrase ‘ecology of organisations’ appears as a wishful ideal of ‘healthy’ homeostatic cooperation. But the organisational pluralisms on the world’s streets over the past couple of decades seem, to us, to be far more like actually existing ecology: mutating, techno-natural, unpretty, full of dissensus and containing multiple temporalities and mutations. As part of the hydra-headed struggle to live lives that are as free as possible from work’s death-grip, we also want to make, unmake and remake ourselves as we would like to be … which admittedly sounds – how to put it? – like a lot of hard work.


Equating techno-sociality with modernity and the future – and resistance with the ‘folk’ – sits uneasily with us. In her response to #ACCELERATE, Nina Power expresses her opposition to the manifesto’s apparent ‘desire to fuse with machines, capitalism, and technology and somehow come out the other side (as what?).’ In fact, we do not detect such a desire in ItF: in its pages, humans and automatons remain separate, according to the familiar ordering that prevents the latter from causing ontological trouble (even where invectives against binarisms have become). Against this, we think Donna Haraway’s work on the inevitability of this ‘fusing’ (regardless of any ‘desire’ for it) has much to offer here; and complicates the dividing line between ‘machine’ and ‘organism’ which organises ItF’s politics of liberatory automation. This is not to say that we necessarily want to include toasters, diggers and doors in the political per se (although some indigenous cosmologies may suggest that we should, and should be taken seriously), but rather that we should pause when reallocating earthly toil to such technologies to acknowledge they have always already been ‘promiscuously’ mixed up with the human, as have a multitude of creepy-crawly things with nonhuman DNA. The machine is us. We became cyborg when we first cooked our food.

With this in mind, we propose dusting off a peace offering from Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto: ‘the acid tools of postmodernist theory and the constructive tools of ontological discourse about revolutionary subjects might be seen as ironic allies in dissolving Western selves in the interests of survival.’ Hybridizing marxist and postmodern projects in-and-against the human is a good way to arrive at the understanding that machines cannot straightforwardly save us (e.g. from work) if they’re already in us (similarly, there is ‘raw nature’ in us, too, subject to primitive accumulation in novel bio-economies). Therefore, if it is increasingly accepted that ‘nature’ is a term to be put in scare quotes, it is also time that ‘machine’ and ‘technology’ were treated similarly. The demand for ‘full automation’ needs to recognize that we ourselves can be part-automated and, indeed, already are. Think, for example, of neurological and psychological dependence on smartphones; or the fact that on a biological level we are affective data-producing workbots. Automation, then, is not quite so straightforward as S&W present it. As ever, the god from the machine (deus ex machina) disappoints.

This has consequences for what S&W call ‘synthetic freedom’ (p. 78-83): a decidedly Spinozist concept in which freedom is bound up with our capacity to act and constantly needs to be (collectively) remade. Taken seriously, the cyborg perspective means that the synthetically free neohuman cannot be imaged as a destination (however dynamic) to be reached by springboarding into postcapitalism. Rather, our reading suggests that the futurist (as opposed to ‘future’) ‘we’ (who S&W situate squarely in the future) mutates in non-linear fashion at different times and places throughout history. We agree with S&W’s assertion that the ‘classical revolutionary subject’ does not exist (p. 157) – indeed, we have doubts about his (no [sic] required!) ever having existed – but we would go further here: the classically defined, linearly evolving ‘human’ has also never existed. We have always been cyborgs with no clear place to go; and are (probably unendingly) stuck with the mess and trouble of making ourselves comrades – making ourselves, as S&W put it, a ‘people’.


It is common, in writing on utopia, to find the argument that utopias should not be read as blueprints for the future, but as heuristic devices which lever it open as a site of possibility. In this, they show us how we might organise our lives and estrange us from how we do organise our lives. The world could be otherwise, they posit; and so they encourage us to struggle for something better. Yet ItF does not show us utopia, S&W quite rightly pointing out that we do ‘not know what a sociotechnical body can do’, and stating that even the abolition of work will not provide us with an answer, once-and-for-all (p. 176). Besides, they note, the ‘best utopias are always riven by discord’ (p.177).

But ItF does give us a programme of utopianism, and it is our contention that the best utopianisms are also riven with discord. We hope, then, that this review is heard as sounding a dissonant note; and that this is heard to open space for further struggle. Attending to dissonance complicates things, of course: snappy, accessible demands that we can easily imagine a large number of people endorsing (the book’s four key demands, in other words) become that little bit less snappy, that little bit less accessible. If we are still a way off overcoming the work ethic, we are surely even further away from a world where the abolition of prisons could become a ‘counter-hegemonic’ – let alone hegemonic – position, for example; yet this is both ethically and pragmatically imperative for a world beyond work. It is not just that it is wrong to escape one form of work and then tackle the others, it is that it is impossible.

