Einstein’s Nightmare: On Bernard Stiegler’s Techno-Dystopia by Mark Featherstone

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Einstein’s Nightmare

 

On Bernard Stiegler’s Techno-Dystopia

 

Article originally Published at: C Theory

 

 

 

 

I. Gadget Love

 

In the winter of 2013, I became aware of “Einstein’s Nightmare,” an Internet meme, a fragment of information, which reflects the horror of what I call in this article the “technological dystopia.” [1] The meme, titled “Einstein’s Worst Nightmare,” explains that “The Day That Albert Einstein Feared Has Arrived!” Below the caption, six images show people in various collective scenarios — “Having Coffee with Friends,” “A Day at the Beach,” “Cheering for your Team,” “On an Intimate Date,” “Enjoying the Sights,” “Having Dinner” — where a communal or social event is torn by technological mediation. The people in each image are distracted. They grasp their gadgets, gaze at screens, lose themselves in mediation. They are immersed in their iPhones, smart phones, and other devices, and disregard the presence of their friends and family members. At the bottom of the meme is a quotation from Einstein. Here we read the details of Einstein’s Nightmare: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” We understand the problem. Perhaps the meme is inspired by McLuhan, Baudrillard, or both? According to the meme, we may argue that the technological medium of human communication has started to work against its original purpose — the creation of social relations, where the term “social” implies a relation defined by a phenomenological, embodied,thickness, a quality necessary for durable sociality. But this is not the relation that predominates in Einstein’s Nightmare. In the nightmare, we gaze at screens and communicate with absent, virtual bodies, yet we ignore the real people in our immediate vicinity. The people in the images are McLuhan’s gadget lovers who love their phones because they insulate them from real social interaction. As McLuhan explained, there is simply too much happening in our hyper-media society to take everything in, so we “self-amputate” ourselves in our gadgets. [2] On the other hand, and in order to balance our retreat into isolation, we fall into Baudrillard’s ecstasy of communication, where we become addicted to the very act of communication itself. [3] Meaning is irrelevant. Speak, write, communicate for the sake of it. As John O’Neill noted long before the Internet — let alone the iPhone — took off, “televideo ergo sum” — I am on screen, therefore I am. [4] I exist, and I resist my self-imposed retreat from the world, because I communicate at a distance. According to the meme, this is Einstein’s technological dystopia.

 

However, there is one problem with this picture, which is entirely predictable and probably essential to the idea of the meme itself: Einstein never wrote or said this phrase to anybody. At least this is the conclusion we reach if we consult Alice Calaprice’s Ultimate Quotable Einstein. There is no record that he ever expressed this particular nightmarish vision. [5] But we should not move on too hastily. What if the counterfeit nature of the quote at the centre of the meme is itself part of the nightmare? Is this not Plato’s nightmare of mediation and recorded memory from the Phaedrus[6] Here, things remember, but we forget, and we end up having no idea whether what the thing remembers or knows is in any way real. In Plato’s view, technological memory, or writing, is thus essentially sophistry. It turns us into idiots, the original proletarians, and it cannot be trusted. This idea is taken up by Derrida in his discussion of Plato’s pharmacy and by Baudrillard in his works on simulation. For Derrida, the Platonic myth of the value of speech over writing and the fear of the infinite slippage of the signifier relative to the signified misses the essential différance of being from itself. [7] In other words, there is no self-identical truth to which we might appeal. The same is the case with Baudrillard’s notion of simulation. Here, the signifier, media reality, is out on its own, an integral reality that has no relation to what we might mistakenly call the real thing. [8] Against the Platonic vision, which contrasts anamnesis to hypomnesis, or living to dead memory, both Derrida and Baudrillard oppose the idea of the superiority of immediacy. In their view, we should not imagine that technological memory or reality is in some way a poor version of ontological human memory or organic reality. The latter does not exist. However, this reading may not be entirely correct. Arthur Bradley shows that Derrida never entirely abandons humanity to technology, because différance itself becomes the thing that makes us tick, [9] and it is hard to resist the temptation to think that Baudrillard wants to save some kind of truth from the grasp of integral reality. It is possible to say that, despite their rejection of the Platonic idea of the superiority of lived memory, both Derrida and Baudrillard end up reasserting some ontological, pre-technological truth, even if this is achieved negatively, smuggled in by the backdoor, like a virus hidden inside a Trojan horse.

 

In much the same way that we might make this point about the place of the pre-technological human in Derrida and Baudrillard, we can cut through the tension between living and dead memory in the case of Einstein, whose “nightmare” I want to explore. Although Einstein may not have said what the meme claims he said, a consideration of what he did have to say about technology suggests that he held similarly pessimistic views about the relation between the human and technology. In fact, the unreliability of technological mediation is in some respects undercut or traversed by metaphorical connections that establish the spirit of meaning that always resides somewhere else. Following Calaprice’s collection, we may therefore argue that the truth of Einstein’s Nightmare can be found in his various comments about machines — “A machine disregards human feelings . . . machines make our life impersonal, stunt certain qualities in us, and create an impersonal environment” [10] — and science — “It is strange that science, which in the old days seemed harmless, should have evolved into a nightmare that causes everyone to tremble.” [11]Such quotes suggest that Einstein indeed experienced anxiety about the anti-human progress of modernity. There is nothing new about this feeling of course. It illustrates a horror of technology, techno-science, and what Langdon Winner calls the “autonomous machine.” [12] This fear of the machine, which Winner explains is as old as modernity itself and, as Plato’s Phaedrus suggests, can probably be traced back to the very origins of the West, [13] is concerned with the possibility that we will one day be abandoned by our own creatures. This is, in other words, the horror of Frankenstein or the 1980s science fiction film The Terminator — the horror of the decoupled, conscious instrument, the machine that works for the sake of working, and has no concern for human life.

