2. Politics and spirit in a democratic civil society

Politics and individuation

While Stiegler proposes thinking through compositions rather than oppositions to avoid essentialism and resentment, he also asserts the political need for combating hegemonic tendencies which attempt to ‘destroy the counter-tendencies which constitute them’, resulting in ‘a simplification of existence’ (2011a:47). Within hyperindustrial societies, existence (otium, desire) has been ‘submitted to the imperatives of subsistence’ that is, negotium, artificial needs (2011a:99-100; 2011b:151). Existence itself is political combat and struggle par excellence, for if it does not engage in combat, it risks its futural becoming, that is, elevation (2011a:47). Elevation is a form of elpis – expectation and fear -, allowing the capacity to think outside oneself and to recognise the other as singular. Therefore, the individual (always technical) is necessarily in constant combat for autonomy, singularity and self-actualisation, against the exterior totalising influences of systems of domination (2011a:50).

Importantly, politics is not equal to war; rather, politics mediates possible conflicts by avoiding destruction. As we have seen in the Myth of Prometheus, we become a ‘we’ through our democratic participation in the ‘production of symbols’ which at the same time is done through technics or prosthetics (Stiegler 2014a:10). It is the knowledge that we do not know, formed through collective participation in the production of symbols that is due to Epimetheus’ fault and politics (our originary de-fault). This originary de-fault of non-knowledge is the condition for the aesthetic feeling of a ‘we’ (2014a:11-12) which fosters a pharmacological philia through a metastabilisation of attachments and practices. As we do not have an essence, it is through technics that ‘we’ appear and practice politics. To escape the imposed stabilisation and reduction of the human to categories and drives imposed by sovereign politics, the technics that make up our epiphylogenetic milieu need to be transformed.

Material economy has reduced our participation in the creation of collective symbols and prostheses by reproducing oppositions which ‘kill desire’ (2014a:10). To start with, the early stage of capitalism established a division of labour and a separation between producers and consumers. Through industrialisation workers were proletarianised: that is, they were losing their know-how while machines became more efficient and increasingly submitted to ‘the imperatives of accounting, that is of negotium’ which effected a ‘major spiritual struggle’ (Stiegler 2012). In other words, their gestures were grammatised: discretised into ‘grammes’ and incorporated into machines. This paved the way for a new stage of hyper-industrial capitalism (as the ‘third technological revolution’) triggered by the internet, digitalisation, and the rise of the service industry (2014a:53-56). In this epoch, the oppositional separation between consumers and producers is blurred, as all individuals are consumers subjected to proletarianisation (2011a:62; 2012). So, currently, proletarianisation is experienced as both the loss of know-how (for workers who no longer produce for themselves anymore, but for exchange) and savoir-vivre (for consumers who no longer know how to live and care) (2011a:102-104). Through the harnessing of knowledge into the machine, the transmission of knowledge and relationships become reconfigured. Anamnesic knowledge (itself technical) is dangerously affected, for proletarianisation permeates life-time, conscience and work-time (2013:74).

As such, Stiegler argues against the thesis that we live in a post-industrial society: instead, his is a hyper-industrial society within a digital stage of grammatisation in which existence itself (desire, otium and spirit) is proletarianised (2014a:46). Consumers, no longer autonomous and singular, are deresponsibilised and infantilised, and their knowledge, conscience and attention are commodified and ‘particularised’ into raw resources to be exploited on the market (2013:88) which, I add, reproduce stereotypes and inequalities. Through consumerism, spirit and the objects of desire are destroyed, our libidinal energy being channelled into addictive drives, causing us to know neither how to desire (2011b:150-151) nor how to reason anymore, inasmuch as reason is ‘the most elevated modality of desire’ (2013:23).

While denying spirit’s existence and importance, consumerism flourishes upon the suffering of a wounded spirit, providing addictive behaviours and a toxic dependency as false ‘therapeutics’ to this suffering. The individual as libidinal being becomes subject to the destruction of attention and attachment: to disindividuation. Conversely, individuation represents a psychic and collective process, in which both I and we appear at once (2014a:45-46). This co-appearance creates circuits of transindividuation, that is, a meta-stabilisation of psychic individuation as collective individuation, through dialogic anamnesis (2013:18-19; 83). However, both psychic individuation (singularity) and social structures are destroyed by the ‘market’ which (through hypomnesis) short-circuits transindividuation processes previously maintained by systems such as the state, education and the law, destroying objects of desire (Stiegler 2015a:184; 2013:19; 75). This poses both therapeutic/individuating and toxic/disindividuating possibilities in terms of changing gendered sensibilities. The questions emerging in relation to politics and individuation point us to what takes place in the relationship between the civil society and the academy and can be thought through an economy of spirit.

Spirit and its relationship to reflection and self-expression

Stigler’s version of materialism acknowledges that something arises from the material, namely spirit, with its own temporality, placing demands on human beings: materiality is always composed with spirituality. Spirit is orientated towards, and has as its objects what Stiegler calls ‘transitional’ objects or ‘consistencies’: the republic, the law, philosophy, politics and religion – objects which we, as individuals and society, inherit as otium (2013; 2011b). They are objects of desire which allow for individuation to take place (2013:62-63).