To the extent that ItF has prompted us to reflect on the programme it suggests, then, we can say that it is of enormous heuristically utopian value. It is always easy to find fault, but we were not being glib in describing ItF as a snappy, accessible book. Such works are of vital importance, and ItF asks extremely important questions and posits serious answers. We do not always agree with these answers, or think they need expanding – and on occasion angrily disagree with them –  but we hope that many more take up its challenge of thinking – and struggling for – a post-work utopia; not just in the future, but also in the present.

[1] We would like to thank Ibtisam Ahmed and Zoe Todd for raising our awareness of the issues we grapple with here. We also suspect that much of what we say here would also apply to peasant struggles; and indeed the struggles of all those who have not yet been subject to ‘real subsumption’. Following Glen Coulthard, we do not see primitive accumulation as being of the past (in this we differ from S&W, who talk about it solely in the past tense, p. 87); and think it is vital that those whose lives remain ‘outside’ capitalism in this sense be granted agency in pointing beyond capital rather than simply functioning as a ‘reserve army’ of labour that capital can use to discipline its workforce (Glen Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

[2] On this note, the title of the book appears to be borrowed from a 1964 text by Nobel prize winner Dennis Gabor (Pelican Books), heralding the possibility of an automated post-work society.

[3]  There is one tip of the hat to accelerationism – on p. 181 S&W write that ‘we must build a world in which we can accelerate out of our stasis.’

10 thoughts on “(Why We Can’t) Let the Machines Do It: A Response to Inventing the Future

  1. Pingback: (Why We Can’t) Let the Machines Do It: A Response to Inventing the Future | lasophielle

  2. Wow, this article is unreadable for anyone but academic elites.
    “S&W conflate the two forms of universalism explicated in the previous paragraph” <- you guys really don't think there's simpler ways to form sentances? Longer words don't mean more substance, only makes it much harder to read for most people. (that is assuming the text is aimed towards radicals and not just academics, if the latter carry on)


    • Is the unreadable/incomprehensible word supposed to be “explicated” in that example? Unfamiliar maybe, but not really longer than the more common equivalent, which would be “explained”. Or are you objecting to “universalism”?


      • Pablo K: Explicated and conflate. It’s the unfamiliarity(for others than perhaps academics) I’m against, constantly using as unfamiliar and fancy words as possible breaks up the flow of the text and excludes people who otherwise would be interested in the topic.


      • I take your point but there’s a lot of room for interpretation here. I don’t think “conflate” is a fancy or unfamiliar word (and not any more so than “exclude”). We could dissolve into endless discussion of which word is or isn’t fancy. There’s always also the option of being a bit more generous in your reading (and hey, new words are fun).


  3. “Chapter 2 of ItF is entitled ‘Why are they winning?’, to which S&W’s answer – in short – is ‘because folk politics’. Well, maybe ‘they’ are winning. But isn’t this question a form of negging – ‘why aren’t you winning?’.”
    are you fucking kidding me? lmfao


  4. Pingback: The Future | communists in situ

  5. Great article, I love the attempt to include non “normative” humans in the all encompassing discourse of pluri-versalism. I do regret the exotization of the “indigenous cosmologies”, as if this could be some uniform concept/set of cultural practices and beliefs. If by conflating all the others into a category of the weak one might think they will regain strength, then the homogenization is already in a competition system bound to make the weakest lose. So be precise when referring to specific gender practices from certain cultures, instead of somehow considering a pool of something you can draw from to oppose something else. Also, the same applies for the idea that we are already automated machines, which somehow is symptomatic of the network ontology metaphor everybody seems to be applying now to EVERYTHING,


    • Hi Sara,

      Thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed this. I also think you’re right in the danger of exoticization: as someone else has said (I forget who/where – I think on twitter when it was first published), the word ‘indigenous’ is made to do too much work: it subsumes a lot of differences. I think our thinking was that across these differences they have something in ‘common’ (the urgency of resisting ongoing colonisation, enclosure and accumulation; whether in the name of capital or a quasi-communist future), but I’m sure that in trying to amplify this we’ve erased too much specificity and intellectually accumulated/enclosed for our own particular argument. (We do flag the danger of this in reference to Vanessa Watts’ article, but I think this is probably more of a disavowal of our own failure in this regard rather than a sufficiently substantive taking-on-board of her argument.)

      Thanks again!



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