In Bernard Stieglers’s For A New Critique of Political Economy, he introduces the pharmakon as a way of understanding “the proletarianization of the life of the mind” under neoliberal capitalist domination. This process is central to the consumerist model embraced by the current hegemonic order in its ability to colonize the libidinal energies of consumers, and hence integrate them into the consumer economy (25). The pharmakon is the etymological root of the more familiar term pharmacology, which can mean either/both healing drug or poison. Stiegler describes the destructive effects the pharmakon has on political subjects but neglects how these maladies are treated and reintegrated and into the system via pharmacological systems in the biochemical and therapeutic sense we are more acquainted with. The pharmakon, in its deficiencies and deleterious effects on subjects, begets pharmacological interventions in order to recuperate its losses.
Stiegler describes the pharmakon as a hypomnesic technology of the spirit, as an exteriorization of tertiary retention through digital technologies. These technologies of the spirit structure the work practices and desires of political subjects in the consumer economy. It is through these practices that stems the belief that the tendential fall in the rate of profit of capitalism had been overcome overcome at the wake of the “conservative revolution” and the ideological domination of neo-liberalism. Stiegler writes of the functionalization of a new energy in the economy beyond that of industrial production. Rather it is that of the proletarianized consumer, that is “the consumers libidinal energy, the exploitation of which changes the libidinal economy and, with it, the economy as a whole, to the point where the former is destroyed just like the latter, and the former by the latter” (25).
This begins to describe the deleterious, self-effacing effects of such an economy, transformed by its own transformations, feeding back into itself in order to make possible a deferral of the tendential fall in the rate of profit. However consumers do no escape this process unscathed. The harnessing of their libidinal energies into a consumerist model has its pharmacological (poisonous) effects on subjectivity. Stiegler describes the loss of savoir-vivre and savoir-faire (27). This loss of knowledge of the world and adaptability creates conditions of psychic depravity in consumers, they are stripped of access to these things all while their libidinal energies are funneled into consumer desires, devolving from desires and into drives.
What is in question is how these effects are manifested in individuals and how they are dealt with by the system itself. Bifo Berardi explores these pharmacological effects from a somewhat psychiatric point of view in Precarious Rhapsody. He maps the territory of semio-capital and precarious labor in contemporary society (with semio-capital paralleling Stiegler’s hypomnesic, digital technologies of spirit and precarious labor referring to the work practices associated with the consumer economy). Berardi goes beyond the loss of savoir-vivre and savoir-faire under the current regime and discusses the effects in terms of psychiatric pathology, addressing the explosion of the diagnosis of mental illness in the developed world in recent years.
Berardi proposes that mental illness is depoliticized and disconnected from social phenomena precisely when the consumer economy is producing it. He describes the generation native to the neoliberal order and its technologies of the spirit as the video-electronic generation. The psychosphere of the video-electronic generation is swamped with neuro-mobilizing stimuli, affective manipulation, and psychotropic substances as well as well temporal irregularities attributable to the precarious labor of the political economy (85).
The ensuing effects of these mechanisms on subjectivities are disastrous. In Berardi’s analyses the consumer economy perturbs proletarianized individuals and collectives on a psychological and biochemical level, rather than solely through the loss of modes of knowledge like savoir-vivre or savoir-faire. Stiegler and Berardi converge in their discussions on how these technologies of desire liquidate desire in the process, through psycho-power exercised on consumers (Stiegler 65). The minds of consumers are put through symbolic misery and a loss of otium or leisure time that escapes the calculable exchange. This loss of time and enjoyment is characteristic to precarious labor’s irregular temporalities.
Of course one could also argue that the loss of savoir-vivre is constituted by the very symptoms the video-electronic generation expresses. Berardi describes many disturbances in the minds of individuals. He for example describes the loss of empathy, or event he ability to effectively communicate with others. He describes the speed of info-stimuli and the minds inability to adapt (savoir-faire) to these new temporalities. Empathy is lacking because the stimulation produced by the consumer economy has become far too intense for psycho-fragile human beings (86). The vast variety of disregulations produced in the minds of the proletarianized video-electronic generation are subsequently pathologized as panic, depressive, bipolar, and attentive disorders.
Of course the pharmacology of capital is responsive to these conditions, these “side-effects” it produces. It reintegrates these frayed libidinal economies pharmacologically in the clinical sense, therapeutically and biochemically, all while depoliticizing these disorders. Madness is always at fault of the consumer and not the consumer economy. It is under these conditions that the Beatriz Preciado’s pharmacopornographic capitalism operates under and is allowed to proliferate in. Hence, we have a highly profitable mental health industry responding to the psychic casualties of the neoliberalism.
In Testo Junkie, Preciado proposes that we live in the pharmacopornographic era which arises concurrently with the gradual collapse of the Fordism, precisely when the neoliberal order and precarious labor come into play (34). Her exploration of the phenomena is more oriented toward the production of subjectivity under this regime, and in particular the production of sexuality with the advent of pornographic media and pharmacological technologies such as synthetic hormones and birth control. She still includes, however, some mention of increasingly popular psychotropic substances like Ritalin and Prozac, used to target and correct the psychic deficiencies aforementioned. For example Berardi, in resonance with Preciado, speaks of sexual dysfunctions caused by emotional disturbances as being widely treated with drugs such as Viagra (103). The realm of sexuality does not escape the regime. Though her more nuanced and extensive focus on sexuality is outside of the scope of this discussion, it is interesting to note that she includes video-electronic media like pornography as constitutive of consumer subjects.
This attests to the power of these technologies over subjectivity as pharmaka regardless of their deleterious or healing effects. Pharmacopornographic capitalism epitomizes and thoroughly literalizes this condition on a biochemical or molecular level, simultaneously administering disturbances in subjects as well as the solutions that heal the latter in guise of medications and treatments as commodities to be consumed like any other (though they may be often medically administered).
In this sense the system literally feeds into itself, picking up the stray disturbed subjects it produces and integrating their maladies into its circuits of production. The pharmakon of neoliberal capitalism is true to its definition as a cure and a poison, vacillating between the production and medicalization of pathology and its profitable treatment, all while preserving a labor force that is exhausted and psychically overtaxed by consumption and precarious forms of labor. This results in a further deferral of the system’s own collapse, by literally deferring the collapse of the bodies of subjects that are overexerted by the system itself.
“Untitled” Courtesy of Andrea Crespo