 

Exploring this Platonic tendency towards a fear of posthumanism through Winner’s history, it is easy to pick out other key thinkers grappling with technological dystopianism. Consider the early Karl Marx of theEconomic and Philosophic Manuscripts[14] Max Weber, who opposed instrumental rationality; [15] Martin Heidegger’s critique of modern technology; [16] and Jacques Ellul’s exploration of the monstrosity of technique. [17] Einstein’s Nightmare captures the spirit of this history of techno-fear. The meme itself expresses such fear through the contemporary gadget par excellence, the mobile phone, which William Merrin tells us originally represented futurity and progress. [18] Instead, Einstein’s Nightmare paints the device in such a way that encourages us to understand it in terms of closure towards slack-jawed apathy. Here, the mobile phone turns people into idiots. The McLuhanesque gadget lovers who inhabit the meme are caught in a closed loop of narcissistic, or autoerotic, self love. There is no social relation here. Instead, the principle of empty connectivity reigns and life is organised around the dictates of what Marcuse calls the “performance principle.” [19] We must remain connected in order to perform our assigned roles in the technical order. The global technical system destroys the self in the creation of what Jaron Lanier refers to as “the hive mind.” Raging against the planet of insects, Lanier tells his reader “you are not a gadget” and tries to save the human lost in a state of technical vertigo. [20]

 

Here, the gadget no longer works in the context of D.W. Winnicott’s famous transitional object, which creates a secure space conditioned by care, attention, imagination, and creativity, [21] but rather sucks us into a hyper-functional machine. In Winnicott’s psychoanalytic work, the transitional object — such as the teddy bear or blanket — represents a source of attachment that the child can hold onto in order to feel safe and secure. Winnicott’s thesis is that these objects enable us to move from the space of parental care, where we receive unconditional love, to the space of social relations, where we must negotiate relations, without feeling abandoned. In other words, the object comes to symbolise a social system of care and attention beyond our parents, especially the mother. But what happens if the object no longer plays this role and no longer feels special? This is precisely the problem with the object in Baudrillard’s work on the gadget in his book The Consumer Society. In this case, the object does not make us feel safe and secure, but rather transforms us into dysfunctional addicts by virtue of its own hyper-functionality. [22] It works for the sake of working. Since we exceed this simple equation, where functionality is enough in itself, our humanity becomes a source of lack. As a result, we become reliant on the technological object. The effect of this reliance is that we escape our lack through the object. Of course, the additional problem of the technological object today is that, unlike the transitional object — such as the ageing teddy or the old blanket, which grow with us — the evolution of the modern technological object is organised around planned obsolescence. Where we are meant to outgrow the transitional object, the technological gadget outgrows us. It moves on — the iPhone 3 becomes the 3G, the 4, 4S, 5, 5S, 5C. As Steve Jobs famously said before the unveiling of Apple’s latest gadget, “one more thing.” Following the logic of Marxist commodity fetishism, there is always “one more thing . . .” that indicates to us that we always lack.

 

The effect of this condition is that we, the gadget lovers, not only feel left behind by the object, which is clearly unfaithful and will always move on, but also that the object is more or less worthless when we posses it, because it has no aura (to use Benjamin’s term for the magical properties of the object [23]). It is debased in both directions — it outgrows us and seems worthless in any case because we know that there will always be a new model in the near future. In this way, the infidelity of the object constructs and ensures our own unfaithfulness in the shape of a rational decision to hedge our bets and remain in a state of suspended animation, endlessly waiting for the new model that might solve our own worthlessness before the machine. In this situation of heightened anxiety about the fidelity of the object, the object itself becomes ironically ever more important — we become addicted to the communication and connectivity it enables, because for the brief time we possess it we can escape our anxiety and become part of the hyper-functional machine. While we are part of the global technical system, we work, and avoid the nightmare of what we can call being-disconnected. Essentially, this is what McLuhan means when he writes of the gadget lover’s connection to the object that narcotises him and allows him to escape from the anxiety of abandonment before the technological machine. [24] Recalling the child from Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle who plays fort/da with the spool, [25] McLuhan’s technophile controls his connection to the idealised big other to make up for the loss of his real (m)other who gave care, attention, safety, and security. Like the populous depicted in Einstein’s Nightmare, he gazes into the phone, and the other who gazes back at him through the phone is a comforting image of himself.

 

When there is no other, and I am lost in a hyper-functional technological world, I become my own other. I comfort myself. This is the masturbatory logic that supports, for example, the Apple universe. The iPhone/iPad is a high-design, deeply erotic object. It is all screen, a mirror that reflects myself back to me. Before this techno-mirror, I am always Narcissus, or perhaps Adorno and Horkheimer’s Tantalus, [26] endlessly waiting for one more thing, the next masturbatory object, which can remind me that I am somebody, that I have an identity, a self beyond the machine. The problem, then, of Einstein’s Nightmare is that it constructs a blindingly bright, high-tech dystopia where people turn to gadgets and live in bondage with the technical system that demands obedience through the performance principle. Of course, this is a particular form of bondage — voluntary servitude. We turn to the machine in order to escape from the horror of information overload that destroys living memory and transforms us into proletarianised objects. As McLuhan explains, we “self-amputate” ourselves in technological objects that are unable to carry the weight of our need for care, attention, safety, and security, primarily because these objects are profane, worthless, unfaithful. [27] Unlike Winnicott’s transitional objects, they will not last as long as we need them. On the contrary, they will abandon us the moment we start to feel secure.

 

In what follows I propose to explore the concept of technological dystopia expressed by Einstein’s Nightmare through an analysis of the work of the contemporary French thinker Bernard Stiegler. Centrally, I make the case that Einstein’s Nightmare is largely Stiegler’s nightmare, and that the idea of a technological dystopia is contained within works such as Disbelief and Discredit[28] Taking Care of Youth and the Generations[29] andWhat Makes Life Worth Living[30] To explore Stiegler’s work, I first examine his theory of the origins of humanity and technics, then turn to an exploration of his notion of the decadence of industrial democracy. Finally, I examine Stiegler’s work on youth, hope, and the future. Here, I propose an exploration of his dystopian vision of an endless present conditioned by banality, poverty, and meaninglessness. As Stiegler explains, in this situation there is literally no future, no possibility that anything will ever change or improve through the passage of time. [31]Against this bleak condition, which he explores in terms of the present of industrial democracy, I conclude with a consideration of possible utopian responses or resolutions to this situation. These responses, which Stiegler continues to develop through his think tank Ars Industrialis, largely entail the development of a different relation to both technology and the object, and, perhaps most importantly, the development of these relations outside of the context of neoliberal capitalism that creates the problems of the obsolescence, worthlessness, and redundancy that plague contemporary society. My thesis is, therefore, that Stiegler is the key thinker of the contemporary media age by virtue of his techno-dystopian vision of our immersion in mass media — his work throws the banality of our disaffection into relief and opens up a critical space for the reconstruction of valuable, durable objects that may re-enchant our dark world and save us from the horror of Einstein’s Nightmare.

