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Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han – review | Books | The Guardian
"The new surveillance society that has arisen since 1984, argues Han, works differently yet is more elegantly totalitarian and oppressive than anything described by Orwell or Jeremy Bentham. “Confession obtained by force has been replaced by voluntary disclosure,” he writes. “Smartphones have been substituted for torture chambers.” Well, not quite. Torture chambers still exist, it’s just that we in the neoliberal west have outsourced them (thanks, rendition flights) so that that obscenity called polite society can pretend they don’t exist.

Nonetheless, what capitalism realised in the neoliberal era, Han argues, is that it didn’t need to be tough, but seductive. This is what he calls smartpolitics. Instead of saying no, it says yes: instead of denying us with commandments, discipline and shortages, it seems to allow us to buy what we want when we want, become what we want and realise our dream of freedom. “Instead of forbidding and depriving it works through pleasing and fulfilling. Instead of making people compliant, it seeks to make them dependent.”

Your smartphone, for Han, is crucial in this respect, the multifunctional tool of our auto-exploitation. We are all Big Brother now. It is in part Catholicism with better technology, a modern rosary that is handheld confessional and effective surveillance apparatus in one. “Both the rosary and the smartphone serve the purpose of self-monitoring and control,” he explains. “Power operates more effectively when it delegates surveillance to discrete individuals.” And we queue overnight to get the latest model: we desire our own domination. No wonder the motto for Han’s book is US video artist Jenny Holzer’s slogan: “Protect me from what I want.”

Han considers that the old form of oppressive capitalism that found its personification in Big Brother has found its most resonant expression in Bentham’s notion of a panopticon, whereby all inmates of an institution could be observed by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they were being watched. Bentham’s invention in turn catalysed French theorist Michel Foucault’s reflections on the disciplinary, punishing power that arose with industrial capitalism, leading him to coin the term biopolitics. Because the body was the central force in industrial production, Han argues, then a politics of disciplining, punishing and perfecting the body was understandably central to Foucault’s notion of how power worked.

But in the west’s deindustrialised, neoliberal era, such biopolitics is obsolete. Instead, by means of deploying “big data”, neoliberalism has tapped into the psychic realm and exploited it, with the result that, as Han colourfully puts it, “individuals degrade into the genital organs of capital”. Consider that the next time you’re reviewing your Argos purchase, streaming porn or retweeting Paul Mason. Instead of watching over human behaviour, big data’s digital panopticon subjects it to psychopolitical steering."



"At least in Nineteen Eighty-Four, nobody felt free. In 2017, for Han, everybody feels free, which is the problem. “Of our own free will, we put any and all conceivable information about ourselves on the internet, without having the slightest idea who knows what, when or in what occasion. This lack of control represents a crisis of freedom to be taken seriously.”"



"No matter. How might we resist psychopolitics? In this respect, Han cuts an intriguing figure. He rarely makes public appearances or gives interviews (and when he does he requires journalists turn off their recorders ), his Facebook page seems to have been set up by Spanish admirers, and only recently did he set up an email address which he scarcely uses. He isn’t ungooglable nor yet off the grid, but rather professor at Berlin’s University of the Arts and has written 16 mostly lovely, slender volumes of elegant cultural critique (I particularly recommend The Burnout Society, The Scent of Time, Saving Beauty and The Expulsion of the Other – all available in English) and is often heralded, along with Markus Gabriel and Richard David Precht, as a wunderkind of a newly resurgent and unprecedentedly readable German philosophy.

For all that, and I mean this as a compliment, Byung-Chul Han is an idiot. He writes: “Thoroughgoing digital networking and communication have massively amplified the compulsion to conform. The attendant violence of consensus is suppressing idiotisms.”

Indeed, the book’s last chapter is called “Idiotism”, and traces philosophy’s rich history of counter-cultural idiocy. Socrates knew only one thing, namely that he knew nothing. Descartes doubted everything in his “I think therefore I am”. Han seeks to reclaim this idiotic tradition. In an age of compulsory self-expression, he cultivates the twin heresies of secrets and silence.

Perhaps similarly, for our own well being, in our age of overspeak and underthink, we should learn the virtue of shutting up."
capitalism  latecapitalism  technology  politics  2017  biopolitics  byung-chulhan  stuartjeffries  1984  freedom  control  data  mobile  phones  facebook  twitter  conformity  conformism  amazon  internet  web  online  markusgabriel  richarddavidprecht  philosophy  idiocy  overspeak  underthink  thinking  communication  neoliberalism  foucault  power  smartphones  bigbrother  catholicsm  jennyholzer  desire  michelfoucault 
january 2018 by robertogreco
Welcome to the new age of uncertainty | World news | The Guardian
"Much of our current mood of uncertainty has specific causes. Some of it is due to the consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown. The resultant rise of zero-hour contracts, exploitative internships and the Sisyphean labour of so-called portfolio careers has made the future seem head-spinningly uncertain. That mood is also due to the agenda, pursued by successive governments, of introducing choice into public services, from education to hospitals. The reason I was sitting in a school hall listening to a headteacher make her case to look after my daughter for five years was that the government has extended choice to state education. Thanks to that policy, I’m encouraged to explore a dizzying array of choices (girls only, mixed, grammar, mixed, faith, academy, comp) and yet I’m uncertain which is the best option. My only consolation is what Bertrand Russell wrote in The Triumph of Stupidity: “In the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” The parents who know, with vexing self-confidence, which school would be best for their little horrors are really deluded, while I’m a genius because of my very uncertainty. That must be what’s happening."



"What the headteacher meant, I suspect, when she said she would prepare children for jobs that don’t yet exist, is that kids should emerge from her school literate, numerate, with some experience of coding, probably little French but maybe some Mandarin, be unlikely to respond to a teacher telling them to pipe down by pulling a knife and generally able to initiate social interactions without going pre-verbal or sub-automatic. But most of all, I suspect she was extolling the virtues of a very old way of being, one set out by the poet John Keats nearly 200 years ago, when he wrote about “negative capability” – roughly, the ability to thrive in uncertain circumstances – of which more later."



"Good for Jonathan Fields. His life story is a homily to mastering uncertain conditions. There is, though, another option. Instead of mastering uncertainty, go with the proverbial flow and accept that uncertainty is the cosmic deal. Keats, when he coined the phrase “negative capability”, imagined something along these lines. Negative capability, he supposed, was “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” – and Keats took that passivity or willingness to let things remain uncertain to be essential to literary achievement."



"In 1996, Belgian Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel laureate, argued in The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature that uncertainty is an inherent cosmic expression, deeply embedded within the core of reality. To be fair, Buddhists got there before Prigogine. But what is striking is that some psychologists have applied the Nobel laureate’s thoughts on uncertainty in physics to our human lot. We may think we’re particularly cursed, that our current uncertainty is an unusual fate, but rather, uncertainty is deeply embedded in the structure of reality. In the face of that (possible) truth, what’s the best solution to living in uncertainty? Acceptance – even of the very anxiety we feel in the face of that uncertainty."
uncertainty  anxiety  brexit  ilyaprigogine  2016  stuartjeffries  choice  paradoxofchoise  wernerkarlheisenberg  jonathanfields  bertrandrussell  stupidity  confidence  self-confidence  genius  fate  psychology  politics  education  parenting  johnkeats  nagativecapability 
july 2016 by robertogreco

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