CI through the “political economy” lens

What was “collective intelligence” in the cognitive and evolutionary contexts, becomes “general intellect,” in the language of political economy. The difference is not only semantic. The general intellect embodied in the collective knowing of the society, embedded in all the ways of its knowing, has always been a force that shaped the creative capacities and daily life of people and organizations.
“Marx suggested that at a certain point in the development of capital… the crucial factor in production will become the ‘development of the general powers of the human head’; ‘general social knowledge’; social intellect; or, in a striking metaphor, the ‘general productive forces of the social brain’.” (Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism, by Nick Dyer-Witheford, 1999)
A more attentive reading of Marx’ Grundrisse, his notes for Das Kapital that were published after his death, reveals that there is more than the social intellect, more than the gifts of the social brain that flow into our general intellect.
“General Intellect consists in a number of competences that are inscribed in the social environment organized by capitalist machinery, and hence available freely to its participants, by virtue of their existence as ‘social individuals’. These competences can be cognitive, as in technical or scientific knowledge, but they are also social and affective…” (Ethics and General Intellect, in Ethical Economy, by Adam Arvidsson, 2006)
Diving into the far-reaching implications of Arvidsson’s statement is food for future thought. For now, we share a few quotes from Empire, which may illuminate the portent of this issue. “The danger of discourse of general intellect is that it risks remaining entirely on the same plan of thought, as if the new powers of labor were only intellectual and not also corporeal… As we saw earlier, new forces and new positions of affective labor characterize labor power as much as intellectual labor does.” (Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, 2001)
Avoiding the danger of conceiving “general intellect” as something only intellectual is what Lazzarato accomplished (in “General Intellect: towards an inquiry into immaterial labour”, Common Sense #22, 1996), by strengthening his analysis with a few relevant passages of the Grundrisse. A key component of Lazzarato’s concept of “immaterial labour” is what he, Negri and other authors of the Italian-French “autonomist” school of thought described in Multitudes magazine. They refer to it as “affective labour.” That distinction opened a whole new domain of inquiry where political economy and social psychology overlap.
What happens when we apply the “general intellect” lens to realize a fuller meaning of “collective intelligence?” It gives us access to CI in the long view, the broad sweeps of social evolution, past and future included.
Visualizing that long view as the vertical plane, we can add “collective intelligence” as the horizontal axis. In that sense, CI is the ensemble of capabilities, knowledge, and tools available to a collective entity, in the given stage of its evolution, for creating its desired future.
The spiral that is expanding from the point where the vertical and horizontal planes intersect, is driven by the co-evolutionary dynamics that plays in the macro/micro and global/local scales of CI.
(Excerpt from my Working Paper on Collective Intelligece and Collective Leadership)

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