3. Is the civil society still pharmacological? The case of political movements

A society is characterised by two aspects, according to Stiegler: firstly, it is a way of ‘organising the formation of attention’ of those living together, and secondly, it enacts reason (2015a:170). Although the public space has been corrupted by the economic milieu which is anti-political (2015a:215), the societal obstacles which the future university needs to confront are transitional: ‘a state of fact, and not a state of law’ (2015a:175). However, whenever there is disindividuation, individuation occurs at the same time because they are both in constant movement, irreducibly (2014a:62).

Stiegler’s optimism that new futures can emerge from within contemporary hyperindustrial societies can be also traced back to his reading of the Myth of Prometheus. Pandora’s preservation of hope is the basis for the possibility of revitalising a politics of spirit, to sustain a will to live, despite the toxic ills and attacks of hyperindustrial markets upon spirit. Hope is sustained by the love for the other, as philia, through care. This means that spirit’s positive/therapeutic dimension cannot be entirely destroyed. Spirit is also irreducible due to elpis being the source of politics: there can be no hope without fear, and no anticipation without forgetting – elpis is a pharmakon (Stiegler 2013:25). Finally, society is always pharmacological, for it is part of a general organology in which ‘we’ appear through symbolic participation (politics), always co-constituted through prosthetics – this appearance occurs through, for instance, pharmacological political movements which create tools the university can think thorugh.

The pharmacology of political movements

According to Stiegler, the current entropic epoch of Anthropocenic capitalism is suicidal, self-destructive and finite, as it ‘exhausts its own viability’ due to it being permeated by ‘the death drive’ (2011b:156; 2011a:80-81). However, I contend that combating capitalist entropy only is not enough, inasmuch as other systems of domination and oppression are implicated in the symbolic misery of society. In this respect, hooks’ term white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy (2004:17) adequately encapsulates the way in which sovereignty is composed through systems which co-exist, co-produce and reinforce one another. It is impossible to isolate the effects of capitalism without also considering patriarchy and white supremacism.

Transitional and ideal objects are pharmacological, for not all inheritance is therapeutic – for instance, inheriting the law also implies exclusion. Thus, the way we live our life and relate to others is mediated through pharmacological technics which, at once, inscribe violence and philia upon our bodies and sensibilities which are marked along the lines of social categories such as gender, race, ability, class and sexuality. Thus, aesthetics, performativity, material conditions and libidinal attachments are permeated with signifiers which hard-wire individuals into toxic social relationships. As a system of domination, patriarchy has no gender but it creates, distinguishes, and excludes bodies in opposition to a ‘norm’ (identity, performativity, desire) through technics.

With the privilege held by those fitting, conforming or adapting to ‘the norm’, comes the exploitation and violence of the excluded. In society, we find elpis within political movements which offer new references of transindividuation and new, collective imaginaries and fictions. However, movements conceptualise ‘change’ differently, and the attachments emerging from transitional objects are pharmacological (Stiegler 2013:4). For instance, far right movements, fuelled by hatred and despair, create toxic transindividuations which in effect dis-individuate. On the other hand, social movements (i.e. anti-racist feminism) are committed to philia and hope.

In relation to this pharmacology, Stiegler argues that young people in France are no longer attached to individuating ideal objects due to the attack of the industry upon their singularity and capacity for deep attention. Stiegler sees this as a factor in their turning to ‘the far right, jihadism, fundamentalisms, but also marketing, drug traffickers, and so on’ (2016:12) as sources for identification. He goes further: ‘to be nothing is to lose the feeling of existing. This is what happened to Richard Durn’ who mass-murdered eight local councillors and injured many others, later committing suicide (2016:11). These toxic movements provide negative, morbid hopes based on a particular form of catharsis which, like consumerism, becomes addictive, inasmuch as it promises meaning and fulfilment. Stiegler’s delivery of lectures to National Front followers (despite his disagreements with their worldview) represents, he argues, a performative attempt at offering hope and a space for learning to individuals who no longer see themselves as symbolically attached to society (2016:10): ‘they no longer love themselves and prove to be less and less capable of love’ (2014a:60-61).

