Diaspora in the Age of Empire and the Recomposition of Identity: A Philosophical Reflection Jeong Hwan joe

1. What Are the New Times?

1.1. Nowadays the term “New Times” has become widely known. Are the times in which we live really new, compared with earlier times? What are the “New Times”? At which point do the times in which we are living become new? What brings forth the new traits of our times?

1.2. I want to define the traits of our times in the context of the transgression of subsumption. Subsumption is the behavior of capital which classifies, includes, incorporates, or captures the power of living labor.

1.3. Through the concept of subsumption, we can consider the primacy of living labor. Although living labor is subsumed by capital, it determines the conditions and the limits within which the capital is developed. That is to say, the capital which subsumes living labor in reality depends on living labor.

1.4. “Living labor” is life itself which confronts capital. Life is time. The image of time as a flying arrow represents the constantly generating power of life in a linear form. In essence, life is always potential which is newly generating itself. Because it repeats only differences. In this sense human beings and living beings always live in new times.

1.5. If our time is constantly changing, what could identity be? Identity is the represented, recognized, subsumed form of singular times. So the change or recomposition of identity is determined and limited by the change or recomposition of singularity.

1.6. In conclusion, in speaking about the newness of our New Times, we have to discover the new tendency of our life in the recomposition of capital, and we have to discover the new élan of singularity in the recomposition of identity.

2. Transformation of Subsumption

2.1. Primitive capital exploited the natural power and labor-power which were established by the past times. The task of capitalists was simply to collect the raw materials, the means of production and the laborers at a certain place. This is termed “manufacturing.”

2.2. Though the three elements of production were joined together at one place, each element sustained a relatively autonomous character. Raw materials were extracted from nature, the instruments of production were the products of the mere processing of natural tools, and the laborers came from the natural community.

2.3. Capital only formally subsumed the power of nature and labor. In society naturality still played an important role in the production of life. In manufacturing, laborers/craftsmen still had a great power of decision-making.

2.4. In this way, a primitive modern state also subsumed civil society only formally. It was the so-called “night watch state.” Though it helped capital by using public forces against the masses in the process of primitive accumulation, citizens still had a relatively great power of decision-making and action. In other words, a citizen was in a certain sense located in a natural state. Civility played a relatively unimportant role.

2.5. Because of this, the state and capital tend to depend on physical forces. Direct violence is an important weapon of the state and capital to subsume labor-power and natural power. In addition to this, the state and capital tried to organize natural powers into a culturally and politically unified power. As a result of this, a political unit called a nation appeared in modern history. But the nation represented only the subsumed part of the population. Many people were expelled from the nation or imprisoned in an isolated prison or a mental hospital. This way, many disobedient persons were branded as dangerous dissidents and expelled from factories.

2.6. In this situation, many laborers tried to resist capital and the state by organizing themselves as an association of laborers. But they did not have the idea of associating with nature and instruments (i.e., earlier machines). Or rather, they often broke the machines. The Luddite movement showed us that laborers recognized the machine as their competitor. And they shared similar ideas and attitudes with the capitalists about nature. Nature was considered as an object of exploitation free of charge. This one-sided and human-centered recognition allowed capitalists to adopt machines to crush the struggle of the laborers. Because of this, the laborers had to compete with machines to be hired by capitalists. This was the sociopolitical condition upon which a modern capitalist system of industry developed.

2.7. In that system automatized machines started to play increasingly important roles. As a result, capitalists who were able to acquire machines started to have the power of domination, and laborers became the slaves of capital, taking care of the machines, and nature became the object of mechanical exploitation. As opposed to the earlier stage of formal subsumption, the whole process of production was really subsumed to capital. Natural productivity gives way to completely mechanical or artificial productivity.

2.8. But this was only the first phase of real subsumption. The information-machine is the latest phase of mechanical development. In this phase the human being is integrated in the intellectualized and information-centered system of production. Consequently, human beings and nature become totally subsumed under capital. This can be called the second phase of real subsumption. In this phase, nature, human beings, and machines lose their past boundaries which were brought about spontaneously, and are integrated into a unified system. On the one hand, this system is a terrible exploitation by capital of all possibilities of nature, human beings, and machines. But on the other hand, under this high level of unification, the potential of diverse beings becoming common is rapidly elevated. Nature, machines, and human beings are mixed up and compounded. Hybrid cyborgs rise as a hegemonic form of being.

3. Diaspora in the Age of Empire

3.1. The recomposition of beings (that is, the recomposition of time), was naturally followed by the recomposition of space. The Diaspora—the scattering of beings on the surface of the globe—shows us clearly the phenomenon of the recomposition of space.

3.2. The aspects of a Diaspora are spread from the distribution of products to production itself. The globe is transformed from a world market into a world factory. Imperialist sovereignty based on the world market is being transformed into imperial sovereignty based on the world factory.

3.3. Both production and sovereignty are networked on the scale of the globe. Because of this, the character of the Diaspora is changed from colonialist or imperialist to imperial. The huge Diaspora caused by colonialism and imperialism involved large-scale transfers of people by the government (e.g., Soviet Russia), the people remaining after the decision of colonialism, the exodus of people to avoid imperialist or Fascist or socialist oppressions (e.g., China, Albania, North Korea). Most of them were brought about by inter-state conflicts or civil war.

3.4. However, many of the recent Diasporas are brought about by different kinds of causes. If we paid attention to the deeper strata of life, we would find out that huge populations on the globe are asking themselves every day where a better place for them to live might be. And all capitalists are always asking themselves where the best place to send their employees to accumulate their capital might be. Production of all material and immaterial products—in short, total reproduction of life itself—is being carried out diasporically.

3.5. These widespread, global, and everyday Diasporas introduce diverse biological, linguistic and cultural differences to every area of the globe. This strongly undermines traditional identities at local, national, and cultural levels.