‘Transitional objects’ do not exist as finite matter; they consist and create spaces of potentiality, constituting relationships and ways of being (2013:1-2). For instance, we inherit the ‘law’ as something which we see as being a universal structure/knowledge that governs social life. This law is always also violent as it creates exclusion, but its violence can be mediated through politics. In other words, transitional objects are technics and, by implication, pharmaka. They provide at the same time autonomy, individuation and self-expression, and, distinctively (not simply contrarily) heteronomy, toxic dependency and addiction. Importantly, autonomy and heteronomy are not oppositional – they mutually co-constitute each other (2013:3; 25). Through the internalisation of heteronomy, we co-individuate (2013:21), but this particular co-individuation is disindividuating when it becomes toxic dependency upon the exterior – this occurs when the soul is dominated and placed under the pressure of adapting to external demands (i.e. hedonistic consumerism), without reflection (2013:104-105). Crucially, through an engagement with transitional objects and adoption of the ‘pharmacological situation’, the individual can achieve autonomy and knowledge of how to think and adopt the pharmakon (2014a:19). Care, attention, and new milieus can be cultivated and formed through this adoption (2013:4).

Thus, the relationship individuals have to the law is one of active inheritance: through co-individuation and reflection we come to the realisation that the way its traditions have been transmitted cannot be applied to our own historical present anymore. So, we have constantly to rethink and adopt new laws and desire new objects, rather than simply adapt to the old rules which do not reflect present and futural desires (Stiegler 2010:82; 2013:63). As the self is transitional, for it is in a constant process of becoming (2013:70-71), it follows that the relationship between transitional objects and individual inheritance allows for the opening up of a future of hope. A new spirituality is fundamental to living a qualitatively different life, as spirit functions as a provocation for thinking, reflection and self-expression, and cannot be reduced simply to material transactions.

We must be wary of the poisonous promise of ‘transindividuation’ made by marketing and programming industries, for they destroy consistencies and fabricate memories which make one’s past ‘become the same as that of my neighbours’, creating a herdish experience (2011a:111; 2011b:151), and not collective individuation. This is because the industry replaces ‘inherited pre-individual funds’ with its own products, for its speculative needs which shake the stability and consistency of projections (2011a:113). Retention is, however, singular, due to each individual’s own history and experiences; on its basis, other retentions and protentions are produced, leading to individuation and singularity (2011a:111-112). These individual retentions create ‘archi-protentions’: collective secondary protentions, collective elpis (2011a:113). Knowledge, therefore, is sustained and transmitted over time, across generations through technics, meaning that retentions are technical, forming an epiphylogenetic milieu which consists of pre-individual, psychic and collective individuation (2011a:116). In hyperindustrial societies, the collective retentions and protentions manufactured in production studios distract us from our own individuation as we identify with manufactured and staged subjectivities produced by the industry (Stiegler 2011a:114; 2014a:24-29). One cannot individuate oneself without doing so collectively, and vice-versa (2013:70-71).

The relationship between otium and negotium

Work satisfaction and desire ought to have symbolic as well as economic meaning. However, hyperindustrial capitalism has splitted them and submerged otium (spirit, existence) to negotium (calculation, subsistence) (2015a:177). Through the new forms of digital, aesthetic and virtual technology, a radically disenchanted economy is created, and everything is orientated towards production and consumption. Increasingly, negotium has permeated all aspects of life: always utilitarian, it is commerce in general, an activity for subsistence, intensified through the grammatisation of gestures into the machine and the replacement of reason with calculation (2013:60-61). The negotium-based society demands us to be addicted to material objects (devoid of spiritual symbols) to buy, utilise, consume, and throw away in an endless, morbid cycle, lending itself to a technological utilitarian reproduction (2013:62-63). Within the sphere of negotium, there is no future, hope or protention: the ‘future’ is simple repetition and the absorption of humans into systems of reproduction that negates singularity and steals the capacity for spirit and active inheritance.

Under the reign of otium, on the other hand, the future’s radical indeterminacy is recognised and characterised by possibility and hope. Otium could be defined as leisurely time and, I argue, reproduction, for Stiegler considers it as a practice ‘of freedom and of “care of the self”’ (2010:53-54). In other words, otium entails an awakening through the realisation that there is a difference to be made between itself and negotium. It is the putting of ideas into practice by creating technics which sustain spirit outside the calculative rationality of capitalism, thus imagining new futures (2011a:98). Otium is also power, as it represents the transmission of knowledge and individuation which can politically combat industrial tendencies. The practice of otium manifests itself into culture, that is, a ‘concern with elevation’, elpis (2011a:100).

Otium and negotium are not simply opposed – rather, they are distinct, similarly to how consumers and producers are no longer defined by their opposition, as they are all proletarians (2011a:118-123). Otium is spirit in action, whilst negotium is action devoid of spirit: ‘otium […] is not simply the “contemplative” life […] it is a matter of a practice, that is, an activity, which may be public’ (2011a:123). Negotium would not exist without otium as the latter is, I argue, both the work of spirit recognised as such, and the reproductive work made invisible within society and its institutions. Thus, negotium presents itself as simply the ‘productive’ work which adds value to the market, but it rests upon the exploitation of otium. Hence, a new form of subsistence, based on care, is necessary as a replacement to the toxicity of negotium. Stiegler sees the dissolution between the boundaries of otium and negotium as manifesting themselves as the dissolution between the academy and the market, having evolved since the Reformation until the catastrophic state of current societies (2015a:177). It is now necessary to discuss the relationship between the university and the civil society in the following chapter.