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  • in reply to: Spam Emails #249473

    Yes. I got about 50 in one afternoon as well…


    I reported the account that kept making so many new topics.

    I couldn’t find a feature to change my email notification settings on here so instead I just set a an filter to delete them as they poured in.

    Looks as though they’ve stopped now though?

    Thanks for the reply Jonathan! That really clears things up about how and why breadth and depth is defined and used in CasP.

    The reason we prioritize Equation 3 over other decompositions is theoretical. In our view, social power, including capitalized power, is exercised over people and by people. The exercise and impact of this power are multidimensional, of course, spanning much of what happens in society. But it is often useful to address this exercise/impact at two distinct levels, by looking at (1) direct power over the entity’s employees (breadth), and (2) indirect power, exercised through the activities of those employees on the rest of society (depth).

    So it seems there is some scope for concepts like breadth and depth to understand other modes of power, albeit in a less systematic way absent a CasP level model of that mode of power.

    Perhaps something along the line of “(1) direct power over the entity’s [objects of domination] (breadth), and (2) indirect power, exercised through the activities of those [objects of domination] on the rest of [the broader social arena] (depth)”

    Whatever the case, this clarifies the CasP approach. Thanks!

    in reply to: Is power a thing in itself or the space between things? #248803

    Thanks for the detailed response Pieter! Even if I don’t get responses to the specific questions I asked, I’m also just keen to know how others think about power.

    I hope to untangle what might seem like a dichotomous problem by re-aligning it within a different framework

    True, I am attempting to reduce the scope of what power could be down to just one of two things, when in fact it could be many things. Though my goal with this question is to try define power in a way that is both close en0ugh to a folk definition to be intuitive and meaningful while also specific and internally consistent enough to allow for empirical research.

    Certainly a hard thing to do, since the more technical specificity one uses to define a concept, the less familiar it becomes to lay people and the more it fails to account for other phenomena we might otherwise consider to be of the same category.


    B&N say in the book, and have re-iterated several times that “All Capital is Power, but not all Power is Capital” This tells me that their work is predominantly about looking at Capital as a sub-category of power, rather than formulating a general theory of power.

    The reason I’m inclined to consider CasP more a theory of power than strictly a theory of capitalism is that they first need to have a theory of power to argue that capitalism is a mode of power. While they may not spend as much time or go into as much detail on the question of power, what they do say struck me as profound. Though I’ll concede I’m likely getting ahead of myself in seeking a definition of power thats applicable to all of history when we may not even sufficiently understand our current moment.


    Now, my thinking on the matter might be slightly unique, but I may also not be as well-read as is needed for a final approach. Thus far, I lean towards a conceptualization that Power is neither merely an entity, nor a relationship between entities, but rather, that it is a phenomenon that emerges out of the complex process of coordination. And in this regard it is both an attribute of entities, and a relationship between entities.

    While I can see the benefit of considering power as an emergent property of coordination, I wonder if we’re unnecessarily limiting ourselves by leaving out power relationships that involve no obvious coordination. For example, a workplace or (abusive) family might have clear examples of coordination, but much of power in today’s world is typified with a sort of violent abandonment and withholding by absentee owners. That said, I’m having trouble thinking of an example to the contrary right now so you may well be onto something.


    In this framing power is the result of the management of dependencies between entities, and management of the entities themselves, according to a specified will.

    The notion of creorder leads me to wonder how much we can speak of “a specified will” rather than treat power as something that reinforces itself absent the need for a particular end goal. For instance, even in a pure autocracy with one person clearly at the top of the hierarchy, would be limited in the extent they can realise their will, given how dependent each strata is on those immediately below them to maintain their power. If ever this autocrat were to have a change of heart and seek to undermine the existing hierarchy/creorder, they would likely be ousted and replaced by those immediately below, for risking their own positions of power. Perhaps this “specified will” is something of a gradient, increasingly realised as we go up the chain. Either way the will is almost entirely limited to that which will reinforce (or at least not threaten) the established creorder.


    This is part of how I see the CasP theory of power as unique, by not seeing power as a means to a higher, more desirable end like (absolute) wealth accumulation or status but as an end in itself. We can’t rely on those in power to pursue any measures that would ultimately undermine their power because they’re structurally limited to fortifying their power, even if they don’t want to, or being replaced by those who will. The powerful are ironically powerless to much else!