4. Recomposition of Identity in the age of Empire

4.1. In this situation, two levels of recomposition are possible. First, capitals try to subsume all the Diasporas on the globe. The empire is the new sovereignty by which global capitalists try to order the diasporic power of beings for their accumulation. This level of recomposition realizes the totalitarian rule of imperial sovereignty, which changes people into Homo Sacer. In this process, the differences that were introduced into the traditional national community are exploited as the means of dividing and ruling. New racialism is now being constructed by cultural and political devices which could establish a unified and modeled measure to define a normal race. It functions to exclude multitudes from society and introduce fears of insecurity.

4.2. Another level of recomposition is also possible. The confrontation and confluence of diverse kinds of identities can produce the capability to relativize their identities. And all individuals who are liberated from the local or national states can experience themselves as singular beings and discover their potential singularities. And among them can occur the hybridization of differences and the commonizing of singularities. If these self-commonizing singularities would refuse sovereign power and construct democratic and federal power on a global scale, we could say that the global community which goes beyond the local and national community would start to function.

4.3. Nowadays, the former possibility is being dominantly actualized. The confrontation of identities of different kinds which were developed in the second millennium is forming numerous armed or violent conflicts. Modern criteria of value are collapsing all at once. It is becoming more and more unclear what is correct or incorrect, what is legitimate or illegitimate. The distinction between liberation-war and oppression-war is all the more blurred. In this situation in which modern relations of identities and boundaries are collapsing overall, efforts to intensify old identities often appear on a smaller scale or area. Paradoxically, these relocalizing politics give rise to terrible effects in our times. Racist ethnic cleansings are constantly happening all over the globe.

4.4. Relocalizing politics do not contradict neoliberal globalizing politics of Empire, because the global Empire is utilizing the relocalizing conflicts sought by their own small sovereignties for the purpose of globalizing its sovereignty. The Empire subsumes the conflicting identities under its higher system of sovereignty. It can be said that efforts to construct its own people on a local scale by each ethnic group have the result of supporting the global integration of powers, because conflicting small-scale ethnicities always need a greater power to mediate, articulate, and integrate the conflicting partners.

4.5. But one cannot say that all relocalizing efforts result in destructive and disastrous effects. We can give as an example the “politics of identity” which have developed in the last decades of the 20th century. They rejected all policies of centralization, representation, and hierarchy of powers, and searched for an autonomy of different identities. Although they confused identity with singularity and in effect neglected the importance of commonizing singularities, it contributed to the elevation of the culture of democratic decision, participation, direct action, autonomy, and so on.

5. Multitude: from Identity to Subjectivity

5.1. The most important feature of the recomposition of identities in our new times is the appearance of a multitude. A multitude has plural identities in itself. Or rather, a multitude refuses one fixed identity. It is a hybridal subject.

5.2. A multitude is different from a nation. While a nation is generally the political community of persons who constitute a state, a multitude is generally not subsumed under a state. While people constitute a unity in population to support sovereignty, a multitude does not constitute a unity and remains an extrasovereign multiplicity. A multitude differs from mass, as well. While mass is an indifferential collective, a multitude consists of differential groups of beings. While a class indicates the industrial working class or wage-laborer, a multitude includes diverse groups of beings who are participating in the bio-political production of life.

5.3. In this sense a multitude is not a simple identity. Identity is generally imposed from the outside. It is a boundary classified and ordered by powers. A nation is determined by the state, people are determined by the sovereign, a class is determined by capital, a mass is determined by the vanguard, a race is determined by the racist power (e.g., the Nazis). But a multitude is the name which is usually attached to something that cannot be classified and ordered by power. In the sense that it cannot be located in the normal coordinate system, it is a monster. A multitude always goes beyond the given boundaries. It is a singularity.

5.4. A multitude has an ontological dimension. In this dimension a multitude appears as multitudes. More precisely, a multitude is formed from these ontological multitudes. Multitudes always tend to go beyond the measure of power and introduce new elements in the order of power. The Diaspora of beings in our times is accelerating this tendency. Bodies of multitudes are scattered all over the world, and are demanding and practicing new constellations or constitutions.

5.5. This movement constructs the sociological dimension of the multitude. Some kinds of labor are becoming common today. Agricultural labor is mixed with industrial labor, and is starting to have an increasing character of service labor and intellectual labor. Industrial labor which is linked with the computer is starting to resemble intellectual labor and artistic acts. It is starting to be more and more difficult to distinguish the boundaries of labor. On one hand all activities of labor have their singularities; at the same time, they are becoming common on the sociological level. Such phenomena of becoming common appear in the realm of race, culture, or rather all areas of life.

5.6. But this ontological and sociological tendency is exposed to the power of capital and sovereignty. They always try to absorb the commonizing tendencies to accelerate their accumulation. Such efforts sometimes succeed in constructing new orders of domination and in imposing new identities on beings. So, the tendency to differentiate and become common does not necessarily guarantee the liberation of human beings. It is exposed to the danger of being fixed as an identity or a body. To overcome this danger, we can and have to understand the multitude as a political constituent project of multitudes. To become a multitude is to resist the operation of sovereign power that establishes multitudes as a functional identity. Today, to resist becoming a multitude does not mean to exercise symmetrical violence with sovereign power. It means to clean up the poisonous effects of sovereign power, to establish singularities as an identity, and to try to struggle to take flight collectively from the device of capture of capital, and to constitute new autonomous dispositions of singularities.

5.7. So, the political task of becoming a multitude means actualizing the ontological and sociological multitudes into a political multitude that is becoming more and more common in the process of not losing the singularities of its components. It is not the task of establishing an identity, but the task of constituting subjectivity.