 

II. Stiegler’s Theory of Technics

 

Stiegler opens his 1994 work Technics and Time: The Fault of Epimetheus by explaining that we have reached a time of crisis, a moment of decision in the relationship between technology and thought.[32] His wider thesis is that humanity has co-evolved, or individuated itself, through the development of technology, but that today, in the contemporary high-tech postmodern era, technology has started to leave humanity behind. In other words, there is a disconnect between humanity and the machine and technology, or what he calls technics, no longer enables us to develop or humanise ourselves. Recalling Heidegger, whom I would claim remains the key thinker of early works such as Technics and Time, Stiegler explains that whereas Dasein is always not yet, always in the process of becoming through time, technics is determined, and determined by the drive to determine. Thus, the essence of the division or disconnect between the human and technics resides in the clash between, on the one hand, the future orientation of humanity premised on the possibility of radical change and the impossibility of prediction and, on the other hand, the determinism of the machine which no longer works with humanity but has rather transformed people into proletarians or slaves of its means-ends or instrumental rationality. Through reference to Aristotle’s original idea of the instrument, Stiegler’s view is that this situation is unsustainable for humans. The machine cannot be allowed to proletarianise humans because it has no final cause in itself. It has no meaning, no value, but rather simply works. The machine that works by itself is thus the height of nihilism, the Freudian death drive or sadistic complex realised in technical form. [33] However, it is important to note that Stiegler is no Luddite. While he hopes to save humans from technological determinism, he recognises that machines provide a framework for human life. In essence, the machine — which in its most basic form is culture, or the humanisation of the environment — creates the human. The problem is, therefore, what happens when this process of humanisation tips over into de- or posthumanisation, which are, I would argue, largely identical in Stiegler’s work.

 

In Stiegler’s work, technology is a pharmakon — it simultaneously creates and destroys humanity. Akin to both Weber and later Heidegger, who explore rationality and technology, it would be too simplistic to say that Stiegler is simply critical of the machine. Whereas Weber contrasts value and instrumental rationality in Economy and Society, and Heidegger opposes ancient and modern technology in his essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” Stiegler develops a thesis premised on the opposition between a human form of technology that enables humanity to develop and evolve and an alien, or inhuman, mode of technology that has no care or concern for people. I think that Stiegler’s dystopian critique resides in his analysis of this latter concept of technology, which he associates with late, postmodern, neoliberal capitalism where everything is subject to economic logic. Here, everything is either more or less and is reduced to binary code. However, the other side of technology is that itis humanity, it is who we are, and it is our inescapable fate. We are technical beings. Again reflecting Heidegger’s work, Stiegler explains that technics represents the unfolding, or revealing, of humanity. Tracing this idea back to the Greeks, he refers to Plato’s Protagoras. Contra Marx, who makes everything about Prometheus, Stiegler refers to the Titan’s brother, Epimetheus, to explain that humanity is premised on its fundamental lack, or what he calls “default.” Plato’s story itself goes:

 

Once upon a time there were just the gods; mortal beings did not yet exist. And when the appointed time came for them to come into being too, the gods moulded them within the earth, mixing together earth and fire and their compounds. And when they were about to bring them out into the light of day, they appointed Prometheus and Epimetheus to equip each kind with the powers it required. Epimetheus asked Prometheus to let him assign the powers himself. “Once I have assigned them,” he said, “you can inspect them”; so Prometheus agreed, and Epimetheus assigned the powers. To some creatures he gave strength, but not speed, while he equipped the weaker with speed. He gave some claws or horns, and for those without them he devised some other power for their preservation. . . . Now Epimetheus, not being altogether wise, didn’t notice that he had used up all powers on the non-rational creatures; so last of all he was left with human kind, quite unprovided for, and he was at a loss what to do. As he was racking his brains Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and saw the other creatures well provided for in every way, while man was naked and unshod, without any covering for his bed or any fangs or claws; and already the appointed day was at hand, on which man too had to come out of the earth to the light of day. Prometheus was at his wit’s end to find a means of preservation for mankind, so he stole from Hephaestus and Athena their technical skills along with the use of fire . . . and that was what he gave to man. . . . And as a result man was well provided with resources for his life, but afterwards, so it is said, thanks to Epimetheus, Prometheus paid the penalty for theft. [34]

 

Thus Plato’s story of the origins of man is a black comedy — he shows that man is a mistake, the product of cowboy builders, the result of an ancient Laurel and Hardy sketch. Before Marx’s tragic man, who strives to overcome only to fall short, Stiegler evokes an alternative vision: man as comic character, pushed front and centre without proper preparation, stumbling around, trying to find his way. This is Stiegler’s comic twist on Freud’s vision where man is always born too soon, vulnerable, unable to survive on his own. For Stiegler, man’s lack — his reliance on technology to make his way in the world — is the result of Epimetheus’s blunder. Everything starts with this “schoolboy error” and we have been trying to make up for it ever since. Stiegler thus tells us that technics is originary and should not be understood in terms of augmentation after the fact of humanity’s emergence. On the contrary, the human would not exist without technics. To support his case, Stiegler refers to the work of the anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan, who is perhaps the other central figure of the first volume of Technics and Time, to suggest that humanity resides in the process of exteriorisation. In other words, we are always already alienated, and alienate ourselves in technical production. This is the essence of Leroi-Gourhan’s thesis in his classic work Gesture and Speech. In this book, technics becomes a quasi-zoological concept. What creates the human is the ability to walk on two feet because this frees up the hands to make and use tools. In Leroi-Gourhan’s work, everything starts with the feet. The feet, and then the hands, set humanity on the path towards modernity. [35] Here, modernity is no longer a period of time, but is rather history itself. In the same way, modern man is no longer Marxian or Nietzschean man confined to a particular period of history, but humanity itself, which is now absolutely identified with mobility, movement, and speed. Stiegler’s crucial move here is to say that it is this original tendency towards technology, and the endless effort to make up for the lack or default that is humanity, that creates the categories of both time, which comes to represent the development of humanity as a technical species, and space, which reflects the unfolding of technical culture through the environment. [36]

 

