Brief Notes on Oculus and Facebook
For background on this issue, see Ars Technica’s report.
1. Gadget freak and gamer identity tends to be a mix of amour and a rapacious acquisitive tendency. Otaku subculture in Japan is, similarly but in its own context, based around creating identity and meaning through commodity ownership. It’s the ultimate capitulation to not just the economic logic of decadent late capitalism but also its aesthetics and rhetoric. Independent entrepreneurs (read: future failures or monopolists) become objects of intense attachment, and even larger corporations with the right marketing can make their sterile branding feel like a comfortable presence in a family home rather than a blatant ideological intrusion.
2. The Kickstarter backers who are angry because they missed the gravy train are also symptomatic of American capitalist ideology. The pernicious belief that because America is a “free country” that all people are either rich or rich in larval form creates a frenzied pursuit of wealth and engenders the false belief that social class is a fantasy rather than the basis of political (and all other kinds of) power in the country.
3. As put forward by Lenin in a text I love to cite, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, the imperialist and last phase of capitalism is characterized by monopolistic tendencies. Corporations tend to be either voracious predators or hapless prey as whole industries are consolidated under a few vast trusts.
Free competition is the basic feature of capitalism, and of commodity production generally; monopoly is the exact opposite of free competition, but we have seen the latter being transformed into monopoly before our eyes, creating large-scale industry and forcing out small industry, replacing large-scale by still larger-scale industry, and carrying concentration of production and capital to the point where out of it has grown and is growing monopoly: cartels, syndicates and trusts, and merging with them, the capital of a dozen or so banks, which manipulate thousands of millions.
The question was not, therefore, whether Oculus would either be bought or become a vast corporation, but which one and how soon. It’s not as though its founders are or ever were altruists.
Of course, one cannot neglect the fact that all of this is founded on the imperialist exploitation of cheap Asian labour by the entire tech industry. Not to mention the protection of such exploitation by the American state and its vast reserves of military and economic power. Companies like Apple would not be making their enormous profits without the existing contradictions between the imperialist center and so-called “developing nations” from which super-profitable labour can be extracted.
The whole affair is just one especially prominent example of how the tech industry works. Indeed, it’s how it’s supposed to work. All of the heartache and concern being poured over this issue looks fairly ridiculous when seen from anything but an overheated enthusiast’s perspective. In that view, squabbles between most undifferentiated and faceless corporations over tiny market niches become life and death struggles. There are aspects of bourgeois ideology that are far more destructive, but few that are more annoying.