Within the addictive consumerist society, ‘emotional needs’ may be experienced as difficult and ‘often impossible to satisfy’, which means that ‘material desires are easier to fulfil’ (hooks 2000a:106), but materiality has its limits in conferring fulfilment. The feelings of lack and despair are formed, transmitted, internalised and exercised differently according to gender, through socialisation. It is the case that ‘living in a state of lovelessness we feel we must as well be dead; everything within us is silent and still. We are unmoved’ (2000a:191). However, within a patriarchal society, powerlessness is performed differently according to one’s imposed gender performativity, men being assumed (pushed) to ‘naturally’ rule over ‘powerless’ women (2000a:97). The gendering of feelings and desires for self-expression are taught and reproduced within the private and public spheres. So, learning how to desire and feel needs to be facilitated through a non-sexist environment which does not reproduce domination (2004:18-19; 2000a:38). Indeed, ‘if patriarchy were a disease […] it would be a disease of “disordered desire”’ (2004:84) which naturalises and socialises ‘femaleness’ and women’s bodies into submission and ‘maleness’ and men’s bodies into domination.

When ‘allegiance to male domination’ means socialising men into thinking that they need to be in control over others and themselves (hooks 2000a:41), it follows that a lack of power in the hands of such a person may be perceived as a justification for violence not only within the public space (in cases of massacres such as Durn’s) but also in the privatised domestic sphere. Durn’s violence necessitates considering his relationship to, and reproduction of patriarchy and its creation of toxic masculinity as a form of violent drive, as well as how children are socialised to justify violence. Boys and teenagers are subjected to marketing, war glorification, the justification of violence and sexual exploitation of others, the deprivation of emotions, and the shutting-down of self-expression and ‘healthy’ self-esteem. Considering the prevalence of this patriarchal propaganda and tyranny, hooks is surprised that ‘killing is not yet widespread’ (2004:50-52).

We must question what it means to think philia and love in a patriarchal culture, for we are all ‘participants in perpetuating sexism until we change our minds and hearts’ (hooks 2004:xii; 2000b:ix). By not acting, we are complicit. Being committed to love, to philia, means being ready and open to be trans-formed by its power, and this can be achieved through self-reflection and a recognition of one’s impact of their actions upon others within a society that socialises us to internalise and justify oppressive drives and practices. However, how could one change their own perspective, to become willingly self-reflective? Cornel West affirms that the ‘turning of the soul’ towards a politics of hope is possible through affirmation and recognition found outside oneself – that is, in a society fuelled by an ethics of care:

Nihilism is not overcome by arguments or analyses, it is tamed by love and care. Any disease of the soul must be conquered by a turning of one’s soul. This turning is done through one’s own affirmation of one’s worth – an affirmation fuelled by the concern of others. (cited by hooks 2000a:94)

Although social movements are potentially therapeutic, they too are pharmacological. For instance, feminism has historically been appropriated by white and middle class women who silence black and working class women, men and other genders (hooks 1984:6-7). So, feminism is pharmacological, for it can be oppressive when it creates false separations between gender, race and class-based oppressions, and fails to address them. Feminism is toxic when it essentialises gender roles and sexuality: when it fails to discuss masculinity, dismissing men as ‘naturally’ unable and unwilling to change and to learn how to feel and love; when it upholds heteronormativity; when it places women in the static role of victimhood and ignores their involvement in the reproduction of sexism through, for instance, submitting children to the tyranny of patriarchal expectations (2004:1-2).

So, social movements have transformative potentials only when they consider the co-occurrence of oppressions and commit to combating them equally. Accordingly, a feminism that ignores/reproduces any form of exploitation, is not feminism – or, we could say, it is a disindividuating, oppressive ‘feminism’ concerned with preserving the relative privileges of white, middle class women who merely accommodate themselves within patriarchal comforts by seeking equal privileges to white, middle class men. Anti-racist and anti-capitalist feminism provides society and the university with ethical, philia-based reasoning and objects of identification which problematise the norm of greed and exploitation within the ethic of domination which characterises current societies. The university ought to engage with the technics of movements, to take sides, and to be itself a political contributor to combatting domination in favour of transformative philia-based change. The academy and its work cannot intervene positively in society without divesting its oppressive impositions and thinking through the digital, in a feminist way.