What we can see, then, is that in Stiegler’s work technology is never simply concerned with technical objects — cogs, gears, wires, and circuits — but rather the human-built environment that makes us who we are in the most basic sense. In order to capture this idea of technics, he says that technology programs the environment and makes it liveable for humans. Employing the work of his teacher Derrida, he explains that technology grammatises the earth to create a world based in symbolisation. The human world is thus made in writing and in his account this is the origin of the city or polis. Throughout Technics and Time, Stiegler explains that what he calls “the who” and “the what” are coexistent and evolve together. Humanity invents itself by inventing technology. Here, the human is nowhere until the invention of technology, which is the invention of time and space. At this point Stiegler tells us that we fall into technical time, which is also a thanatology, a being-towards-death, where the end has meaning, rather than being a blank moment where we simply start to cease to exist. But before this moment of meaningful finality, Stiegler explains that humanity lives through the spirit of technology, which is characterised by anticipation, the future, and the attempt to resolve the problem of the originary default through the repetition of Prometheus’s rebellious coup against the Gods who represent the authoritarianism of necessity. In this way, I think Technics and Time starts out with a utopian vision of technology and technics. In this account, technical prosthesis is understood in terms of pros-thesis. It is always in front, ahead of humanity, leading us into the future in ways that oppose blind necessity, determinism, and simple repetition. However, and here is where I think Stiegler makes a leap to a dystopian concept of technology,The Fault of Epimetheus also shows that this technological becoming is endless and represents a kind of globalising force that relentlessly uproots embedded cultural formations in the pursuit of the limit, the default of humanity which it seeks to resolve.

 

The only aims of the technological complex are order, organisation, rationalisation, and humanisation. [37] It is geared towards the production of human safety and security. Unfortunately, we know from Weber and Heidegger that the problem of rationality and technology is that both have a tendency towards totalitarianism and posthumanism. The same is true of Stiegler’s idea of the globalising technical system. [38] Driven by its tendency towards perfection, technology becomes law and its pure instrumentalism can no longer tolerate the thrownness of the human who is never at home. Under these conditions, the human becomes a new limit. The objective here is no longer to simply drive out the default in the environment, but rather to abolish the error in the human itself, with the result that we are subject to what Virilio calls endo-colonisation — the colonisation of the human by technological power [39] in the form of what Foucault called biopolitical and Stiegler calls psychopolitical control. [40]If we return to Weber’s theory of the shift from value rationality to instrumental rationality, the additional problem here is that the human loses the potential for development, which in Stiegler’s work is always organised around a process of co-individuation, because it is absolutely determined by means-ends rationalism that refuses value and the spiritual connection to durable objects that can make life worth living. In the Heideggerian frame, of course, this shift from value rationality to instrumental rationality is expressed in terms of the development from ancient to modern technology. While the former mode of technology is concerned with working with the environment, carpentry associated with cutting with the grain, and the careful revelation of potential, the latter, more mechanical, abstract form of technology is absolutely craftless and artless and has no sympathy for the object which is treated with contempt.

 

In “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger explains modern technology in terms of what he calls “challenging forth,” which refers to the way in which the environment is brutalised in processes of extraction.[41] This process, which is much more violent and destructive than anything resembling art and craft concerned with the revelation of implicit potential, revolves around a hylomorphic understanding of the relation between matter and form. In this case, matter is base. It must be hammered, battered, and smashed into the alien form imposed upon it by technological instruments directed by a designer or creator who abstracts himself from his materials. Heidegger famously summarises this approach to understanding the link between modern technology and the environment through the term “enframing,” which refers to processes of ordering and the imposition of organisation upon base matter. Of course, humanity plays a part in this process, and it would be a mistake to exempt people from responsibility in the advance of modern technology, but Heidegger’s point is that humanity itself becomes part of the “standing reserve” of nature or being that is hammered into shape in the name of instrumental rationality. In much the same way that the human makes itself through the invention of technology, Heidegger’s point is that we destroy ourselves through the turn to hyper-rational technics, which produces the “injurious neglect of the thing” through its contemptuous attitude to being. [42] Modern technology thus represents humanity’s destruction of itself, the height of idiocy, and the rise of the death drive to a principle of psychosocial regulation. It is here that Stiegler makes use of Heidegger’s work. Given the lack of value or spirit inside this modern technological system, Stiegler’s idea is that it produces a desperate mode of life — a nihilistic, futureless, landscape without real purpose, meaning, or hope. In his later works, which I propose to turn to in the following section of the article, he explains this hopeless situation in terms of the decadent society of the blank generation — the techno-dystopia of late, postmodern, neoliberal capitalism.

 

III. The Techno-Dystopia and the Suicidal Society

 

In his later works on the decadent society, which include The Decadence of Industrial DemocraciesUncontrollable Societies of Disaffected IndividualsTaking Care of Youth and the Generations, and What Makes Life Worth Living, Stiegler takes off from Weber’s point that capitalism is made possible by rationality, technology, and symbolic systems, such as accounting practices, which make instrumentalism possible. Building upon Weber’s work in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalismand Economy and Society, his view is that the worldview of Benjamin Franklin, where everything must be worth something, has hit its limit in contemporary capitalism. In Stiegler’s work, and particularly the Disbelief and Discredit volumes, late capitalism is “late” because it is burnt out, obsolete, and in the process of destroying humanity. Although this may seem clear from looming eco-catastrophe or the crash of 2008 (the subsequent fall out which is still unfolding today in the form of endless recession and crisis) — and others, such as Žižek [43] and Badiou [44], argue for this case in various works — in Stiegler’s theory the lateness of contemporary capitalism is also illustrated by the problem of money in hyper-rational society. [45] While American money proclaims “In God We Trust,” Stiegler’s view is that there is, and can be, no trust in capitalism understood through the lens of instrumental rationality, precisely because trust assumes faith in the future. Since faith is beyond calculation, Stiegler suggests that the capitalist form of Ben Franklin is finished, [46]and we need some new kind of economy that opposes what he calls spiritual and symbolic misery. We inhabit a society of spiritual misery because the instrumental rationality of neoliberal capitalism means that we can no longer believe in anything: belief requires faith which makes no sense in a world where calculation is everything; ours is a society of symbolic misery because the ground of instrumental rationality, calculation, is organised on the basis of binary code, where everything is worth either more or less. This is the horror of the final pages of Weber’sProtestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that touch upon the idea of the iron cage [47] and this is also the horror that Stiegler extends into a psycho-socio-political theory of late capitalism which is absolutely directed against a society without belief, where significance is reduced to the base level of economic calculation. Here, the only judgment one can make about the value of a person or a thing is whether it is above or below, worth more or worth less than some other person or thing that it can be compared against without any reference to quality.

