Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ubiquitus Abstractions

How fast can VW build a car? 

VW makes 26000 new cars every day. I calculate that as 36 cars per minute, or 1.6 seconds to make a single car.

But the reality is of course not the case at all. It is impossible to make a car in 1.6 seconds. Just think of the drying time needed between coats of paint. 

But 26000 cars a day is apparently a fact. 

So on one level, it is true that it takes 1.6 seconds for VW to make a new car. 

On the other hand, if you decided one day to visit VW to watch a car being made in 1.6 seconds, you would be confronted with nothing of the sort. In fact, if you visited a VW factory, you might be forgiven for doubting if they made anything at all. For the plant is so massive, and the division of labour and the many thousands of processes that have to all take place simultaneously so vast, that it would be physically impossible to watch a single car being made, let alone time it with a stopwatch. In any case, where would you even start the clock, at the moment the iron ore is mined from the earth? 

What then is the truth of the matter? 

The answer is that "VW" is an abstraction. How fast "VW" can build a car is only an interesting question so long as one remains blind to the fact that the entire premise is a fantasy. Unfortunately, public discourse is filled with such delusional questions and abstractions and governments and institutions all over the world hold themselves accountable to these abstractions as though they were reality. 

The facts about the production of cars is something completely different, which anyone can immediately rocognise if they gave it a moments thought. Car manufacturing is a culminating process that draws on the lives of millions of people all over the world who are doing deeds and actions that for the most part don't resemble making a car in the slightest. The idea that all these unrelated people doing all these separate deeds is somehow "VW" is so manifestly wrong that it is interesting how such a delusion can persist. Yet persist it does, for we never stop to think out properly what we are used to ingesting as mental habit. 



  1. Good example.

    Of course, it did once make sense to say that a car maker took such and such a time to make a car - since one car at a time was made in a workshop. But the process of car making evolved until there is essentially nothing in common between the old and new methods. Yet the same terminology is used.

    The same applies across the board in modern life. For example, what is called Science now shares essentially nothing in common with what science was in 1950 - as was made clear by John Ziman in Real Science (2000) when he compared a day in the life of a scientist from his early years (c 1950) up to the millennium. There was essentially no overlap in what scientists actually did in the two times.

    Yet modern 'science' claims the status and validity of the old (real) science. You could say the same for modern Oxford University compared with 70 years ago, or a modern doctor compared with one of an earlier era.

    In almost every case - including car manufacture - it will be found that every functional institution has converge onto a managed bureaucracy, which continually increases in size (and the managerial component); and all the institutions are increasingly cross-linked by other bureaucracies.

    By 2020 the financial-money system seems to have been included in these - so that money seems to be entirely 'managed' - trillions of dollars have been 'created' digitally - which in practice seems to mean that vast resources are being shifted around The System top-down, managerially and without institutions (let alone people) having any control.

    For example, worldwide, 'high street' retail and hospitality (cafes, restaurants) has been all-but eliminated, almost instantaneously - by diktat, not by 'markets'. In the past year, massive proportions of the world population now live from state handouts, extracted from other parts of the economy.

    All of the functions and institutions involved have undergone such a total redefinition that the same words mean quite different things.

    1. Excellent points about money and science. I was wondering what to call modern car manufacturing - like you say, the old production was real, ie, in a workshop, one car at a time. The modern production of cars needs a different name, and I think you are right - it's management; management of people into ever more meaningless, repetitive tasks for the sake of a cumulative effect over thousands upon millions of man-hours.


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