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Beyond the Possible
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It is difficult to imagine an indefinite extension of the manifold and overlapping contradictions of contemporary global capitalism. The desires and dreams of peoples are amassed and quantified through patented data analytics of private firms and speculated on as projections of consumption and global labor productivity.1 The local use-values of indigenous communities are enclosed through industry-backed nature conservancy policies and captured in the market logics of global financial resources (World Rainforest Movement). Online marketplaces trade credits that can be cashed in by private corporate polluters, and nations, for the privilege of sidestepping the few remaining legal protections of ecological commons (Lohman). The future, no one needs to be reminded, looks grim. Indeed a certain structural myopia in which the future is only imaginable as a return on the probability of the same of the present seems to be the sine qua non of a mode of production that is subordinate to the processes and apparatuses of financial speculation in the twenty-first century. Yet a profound resistance to this present—a present in which the exploitation and the negation of a sustainable existence for this world are integrated into the mode of production of society itself—is evident everywhere. Strikes, occupations, mass marches, and novel Internet-based forms of activism echo the demand of the movement of movements: Another world, another future, is possible.

Theorizing exactly what is meant by “the possible” is precisely the site where the anonymous researchers and activists of the Uncertain Commons propose to intervene in their recent manifesto Speculate This!2 For if what we seek—assuming we seek anything at all—is an escape route from a future that is prefigured by the conditions of possibility in the present, we must invent concepts adequate to the task, concepts that, at minimum, help us to avoid an encounter with more of the same cloaked as difference. As we will show, while important, [End Page 139] the theorization of the possible in Speculate This!—based on a distinction between “firmative” and “affirmative” speculation—ultimately requires a supplemental concept of potential in order to more fully realize the ontogenetic power of the thought of difference. Let us move directly to the heart of the matter.


The Uncertain Commons describe speculation as follows: “To speculate is to project the future—namely, to live both the future and the past in the present tense, to extend the present forward into the future and backward into the past by making estimates based on current trends and averages” (10). They further note that

modern speculation knows no bounds and is limitless: it operates as if there were no limits to the annexation and incorporation of the future into the present, as if everything in the future were representable, knowable, and calculable in principle, as if nothing of the future could possibly escape valorization through either thought or money.


Modern speculative apparatuses have a long and tedious genealogy but largely derive from two corollary engagements with probability. The first can be understood as a posteriori probability, which leveraged time-series data to project futures based on knowledge of the past. In practice, these apparatuses “aggregated and averaged past singular instances (empirical observations), mapped general trends (regression equations) via the estimation of their defining parameters, and then projected future events from these estimated patterns” (29). The second can be understood as a priori probability, which attempted to produce mathematical theorems that, barring aberrations, could predict futures with little or no time-series data (29).3 In both instances, data are leveraged to project probable futures and thus inform action in the present. But further, the articulations of both the past and the future produced in such a speculative apparatus issue from the present, which serves as an anchoring point that inflects both articulations.4

The Uncertain Commons refer to this probabilistic form of speculation that is anchored in the present as “firmative speculation,” which they describe as functioning according to a logic of negativity. The data [End Page 140] that could potentially be leveraged in any speculative apparatus are near infinite, so their...