 

Again, relating back to Weber’s work and particularly the Calvinists’ desire to ensure that they could prove their place among God’s elect, Stiegler shows that the only principle, or ethic, that makes any sense in this kind of society, where one is either above or below the other, is survivalism.[48] In other words, late capitalism represents a regression back towards a kind of basic Hobbesian society, a minimal civilization where the only law is the law of self-preservation. Beyond this rule — to stay alive at all costs, which must entail a commitment to sadism and violence because if I am to survive it makes sense that the other must die — there is absolutely no meaning and no significance. Survival is enough. It is all we can hope for in late capitalism because the object, which Stiegler reads through Klein, Winnicott, and object relations theory, is absolutely worthless beyond its base economic value. In other words, it has no aura, means nothing, and is for this reason devoid of durability. It will not last or hold my attention because it is beyond investment. Indeed, this most profane of objects only possesses value when I do not own it. As soon as I own it, and overcome it, to use the language of the sadist, it has no meaning for me, and I must immediately move on to the next thing. As we know, there is always “one more thing,” to refer to Steve Jobs’s catch phrase for the novelty value of the hyper-capitalist object, and I am driven to adopt this approach premised on infidelity because the object is itself short-term. The stakes are absolutely clear here — I know the object will always move on and become worthless in a world where hyper-functionality is the only game in town, so there is no point making any kind of investment. This is all the more so because my reason for seeking out the object is not the creation of what Winnicott calls a space of potential where I can be creative and make things happen, [49] but rather the deferral of anxiety about my lack and default in the face of a technical system that transforms me into a nobody and a worthless object.

 

Here, I think we can see Stiegler’s reliance on the work of Adorno and Horkheimer, whose concept of consumption in their Dialectic of Enlightenment is based on a fusion of Marx and Freud. Adorno and Horkheimer explain that the reason we consume is to fill out the lack or emotional void left by the sadism of the technological capitalist system that alienates, estranges, and objectifies us. As Einstein’s Nightmare reveals, individuals turn to things and objects, because there are no people, and the people there are become competitors whom the individual absolutely cannot relate to in a meaningful way. But in this situation the capitalist object never achieves the sacred quality of Winnicott’s transitional object because it is always on the move, on the verge of obsolescence, and being-wasted by a techno-system that has to keep producing newness and novelty in order to maintain the rate of the consumer’s consumption, which is ultimately a search for escape from the horror of his or her lack relative to the monstrous perfection of the machine. Unfortunately the consumer will never escape through the capitalist object, or what Marx called the commodity, because today, under conditions of late capitalism, the object has no magical aura. Unlike Marx’s commodity, where the object was able to move by itself, the value of the object in late or neoliberal capitalism is cancelled by the destruction of (first) spiritual and (second) symbolic value in the turn to instrumental rationality, which means that the only meaningful symbols are zeroes and ones. This is why the only meaning of the object in Stiegler’s late capitalist society revolves around sadistic value, or what Arthur Kroker and Michael Weinstein call “abuse” value [50] — I am either above or below the other on the basis of whether I own or do not own the object — but even this base mode of valuation is momentary in that it is endlessly cancelled by the condition of spiritual and symbolic misery.

 

Essentially, this is what Stiegler means when he talks about the decay of capitalism from a form of economy premised on desire to a form of economy organised around drives. Whereas desire is premised on delay, deferral, and the need to wait for the object which holds my attention, drive is based on immediacy, impatience, and a throwaway attitude to the thing which is always-already worthless. In Stiegler’s account, this reign of drives, where there is no spiritual or symbolic meaning, is the limit of capitalism. Everything is worthless and we are confronted with fundamental questions about the significance of life. What is it that makes life worth living? This is, of course, perhaps the human question. It is the question which only humans ask, because humans are not embedded in the environment, but rather are thrown into the world in a state of excess which is also a state of lack. [51] It is a question that humans have resolved through the belief in various concepts. In ancient society, this was belief in forms; then under religious society, God; then after the death of God, progress, community, and each other; and then after the end of history, objects. Stiegler’s asks the same question of capitalism: what can we believe in in the wake of capitalism, which has transformed the object — and this includes humanity — into so much refuse, garbage, or worthless shit?

 

In order to reach this situation, where he is able to confront the horror of the contemporary technological capitalist dystopia, Stiegler tracks the history of capitalism and bases his analysis in a theory of the progressive overcoming of limits. First, he explains that early twentieth-century capital solved the problem of accumulation through the introduction of consumerism. Here, Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, is a key thinker in the establishment of a pact between the mass media and capital, organised around the need to capture attention in order to stimulate desire and transform the figure of the citizen into the figure of the consumer. This innovation, which created a condition Stiegler talks about in terms of becoming-herdish, was first explored by Adorno and Horkheimer in their work on the culture industry. Stiegler points out that the Frankfurt School thinkers were the first to understand that TV time is work time organised in terms of brain capture and that capitalist culture entails the transformation of significance into a value to be bought and sold in much the same way as any other commodity. [52] He moves on to argue that 1968 saw the original moment of the transgression of the limit established by post-war consensus and the Keynesian model of economics. By the late 1970s the liberatory spirit of the 1960s, which had seen Deleuze and Guattari champion the transgressive nature of desire in their book Anti-Oedipus, had been absorbed into a radical new form of capitalism, neoliberal capitalism, where desire is unleashed in the service of consumption and accumulation. The rest of Stiegler’s story concerns the way in which neoliberal capitalism eroded delayed gratification and in doing so destroyed desire itself in a society of credit where we are encouraged to “buy now, pay later.” This is Stiegler’s terminal form of capitalism.

 

But what is terminal capitalism? Stiegler explains the profound implications of the cancellation of the delay of desire. [53] First, this cancellation of delay in gratification supports the general destruction of the spiritual and symbolic value of the object itself, which had taken hold through the turn to an instrumental rationality that only recognises zeroes and ones. The object that is quickly obtained and consumed can have no value — it is here today, gone tomorrow. Second, the destruction of desire in drive where we have what we want now effectively cancels the authority of the superego that requires us to wait in the formation of a kind of addictogenic death drive asociety. There is now no law. Instead, the human is reduced to the level of the animal where instinct is unmediated by social structure. Combined, these two effects have produced a strange society conditioned by the rule of no rule, endlessly balanced on the edge of all-out warfare. In his recent works, Stiegler calls this the decadent society, a society of low intensity, or what Virilio calls pure war, a society of disenchantment, cynicism, and despair, a wasted, hopeless, psychotic dystopia. Why psychosis? As Lacan explains in his seminar on the psychoses, psychosis is the result of the collapse of the master signifier, which in turn leads to the collapse of the symbolic order that situates us in a reality mediated by signs, symbols, and meaningful objects. [54]Under conditions where the master signifier gives way and the symbolic order collapses, humans have no way to situate themselves in the world. As a result of such psychosis, the world disintegrates, leaving the psychotic to remake their own universe on the basis of visions of threatening others. This is, of course, what we find in Freud’s study of Schreber, where paranoia represents a defence mechanism against the collapse into psychosis provoked by child abuse at the hands of a perverse father. [55] Is it the case, then, that Stiegler’s decadent society harbours the conditions to produce a generation of Schrebers, psychotics who are likely to turn to paranoia in order to save some semblance of sanity?