    This is also why I continue to lean towards seeing power as denoting a relationship. To treat power as an attribute, something to accumulate (in absolute terms) or as a means to an end, risks making the same mistake as economists: claiming to have privileged insight into some underlying natural forces that can only be effected by power, rather than defined by it.

    I like Drumm’s way of describing the CasP project as “identifying something anterior or prior to the economy that is not itself economic.” Hence, power is not something effects something natural or eternal, rather, if anything, it defines or determines it (eg: power doesn’t effect income, it determines income, à la Blair Fix). While there are definitely heteronomous forces (eg: gravity), they can only set the landscape, they cannot determine our social relations.

    Towards the end of the book, BnN make the point that, even when we’re down to the final barrel of oil, the owners could still give it away for free. Maybe a trivial point but I love it. Indeed, we could even decide they were not the oil’s owners!


    These are the 4 types of power I have identified thus far, and there may be more, but for the moment, these suffice as a framework to explain almost all aspects of the modern world in which we find ourselves.

    Your variety of definitions presents a real contrast in our approaches to defining power, in a way that perhaps reveals the limitations of my own, as I outlined above. I guess for my purposes, I’d want to just stick to words like “ability” for “power to.” “Power with” at first strikes me as combined and thus enhanced “power to” or as simply the absence (or opposing force) of power as I’m seeking to define it. “Power through” is an interesting one, though I’d perhaps sooner frame this as “power to/with” that is strategically sabotaged, as this brings to the forefront the charge to power (perhaps at the cost of the agency of the empowered to be though). Power over, as you might have guessed, is how I prefer to most strictly define it, specifically instantiated in a quantitative relationship.


    Your approach does raise another important point though. In attempting to make more “scientific” the concept of “power”, we also risk engaging in gatekeeping; limiting (if not sabotaging) its very real rhetorical impact and pro-social potentials. Not to mention the risk of ultimately “measuring” something rather unremarkable.


    Perhaps we might be better off keeping the term “power” somewhat undefined, much like how a biologist may be reticent to define “life” or a psychologist “mind”, despite it being such a central object of the entire research project.

    in reply to: What Does a World Without Sabotage Look Like? #248801

    This is such a crucial question and overlaps with things I’m trying to understand in this forum post: Is power a thing in itself or the space between things?


    I’m not nearly knowledgable enough to comment on questions (1) and (2), but I’ll have a crack at (3) and (4).

    Third, does all sabotage take the form of expressly incapacitating and restricting production and human creativity? For example, is the act of directing production and human creativity also a form of sabotage?  We live in a world with finite resources and limited time.  Every option we decide to pursue represents several options we chose to forego.  Is “sabotage” really just a reframing of the individual v. collective dichotomy that presumes the primacy of the collective?

    Finally, does CasP theory care about sabotage outside the narrow definition it has thus far adopted and pursued, e.g., is CasP theory merely descriptive?  The word “sabotage” strongly implies a normative viewpoint that the good of society as a whole matters.


    Sabotage and Power

    As I understand CasP theory, sabotage is, in broadest possible terms, the strategic limiting of creativity to forge, shape and fortify relationships of power. I offer this alternative broad definition to highlight that how we conceive of power will determine what we consider sabotage, particularly with regard to what is being sabotaged and thus lost in the process.

    I think you’re right that invoking notions of wellbeing, and perhaps even creativity, are hopelessly normative, calling into question where sabotage begins and ends and if it may in fact be good thing in some cases (brings to mind of Blair Fix’s Growth as a Power Process for instance).

    That said, I don’t think we can draw boundaries around what constitutes sabotage, nor decide when, if ever, it is desirable, without first addressing what I see as a key problem in how we conceive of power.

    TL;DR – If we conceive of power contra a vast expanse of potentialities, rather than contra a single optimum outcome, we can salvage “sabotage” as a descriptive concept. That is to say, sabotage isn’t merely undesirable because it denies us something we normatively judge to be “good”, rather the term “sabotage” describes a strategic, potentially measurable, process of limiting possibilities (that might have been explored by way of unimpeded creativity) exercised as a prerequisite for power. (I’ve attempted to outline my admittedly very vague thinking on this below, in case the TL;DR wasn’t vague enough!).


