Let's go straight to the second episode of Amazon Prime Video's new anthology—Electric Dreams—based on stories by American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s, "Autofac." (The first season has 10 episodes and is often compared with Netflix's popular sci-fi anthology Black Mirror.)
SPOILER ALERT: "Autofac" is set in a post-apocalyptic future that has a few humans and a retail corporation that, in may ways, resembles the defining corporation of our times, Amazon. This corporation delivers packages much like Prime Air; that Amazon system, when fully developed, will transport packages to millions of customers by drones.
But the factory that makes and sends packages in "Autofac" is fully automated and cannot be stopped. It delivers goods to people who do not want them, to people who spend their days and nights dreaming of a world that's finally liberated from this factory and its commodities, which are produced at the expense of the environment. In the world of "Autofac," it's hard to find clean water but it's easy to get sneakers from the robots.
The form of social existence that the humans (survivors of the nuclear winter, the men and women of a disaster Eden) desire after the end of the world is much like the one humans are imagined to have experienced before the rise and dominance of capitalism and its abstractions: exchange value and measurement, wage labor, factory time, monetized social relations. Though these are abstractions, they are not in the human head but out there in reality, and so are very, very real. If you do not perform the abstract tasks of capitalist production, a state of nature is imposed on your body. As a wolf does not eat if it's outsmarted by a deer or a rabbit, a human in market economy suffers from hunger if their labor is not exchanged for a wage.
When 19th century German philosopher Hegel wrote that the real is rational and the rational is real, he was speaking of some metaphysical the merger of human consciousness and the spirit of nature (this part of his philosophy can discarded as a bunch of nonsense). But when we speak of capitalist social relations (the real is abstract and the abstract is real), this is a matter of life or death. University of Bristol political economist Frederick Harry Pitts digs deep into the realness of capitalist abstractions in his new book, Critiquing Capitalism Today: New Ways to Read Marx.
The original short story that Amazon's "Autofac" is based on, "Autofac" (1955), opens with this statement: "Naturally man should want to stand on his own two of feet, but how can he when his own machines cut the ground out from under him?" But these machines or robots are nothing less than the capitalist abstractions that shaped work in factories of the 19th century, the malls of the 20th century, and the "fulfillment centers" of the 21st century. Philip K. Dick brilliantly imagined a future where capitalism persists despite the fact that its forms production and consumption and imposed social arrangements are no longer needed. A future where the necessities of life can be drawn from by other means—means that are indeed older than free enterprise.
And so in the most advanced form of capitalism today, Amazon's business model, which has total automation as its terminal point (and therefore, the total abstraction of production), has released an episode about humans hungering for what Seattle-based writer David Shields described as "reality" (no mediation between wanting something, and, like a hungry wolf, going out to get it).
The episode stars the excellent Janelle Monáe as a robot sent to deal with humans who have a reality hunger. She arrives, listens to their complaints, and turns out to know something about the humans that the humans do not know about themselves. But the conclusion of the episode will not be music to Marxist ears. It seems only a Jeff Bezos can destroy a Jeff Bezos. This understanding is probably why "Autofac" is sold by Amazon.