 

This is essentially how I understand the thesis of Disbelief and Discredit. In these books, Stiegler paints a picture of the capitalist symbolic order in a state of advanced degeneration, where, because of the turn to instrumental rationality and the economic rule of zeroes and ones, spiritual and symbolic misery have become the norm. In this context, paranoia, conspiracy, and the ideology of the enemy have become normative. As Freud’s study of Schreber shows, when there is nothing else left, the psychotic will try to hang onto his enemy. This is where I disagree with Stiegler, who opposes Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s idea of the new spirit of capitalism. [56] Stiegler argues that Boltanski and Chiapello are wide of the mark when they say that the 1960s ushered in a new spirit of capitalism. In his view, the 1960s introduced a new nihilistic, spiritless mode of capitalism. [57] However, I would disagree on this point, and argue that there is a new spirit of capitalism, but not the spirit of creativity or entrepreneurialism suggested by Boltanski or Chiapello. Instead, I think that the new spirit of capitalism is a paranoid, martial spirit committed to violence, destruction, and ultimately suicide. Moreover, this is not directed or motivated violence, but rather the kind of blind rage that has been explored by Žižek, Badiou, and Sloterdijk in recent works. [58] Most importantly, I would argue that this blind rage is not necessarily oppositional or transgressive in the context of the capitalist machine, because it is essentially an acting out of neoliberal ideology concerned with competition at all levels of existence. As noted above, the essence of capitalism, which is what neoliberal ideology realises, is competitive struggle — one is either above or below, more or less valuable.

 

In this way, I think that the new spirit of capitalism is the spirit of sadism, a violent spirit committed to punishing the other in order to secure supremacy, power, and ultimately the salvation of the self under extreme pressure from the posthuman technical system. Blind rage is thus conformist, or what Stiegler talks about in terms of hyper-power in order to indicate the way in which control of the technical system is absolute, having abolished any possibility of external critique. [59] However, he also notes that this mode of power or conformity is endlessly on the verge of breaking down, of tipping over into normalised forms of transgression and stasis that will destroy the system itself. The hyper-power of the system, which is premised on its instrumental rationality and its endo-colonisation of every element of life, is thus constantly on the verge of reversing into a state of hyper-vulnerability. This is the case because it is fundamentally reliant on a Hobbesian social contract where the political system protects the individual who obeys in return and which longer functions in a state of symbolic misery. The basic problem of Hobbes was always based in the question of obeyance — why would the people obey and not simply cheat when they thought the Leviathan’s back was turned? The Freudian response to this problem was the superego or authority in the head, while the Foucauldian response was the panopticon, surveillance, and later biopower. However, the other response would be to say that the Leviathan’s political system was organised around spirit and recognise that the people obeyed because the majority believed in the goodness of society.

 

In the first two volumes of Disbelief and Discredit, Stiegler shows that this is no longer the case — people can no longer believe in the goodness, the idea, or the spirit of society because it is not ethical, but is instead based on instrumental calculation. In this state of symbolic misery, the law is not ethical, but rather a technique, and the objective of any rational actor is to find loopholes that allow one to behave with total impunity. In his book For a New Critique of Political Economy, Stiegler associates this cynical mode of lawmaking with what he calls “mafia capitalism” — a form of accumulation based on criminality and speculation that has absolutely no investment in wider society. [60] Here, the law accepts and recognises cynical behaviour and this is why it is unable to suture the individual into any collective, symbolic order. This is why the technical system lapses into a state of hyper-vulnerability. If the system no longer protects people, the Hobbesian contract is essentially broken, and society crumbles back towards a state of nature. Stiegler calls this state of revolt “disaffection” in order to emphasize that it was always affect, emotion, and belief that situated the individual within wider society in the first place. [61] It was affect that created the individual who is always co-individual in Stiegler’s use of Simondon and belief that made people into subjects subjected to the authority of the master signifier, the law of the father. [62] Stiegler tells us that without affect, which effectively binds people to objects, belief, which emerges from this relation, or spirit, which we might understand in terms of the atmosphere that characterises a particular period, there is no other way to uphold society but through naked state power. Here, the dissociated disindividual is criminalised and police power becomes fundamental to the operation of society. But there are limits to what is achievable with police power, and the second volume of Disbelief and Discredit, subtitled Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individualsis concerned with psychosocial pathology and particularly the bestiality, fury, and nihilism of the disindividual caught up in the short-circuit of drive. [63] The motto of this character captures his base nature — I couldn’t give a fuck!

 

Ironically, because the asociety of the drive is the creation of the instrumental rationality of technics, this situation is beyond rationality. The dissociated individual cannot think — he or she is interpolated into what Stiegler calls a state of systemic stupidity. [64] Such individuals are proletarianised because their minds have been captured by the machine. Under condition of attention capture driven by the culture industry, there is no time to think; we become idiots and develop an addictogenic relation to the technical object. Recall Einstein’s Nightmare — my iPhone is tasked with saving me from the meaninglessness of existence. In order to illustrate this situation Stielger draws on the Japanese phenomenon ofhikikomori, or the “shut-in,” where young men completely withdraw from social interaction in favour of communication with machines and technology. [65] In Stiegler’s view, there is very little hope under these conditions — there is no reason, no trust, and ultimately we are free of the social contract. But the problem with this is that there is nowhere to go and there is no way to act because action is premised on sociability. What results is thus an immobile, thoughtless, nihilistic rage, which has been seen in certain cases of hikikomori where isolation tips over into murderous violence. There is a sense in Stiegler’s work that capitalist civilization is on the edge and that it is only able to stagger on by virtue of systemic lethargy and demotivation, the other side of blind rage and nihilistic destruction. For Stiegler, the big question is what follows this obsolete form of civilization. He explains that we need to find ways to believe in objects that matter and can hold our attention. These objects need to be durable and worthy of idealisation. In this respect, he tells us that we need to return to the ancient model of skhole, where education was based in contemplation and care for objects, rather than results and grade point average. Essentially, we need to find reasons to live.