    Answer to questions (3) and (4)

    In this sense, I don’t see sabotage as a reframing of individual vs collective debates, as sabotage is more about limiting possibilities in the pursuit of power for its own sake, rather than enacting the will of a given social entity. Unimpeded creativity, on the other hand, need serve neither individuals nor collectives exclusively. It is a strictly social phenomenon, so I don’t see sabotage having much to do with opportunity costs or scarcity – they may set the landscape but ultimately our social lives remain an open question. Finally, if “directing” production involves imposing limitations, then categorically its sabotage (at least as I’ve defined it).


    Is that a bad thing? That’s a much bigger question. Bichler and Nitzan’s dense but rich recasp article Growing Through Sabotage is a very thought provoking attempt to begin systematically thinking about this issue. Don’t know if you’ve read it but I plan to come back to multiple times.


    Not long enough; would read

    Something I think CasP highlights, particularly with the upending of the real/nominal and economics/politics bifurcations, is that power is often thought of as external or secondary to, distracting or detracting from, influencing or distorting, something along the lines of progress, growth, civilisation, development and other idealised teleological notions.


    All this gives the impression that power is the arbitrary, limitless, irrational, ill-defined and boundless scope of potentialities that steers us away from the eternal, ideal, optimum, narrow, limited, well-defined and bounded “real” and “golden path” towards the greatest good.

    As I see it, this thinking motivates the tendency in conventional discourse to avoid addressing power directly. Instead, many are satisfied being relegated to the “nominal” periphery, tasked with merely exhausting the list of surface level distortions as though cutting away the tall grass that obscures the path, meanwhile taking much of what is considered “real” as given. Of course, few would ever dare to make a normative claim about the world explicitly. Far safer to claim it was revealed to us after the nefarious effects of power were accounted for; once the grass was cut away, so to speak. This is really the first trick of economics: never show your hand by making explicitly normative claims about the world, just defer to the alleged, etherial, heteronomous forces of the “economy” to do the heavy lifting.


    If power is the historical, contingent, normative baggage that steers us from this “golden path”, then our salvation lies in the eternal, rational, descriptive, enlightenment that will set us on the straight and narrow. In this sense, I wonder if we could understand much political contestation as emerging from their position on a scale of optimism for our prospects at identifying and duly accounting for the various effects of power. Your business as usual centrist might see nothing untoward and consider us well on our way along the “golden path”, whereas a more pessimistic “postist” (as cheekily labelled by BnN) sees only power stretching to the horizon; the path certainly exists, albeit forever hidden in the weeds of our own insurmountable partialities.


    To steer this tangent back to its own destination, perhaps this thinking of power as boundless and what I’ve been calling the “golden path” as bounded is precisely the problem. Perhaps, instead of defining power by its divergence from an eternal particular, its rather power that is the contingent particular that we so often find ourselves captured by, clouding our vision to what is really a boundless plane of possibilities. It’s with this conception of power that we can salvage “sabotage” as a descriptive concept; as the initial stage of forging power by limiting the scope of possibilities.


    These vague ramblings were inspired by a Twitter thread by Colin Drumm on how much of the western tradition tends to only see the “good” as ontologically positive, while evil is arbitrary.

    in reply to: Is power a thing in itself or the space between things? #248796

    Thanks so much for the reply Rowan!

    Those are some very interesting thoughts which raise basic questions of ontology. What is a thing in isolation? What is a thing in relation to other things? To state my position clearly, I posit that a thing does not and cannot exist in isolation. It exists only in relation. As a basic definition, a “thing” is an object, process, force, field or system, as we standardly define them.

    While I’m certainly no ontologist, I very much agree with this position. It’s a dangerous game thinking of “things” as existing in isolation. Inevitably one end’s up taking much of what and how we understand things for granted, which is certainly not becoming of any critical thinking endeavour.

    Though I wonder now if my question was actually more linguistic/semantic than ontological. That is, regarding a workable definition of “power” that would allow for greater insight into our social lives, if only as a tool for framing our thinking. In this sense, whether “power” is a thing in itself or the space between things, I’d still regard it as something that exists only in relation to other things (ontologically speaking), but I feel the semantic distinction is crucial given the vast implications. I’m mainly thinking of the perhaps overly simplistic debate of “power is the space between things” = power is negative (pro-anarchism) vs “power is a thing in itself” = power is positive (anti-anarchism?).


