More on work. energy and thermodynamics from Midnight Notes in 1980.
Entropy can be reduced by information, i.e., by locating pockets of low entropy and incorporating them into the work process; the inevitable reduction in the availability for work can be held at bay. The more the information and the less the cost of creating it and communicating it, the more the stalling of Time. But this process can be reversed, i.e., the increasing entropy within a work process can be localized and expelled. Every production process shits, the question is, “Where is it going to be put?” If this shit, i.e., the material, social, physiological, radioactive, psychological waste that cannot be re-swallowed and re-cycled, is allowed to remain in the vicinity of the production process, each new cycle of production will intensify the entropic rise exponentially. The reproduction of the machine cycle will be clogged by the left over shit, and the costs of returning to the initial state will be so overwhelming that it will outpace the work produced by the thrust stage of the cycle. The net work will fall into negativity, and needless to say, profit will be in jeopardy.
This aspect of capital’s struggle against entropy involves the possibility of ejecting areas of high entropy into the surrounding environment without effecting the net work production. For not only must waste be controlled and accidents prevented (the job of the computer controllers); if waste must be created, if little murders must be condoned, then it is crucial that the shit be localized and expelled.
The corpses must be buried or burned. We have the final aspects of work: the passive work of absorbing capital’s wastes. For in addition to the work of producing, reproducing, informing and controlling, there is the immense work of absorbing, imbibing capital’s shit. Not only is capital concerned with transferring as much of the value of the means of produciton to the commodity product without waste and accident. The work process must also intensify the entropy of its local and global workers. Marx comments on this aspect work:
Capitalist production, when considered in isolation from the process of circulation and the excesses of competition, is very economical with the materialized labor incorporated in commodities. Yet, more than any other mode of production, it squanders human lives, or living labor, and not only blood and flesh, but also nerve and brain .... Since all of the economizing here discussed arises from the social nature of labor, it is indeed just this directly social nature of labor which causes the waste of life and health.1
Capital is more finicky than a cat when it comes to shitting. The whole debate on the location of nuclear plants is an example of this sensitivity. For there are complex considerations arising from the class composition to be found in any particular location. Will they riot if there is an accident, will they get nervous about the transport and spillage of used uranium, will they get “hysterical” when cancer rumors and chromosome damage reports begin seeping in, are they desperate enough to take the tax write-offs but not so desperate that they won’t care and will explode anyway? Certainly, it was no accident that Three Mile Island was located in the center of the heartland of patriarchy in the U.S.A. surrounded by phallic silos, bearded Amish Jobs and state employees.
At the same time, when capital discovers high entropic sinks in the production process, the expulsion is swift and violent. Need we refer to the execution of workers throughout capitalist development? Why is capital murdering its own labor-power? Why the Aushwitz’ and Chiles? Quite simply because certain types of labor power becomes too entropic for production, they become living shit for capital that must be eliminated. Of course, the direct slaughter of workers is just the most dramatic event in the never ending struggle of capital to beat the odds. The endless string of methods to identify high entropic workers, “weed” them out, “blacklist” them, jail them, starve them and kill them, gag us now, it is too much past midnight! But if there is an institution for localizing, expelling and exterminating entropy, the “criminal justice system” is the one. Its function: to rid the production process of the “elements” that are completely unavailable for work.
There is, however, the work not only of locating high-entropy, and the work of expelling it, there is finally the job of absorbing it. Consider the “jumper”. The disintegrating, entropic aspect of the reactor core of a nuclear plant is the radiation that does not go into the production of heat but “escapes”. One of the main jobs of the nuclear worker is to absorb this entropy.
There are nuclear workers whose job is just that: to suffer the shit of the reactor. This is the part-time jumper hired to be sent into areas dense with radioactivity and absorb the full “quota” for radioactivity (absorbed by a regular worker in a year) within a few minutes. He picks up his $100 after twisting a valve and disappears, perhaps to return in a few months, perhaps to discover a suspicious lump ten years later. The “jumper” is an extreme figure, an ideal type; but certainly the proliferation of chemical and radioactive dump sites across the country has made “fallers " of us all. For it is apparent that the “squandering of human lives” does not occur only within the gates of the nuclear plant or chemical factory but is as “social” as the labor that produces the radioactive electricity and poisons.
As we are dealing with the asshole of capital we inevitably must deal with all that is most foul, decaying and frightening: corpses, cancer, executions, slavery, the Gilmorean joke. It is at the lowest level of the institutional heirarchy, at the bottom of our fear as to what they are doing to us, that the basic profit level is guaranteed. It is not because of any melancholic humors we have wandered here. Since it is exactly in these dumps of matter, body and nerve that you find the famous “bottom line”. It's all in the physics: the efficiency of a heat engine is not only proportional to the work it produces, but is inversely proportional to the entropy it creates. The less the entropy the greater the “efficiency” hence the greater the work/energy ratio: the profit.
Prisons are as integral to the production process as the gas that makes the engines go, as the caress that sends one off to the plant, as the print-out that tells you of your fuck up. For if there were no dumps of labor-power and constant capital, no way of eliminating entropic contamination, the system would stop. Of course, the capitalist idea is not to end the shit but to control it, dumping it in isolated, unobjectionable places, on unobjecting or invisible populations. Thus with the energy crisis comes the death penalty.
This is the last element of the profits crisis and the last reason for the energy crisis response. As the working class through the 60’s and 70’s has increasingly refused to be the dump of capitalist shit, the collective sewer of its entropic wastes, some antagonistic compulsion was in order. Energy price rises immediately put this refusal to absorb the shit on the defensive, for the high cost of energy seems to justify the need for entropy control and for expelling highly concentrated entropy deposits from the production process. Thus the explicit and implicit anti-nuclear movement meets its response: nuclear plants can only pass once energy prices go up. But once Teller’s system of nukes and coal electrification is introduced, then the intensification of the mechanisms of control and information in the production process are inevitably realized. Finally, only with such increased prices (imposed by the very investment in this High sector), can the “need” for accepting the disintegrating excretions of the plants be forced down the throats of the surrounding populations.
The rate payers of Three Mile Island are financing the repair of the plant with increased electricity bills, and the state’s increasing pressure to open up the radioactivity dump sites throughout the country is felt by all.
- 1K. Marx, CAPITAL, VoL 3, p. 88.