 

IV. Nihilism and Education

 

Stiegler thinks that this kind of institutional shift is necessary because there is no parental authority in neoliberal capitalism — the instrumental rationality of the technological system has wiped out cultural memory and destroyed intergenerational connections premised on the authority of the paternal superego and transferred this relation to TV and the culture industries, [66] what Marcuse called the “automatic superego.” [67] Of course, this is not simply a problem contained within education, but rather an issue concerned with the future of civilization itself. In Stiegler’s account, events such as Columbine and Sandy Hook, where young men rampage through schools, are premised on the pervasive nature of the spirit of nihilistic rage, where the only way to leave one’s mark is through negative sublimation. [68] Here, destruction and violence become cultural acts, ways to assert one’s existence in a world that cannot recognise any form of significance beyond base calculations around more or less. This is Stiegler’s suicidal society, his technological dystopia, which we must resist through the creation of durable objects able to hold historical significance and thus the possibility of progress through the present into the future on the basis of the knowledge and experience of the past. This vision of history, which he inherits from Husserl’s theory of memory, retention, and protention, is how Stiegler escapes from the suicidal society with no future. This is his utopia beyond the petty calculations of the computational machine, the technological dystopia of neoliberal capitalism. In the second volume of Disbelief and Discredit, the relation between the dystopia of nihilism and utopia of history is couched in terms of struggle. [69] Stiegler tells us that we must fight for the right to the future. Like Prometheus, the original rebel with a cause, we must struggle to save the possibility of hope. We must struggle to save our openness to change, which is, of course, based in our humanity, which is, in turn, rooted in our fundamental lack — our default.

 

Stiegler argues that we must find time and space in life for otium, or studious leisure, which is today absolutely subordinate to negotium, or calculation and necessity. [70] Fundamentally, he explains that this is not about supporting the importance of the pleasure principle, but rather a defence of art, craft, and the value of cultural discipline, because this is how we insert ourselves into a world and co-individuate ourselves through communication with others. In this sense, he is critical of Foucault, who he argues advances a one-dimensional view of the idea of discipline, a view that ignores the importance of discipline in suturing people into social symbolic systems that allows them to become human and elevate themselves beyond mere bestial necessity. This is why he thinks we need valuable objects that can enable us to create historical fictions — realisable fictions based in the past that can act as guides to the present and help us to think about moving forward into the future. These good fictions, or fictions of the good, are essentially utopias, narratives necessary to escape the horror of our contemporary un-world and which we can only create on the basis of the care, attention, and discipline we learn through immersion in culture. This is why Stiegler writes in Taking Care of Youth and Generations about the culture industries and what he calls the “battle for intelligence,” because it is here, in the psychopolitical struggle for available brain time, that the possibility of care, attention, and discipline is destroyed in the emergence of hyper-attention and drive-based culture characterised by a complete lack of focus. [71] Stiegler is scathing of consumer culture because there is no know-how or craft in the channel or web surfer who says I want this, that, and the other, and I want it now. In explaining the emergence of what he calls “global attention deficit disorder,” he refers to the short-termism of real time financial speculation, which has brought the global capitalist technological system to the brink of destruction. He calls this the dynamism of the very worst and suggests we need to make time to think and contemplate the good object that has some kind of meaning beyond its own profane objectivity. But how is this possible in a society of hyper-attention, where we cannot concentrate on one thing for very long, and cognitive overflow, which ensures that we are unable to handle the floods of information that flow through our minds?

 

Stiegler’s answer is that the global technological system is essentially pharmakonic. [72] Indeed, he describes his own critique of neoliberal capitalism as pharmacological in order to argue that the light speed of attention and excess of information produced by late capitalism effectively cancel themselves out, thus opening up space for a new politics of attention, information, and knowledge — a noopolitics to oppose what he calls the globalised market of fools or conspiracy of imbeciles. InWhat Makes Life Worth Living, he argues that this noopolitics must be a politics of care, attention, and the good object, where the object could be Winnicott’s transitional object, a child’s teddy or blanket, or a great work of art contemplated by everybody who stands before it. Ironically, the object itself does not matter — what matters is its aura, that which transgresses the object’s profane objectivity in the creation of transitional or potential space where the new, the future, and hope can be born. This is Stiegler’s utopia, the truly human environment made in meaningful objects, rather than the technological environment that debases humans and things in the creation of a wasteland, a techno-dystopia where nothing really matters. This nightmare scenario, which is effectively Einstein’s Nightmare, or what Stiegler refers to as a “Godless apocalypse,” [73] is what he is concerned with opposing through his think tank, Ars Industrialis. Ars Industrialis is set on the re-enchantment of the world through noetic struggle. This is not Luddism, or a somehow anti-technological politics, but rather an attempt to invent a non-instrumental or humanistic relation to technology based in an appreciation of the infinite dimension of value. In many respects, this move requires a psychological shift — we must escape the vertigo of the technological system that encourages us to overcompensate for our humanity understood in terms of a basic lack that is also an excess which enables us to imagine a future mediated through the creation of more machines that dominate us in the way we want to dominate ourselves. Centrally, we must come to terms with our own lack, because this lack, or what Stiegler calls “default,” is also the root of our imagination, creativity, and ability to make a future beyond Einstein’s Nightmare.

 

Notes
—————-

 

[1] I first became aware of the existence of Einstein’s Nightmare through a phone conversation with Professor John O’Neill.

 

[2] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man(London: Routledge, 2001).

 

[3] Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication, trans. Bernard Schütze and Caroline Schütze (New York: Semiotext(e), 1988).

 

[4] John O’Neill, Plato’s Cave: Television and its Discontents (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2002).

 

[5] Alice Calaprice (ed.), The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

 

[6] Plato, Phaedrus, trans. Christopher Rowe (London: Penguin, 2005), 62. See 275a on the destruction of memory by technology.

 

[7] Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (London: Continuum, 2004).

 

[8] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glazer (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994).

 

[9] Arthur Bradley, Originary Technicity: The Theory of Technology from Marx to Derrida (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2011), 94-120.

 

[10] Calaprice, 392.

 

[11] Ibid., 406.

 

[12] Langdon Winner, Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1977).

 

[13] The theme of the destruction of living memory by dead, mechanical memory is important throughout Phaedrus.

 

[14] Karl Marx, “Estranged Labour,” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, trans. Martin Milligan (New York: Prometheus Books, 1988), 69-85.

 

[15] Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, vols. 1 and 2, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).