    I think Ulf Martin gives the best definition of power in the CasP context: “In the following, we try to develop a concept of power as the ability of persons to create particular formations against resistance.” – “The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery” , Ulf Martin.

    I really like this definition as well. This definition could well bring it all together in offering:

    • A definition of power that gives a general description of what it is, in a way thats a tad more satisfying than simply “power is only its effects”
    • Still consistent with the notion of it being a quantitative relationship, allowing for systematic identification and research
    • Also allows the multi-directionality that Drumm’s “options” provides by affording agency to those below, conceived as the “resistance”

    Perhaps in this sense, power is

    • First identified as a quantitative relationship between entities, under the assumption no such relationship is natural or inevitable
    • Studied historically as a specific narrative of strategic sabotage within a broarder creorder which it both defines and defies in various ways
    • Studied in the present as the ability to create particular formations against resistance; shaping, leveraging and resisting the existing creorder
    • Predictions about its future are informed by studying the options of all actors, with the aspirational goal of identifying potential asymptotes


    The people thought they had or possessed an agora, in this case a virtual one, as a gathering space or assembly where they could share ideas, both progressive and reactionary. The more destructive of the most reactionary expressions were controlled by the previous owners. Via the use of capital as power, Musk came along, took over and inverted that so far as he could and can. Various forms of resistance have arisen, but again to go into that makes the post too long.

    As an aside, I feel the positive features of Twitter, both as it was before and what remains in tact today (at least for now) is a great example of the other side of strategic sabotage. Business/power can only suppress, limit and control so much to achieve its given distributional ends and we still benefit from what wellbeing enhancing creative industry seeps through.

    Though your final point raises questions for me about the nature of power, again in a more ontological sense.

    The operation of capital as power always has the physical back-up as last recourse. Indeed, not as last recourse but as only real recourse. Only the physical is real in the final analysis. These are some early thoughts on your post, from my perspective. But then I am a materialist or physicalist ontological fundamentalist. Everything is everywhere and always physical. There is only that. Information is simply patterns encoded and instantiated in matter (in various media) which has then the ability to influence the formation of other patterns (via decoding and instruction execution operations by instruction execution “agents” with servos, meaning humans or artificial agents like computers, robots, drones, automated machinery etc.

    At risk of putting words in your mouth (and exposing my ignorance on the subject), I’m reading this as contra what might be regarded as an idealist approach (or something of the like). I’ve personally never really understood the distinction as ideas surely are physical themselves in that they exist as electrical signals in the brain, triggering muscle movements in mouths and tongues, the resulting air waves vibrating ear drums leading to electrical signals in the brains of others (hugely oversimplified of course, but for sake of argument). If I’m reading you correctly, your point here alludes to a similar take, but if thats the case, the materialist/idealist represents to me more an explanatory gap than an ontological one.

    Tangent aside, I invoke this materialist/idealist divide as certain factors that are not often associated with the physical/material seem to be nonetheless central to understanding power. I’m thinking here of things like intersubjectivity (being on the same “level” so to speak), uncertainty and perceptions of risk, “irrationality” and emotion, formal and informal institutions, sense of identity and belonging, all manner of psychological manoeuvring, etc. We could attempt to understand the leveraging of these factors towards strategic sabotage as effective insofar as they represent a real or perceived material interest (if you don’t belong you might go hungry, for example) but I wonder if this is a Marxist hang up that CasP and Drumm help us to think beyond. Put simply, I wonder how important it is for such a material factor to actually exist in order for such a tactic to be successful (does the bobcat actually need to be faster than the hiker to extract the value of that option?)

    Second tangent aside (thanks for staying with me!), if we try to ground our thinking in something material, might we not only be missing vital phenomena that can be understood on its own terms, but risk falling into the same erroneous bifurcations CasP identifies in much economic thinking such as the real/nominal and economic/political divides?

    This is what draws me back to Drumm’s “options”, the “quantitative relationship” and the “power is nothing but its effects” approaches is that they don’t require us to ground our thinking about power in something external or ontologically prior to it. Rather than find something eternal and “real” to treat as a launching off point, we can begin by merely observing the phenomena of power and then draw upon all manner of disciplinary approaches to understand it.

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