New Desires of Post-Capitalism

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Pieter Lemmens:

"It is the systematic annexation of the new technical milieus of the mind (first of all the network of digital information and communication technologies: Internet) by capitalism that is the principal cause of the cognitive and emotional proletarianization that affects all strata of contemporary society. Capitalism today exploits the mnemotechnical milieu for capturing the attention and desires of populations for the purpose of promoting consumption and creating consumer subjects. This phenomenon is called psychopower by Stiegler, in analogy to Michel Foucault’s notion of biopower. Its ultimate result is the destruction of the libido and with it the sublimatory capacities of humanity, which lie at the basis of every civilization. Today’s cognitive and consumer capitalism is first of all a capitalism focused on the control of libidinal energy – of consumers and employees as well as financiers. Criticizing it presupposes the development of a critique of libidinal economy.

In this interview, Stiegler talks about today’s processes of proletarianization and addresses some of the pernicious consequences of capital’s exploitation of the technical milieu of the mind, among them the many psychopathologies and addictive behavior patterns that agonize ever more people, especially since the rise of the purely speculative, short-term based finance capitalism invented by the neoliberals and the neoconservatives.

By subjecting technological innovation completely to the logic of the market, the so called ‘conservative revolution’ led by Thatcher and Reagan has engendered a cultural and spiritual regression of unprecedented magnitude, transforming the whole of society into a machine for profit maximization and creating a state of ‘systemic carelessness’ and ‘systemic stupidity’ on a global scale.

Notwithstanding his rather bleak diagnosis of contemporary society, Stiegler is not pessimistic with regard to the future. Whereas today’s capitalism is headed for destruction, it is precisely in the digitalized networks through which it tries to control the populations that a new kind of economy is emerging, one that is not only inventing new modes of production like open source and peer-to-peer, but that is also slowly creating a new economy of desire that could lead to the invention of new ways of life, new modes of individual and collective existence. A new society could arise on the same technological base that is now still predominantly destroying the social bonds. The digital networks might be the prime catalysts in the transformation from today’s consumer society into what he calls a ‘society of contribution’. In this context he talks in this interview about technologies in terms of pharmaka (a term derived from Plato and from his teacher Derrida) that can act both as a poison, destroying sociality and proletarianizing human existence, as well as a medicine, producing social ties and deproletarianzing human existence.

‘My books want to serve struggles [servir des luttes]’, Stiegler writes in one of his prefaces. The struggles he refers to are struggles in the context of a ‘battle for the mind’, a battle in which the forces of a capitalism that has become nihilistic stand opposed to a humanity that needs to develop a new, global consciousness and collectivity in order to challenge the global multicrisis that is closing in upon it. Philosophy, according to Stiegler, should engage itself in the global struggle for the mind against a capitalist system that is systematically degrading and brutalizing human existence, destroying desire, intelligence and the joie de vivre. And philosophers should focus their attention on the digital network technologies, which are still predominantly factors of the erosion of consciousness and sociality but which could – and should – become a new technical milieu for the life of the mind, for a renewed spiritual and intellectual culture (in Stiegler’s terms: a libidinal economy). With this enormous task in mind, Stiegler and some colleagues have established Ars Industrialis, an international association for the promotion of an industrial politics of spirit, based in Paris. Existing since 2005, it organizes conferences, debates, seminars and international meetings and it has published two manifestos and two books as well." (