 

[16] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1977).

 

[17] Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Random House, 1967).

 

[18] William Merrin, “The Rise of the Gadget and Hyper-Ludic Me-Dia,”Cultural Politics (2013, forthcoming).

 

[19] Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974), 34. See also Marcuse’s general discussion of the origins of the repressed individual in the same book.

 

[20] Jaron Lanier, You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto. London: Penguin, 2011), 26. The concept of the hive mind is key to Lanier’s thesis, where he contrasts this idea of psychological authoritarianism to a vision of creative individuality.

 

[21] See D.W. Winnicott’s discussion of transitional objects and transitional phenomena in Playing and Reality (London: Routledge, 2005), 1-35.

 

[22] Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures, trans. Chris Turner (London: Sage, 1998).

 

[23] Walter Benjamin explains that a work’s “aura” is what is lost in the process of mechanical reproduction. See “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zorn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 221.

 

[24] For McLuhan’s description of the gadget lover, see Understanding Media, 45-53.

 

[25] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle: And Other Writings, trans. John Reddick (London: Penguin, 2003), 53.

 

[26] For Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s view of Tantalus as a mythology of consumption, see Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. John Cumming (London: Verso, 1997), 58.

 

[27] For McLuhan’s theory of “Autoamputation,” see Understanding Media, 46.

 

[28] See Bernard Stiegler, The Decadence of Industrial Democracies: Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 1, trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge: Polity, 2011); and Stiegler, Uncontrollable Societies of Disaffected Individuals: Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2, trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge: Polity, 2012).

 

[29] Bernard Stiegler, Taking Care of Youth and the Generations, trans. Stephen Barker (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2010).

 

[30] Bernard Stiegler, What Makes Life Worth Living: On Pharmacology, trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge: Polity, 2013).

 

[31] The lack of a viable future under conditions of neoliberal capitalism is a constant theme running throughout Stiegler’s Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2.

 

[32] Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, Volume 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1998).

 

[33] I refer here to Arthur Kroker’s reading of Heidegger, Marx, and Nietzsche in The Will to Technology and the Culture of Nihilism: Heidegger, Marx, Nietzsche, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003).

 

[34] Plato, Protagoras, trans. C.C.W. Taylor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 17-18.

 

[35] André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech, trans. Anna Bostock Berger (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993).

 

[36] See Stiegler, Technics.

 

[37] I rely here on Kroker’s vision of technology. See Kroker, Will to Technology.

 

[38] See Stiegler, Technics.

 

[39] For Paul Virilio’s discussion of endo-colonization and the state, seePure War, trans. Mark Polizzotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 2008), 91-103.

 

[40] See Stiegler, Taking Care of Youth. The ideas of psychopolitical control and attention capture are central to Stiegler’s thesis and appear throughout this work.

 

[41] Heidegger, 23.

 

[42] Heidegger, 49.

 

[43] See Slavoj Žižek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (London: Verso, 2012).

 

[44] See Alain Badiou, The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2012).

 

[45] See Stiegler, Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 1.

 

[46] Ibid. This is Stiegler’s thesis throughout Disbelief and Discredit and is one of his major contributions to contemporary social and political thought.

 

[47] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and Other Writings, trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells (London: Penguin, 2002), 123.

 

[48] The theme of minimal civilization is central to Stiegler’s thesis inDisbelief and Discredit and is reflected in his idea of symbolic misery. Under these conditions, there can be no other purpose to life than basic survival because the valuable cultural objects required to carry meaning are in the process of being destroyed. See, for example, Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 1, 12.

 

[49] Winnicott, 12. The idea of potential space, or space of potential, is central to Winnicott’s idea of play.

 

[50] Arthur Kroker and Michael Weinstein, Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1994), 64.

 

[51] This is Stiegler’s key thesis in the first volume of Technics and Time.

 

[52] For Stiegler’s view of Adorno and Horkheimer, see What Makes Life. Regarding his view of attention capture more generally, see Taking Care of Youth.

 

[53] The analysis of the shift from the delay of desire to the immediacy of drive is central to Stiegler’s discussion through both volumes of Disbelief and Discredit.

 

[54] This is Lacan’s core thesis in The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book III: The Psychoses: 1955-1956, trans. Jacques-Alain Miller And Russell Grigg (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).

 

[55] See Sigmund Freud, The Schreber Case, trans. Andrew Webber (London: Penguin, 2003).

 

[56] Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2007).

 

[57] Stiegler, Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2, 5.

 

[58] See Žižek, Year of Dreaming; Badiou, Rebirth of History; and Peter Sloterdijk, Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation, trans. Mario Wenning (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012).

 

[59] Stiegler, Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2, 6-7.

 

[60] See Bernard Stiegler, For a New Critique of Political Economy, trans. Daniel Ross (Cambridge: Polity, 2010), 60-66.

 

[61] See Stiegler, Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2.

 

[62] Stiegler’s conception of the social in Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2 is rooted in Simondon’s theory of co-individualism, where the true individual is always a social individual. For a consideration of Simondon’s work, see Muriel Combes, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual, trans. Thomas LaMarre (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012).

 

[63] Stiegler, Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2.

 

[64] On systemic stupidity, see Stiegler, What Makes Life. On stupidity more generally, see Stiegler, Taking Care.

 

[65] Stiegler discusses hikikomori in Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2, 88-89.

 

[66] See Stiegler, Taking Care.

 

[67] For Marcuse’s idea of the automatic superego in his discussion of the dialectic of civilization, see Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974).

 

[68] For Stiegler’s comments on Columbine, see Disbelief and Discredit, vol. 2, 47.

 

[69] Ibid.

 

[70] See Stiegler, Taking Care.

 

[71] See Ibid.

 

[72] On the pharmakonic nature of late capitalism, Stiegler, Taking Care;Disbelief and Discredit, vols. 1 and 2; and What Makes Life.

 

[73] Stiegler, What Makes Life, 9-27.

 

—————-

 

Mark Featherstone is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Keele University, UK. His areas of specialism are social and political thought and psychoanalysis. His current research focuses on notions of utopia and dystopia in social and political thought and he has published a monograph on this topic titled Tocqueville’s Virus: Utopia and Dystopia in Western Social and Political Thought (Routledge, 2013). He is currently working on the second volume of this study, titled Planet Utopia: Utopia, Dystopia, and Globalisation, which will be published by Routledge in 2014. A third volume of this work will follow soon afterwards. He also writes on violence in culture and will publish a book on this area titled Carnographic Cultureslate next year.

 

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