Marco Wehr wrote an article in the German FAZ about the secrets of genius – the main message stayed with me. Einstein claimed that you need nose and forehead to be successful (a genius) – symbolising curiosity and persistence. Scientific success (uniqueness) doesn’t require a very high IQ or very early triumph. But hard word will get you further. Breakthrough comes after long periods of dryness – drilling of thick timber.

[I started this article some time ago and in its current form it’s more like a fragment (mind stream), it has a lot of ideas but doesn’t connect them well]

In this article I want to understand what critique (critical theory) can tell us about the influence of neoliberalism on our self – this image of us that we show to the world. I think that neoliberalism has managed to infiltrate our self. We have become marketeers of ourselves. Does technology alienate us from ourselves?

I want to understand whether there is an alternative, a Marxian nirvana where

[...] nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.#1

I will quite heavily rely on the Korean philosopher BH Han, because his view is very striking.

I think our increasing individualism is not real, it is only a new form of conformism via repeated individualisms. While neoliberalism seemingly propagates individualism, it does lead to coerced conformism (bubbles). True individualism lets us change roles and not define us via the desirability of the market.

We are ruled by the 3 big Cs: absolute Consumption, Commodification and Consumerism.

Technology creates media which enable the neoliberal transformation of our self. Creativity has been commercialised. Many artists end up as ‘creatives’ in the advertising sector. Technology has widened the realm of consumption. Content has become a product and needs to be consumed, so that the advertising can pay for the content creation.

The market has managed to answer all our needs, even our efforts to escape the commodification are answered by market solutions – usually in the form of technology which will be later monetised. This is how capitalism survives every crisis. It is the ‘murketing’ that uses the satire, irony or criticism of products and incorporates it in their marketing. Freemium is the capitalist model where a ‘good idea’ is adopted by many, then grown exponentially and then monetised in the future. If you pay nothing, you are the product.

Han says: “Today we live in a dictatorship of neoliberalism. In neoliberalism everyone is an entrepreneur of himself.” (Zeit 2014)

Han argues that we move from exploitation of the other to self-exploitation, because it produces more efficiency and productivity.

Han: “there is absolute consumption, which is removed [alienated] from the use of things. The business has delegated advertising to the consumer.” I think Han means the production of branded content on social media sites.

Han: “the crisis of freedom is that we perceive compulsion [coercion, un-freedom] as freedom”

Han: “The digital feudal lords like Facebook give us land and say: Plough the land, it is for free. And so we plough (like mad). At the end the lords come and get the harvest. This is exploitation of communication. We communicate and feel free. The feudal lords capitalise our communication.”

We feel the urge to better ourselves, to optimise. As we measure more (fitbit etc) we also need to improve. We have become like businesses that need to grow. Success is measured in calories burned and Twitter followers. Orthorexia – the obsession of eating right – is the ultimate dominance of betterment of our self and our body. Even initiatives like bringing mindfulness training to work (while maybe well intended), only acerbates the problem by letting our employer influence our mind. We pendulate between privilege and guilt: wealth increase and charity donations. Gyms and health stores are the new temples, where we bring our sacrifices in form of money and sweat.

Lemke (2002) references Cruikshank’s work, she talks about the self esteem movement:

“Self Esteem” thus has much more to do with self assessment than with self respect, as the self continuously has to be measured, judged, and disciplined in order to gear personal “empowerment” to collective yardsticks.#2

Curtis in his 2002 documentary on the Self, argues that psychoanalysis entered into the manipulation of the masses via Public Relations very early on. Every attempt by consumers to individuate themselves was met with attempts by the psychological researchers to reign back control.

Curtis in his other 2016 documentary called Hypernormalisation states that politicians invent a simplified fake world (eg changing definition of who is a terrorist) which is the opposite of our complex world. People have turned away from society and have found the Internet as a way to permanently reflect their own self – this assures them and calms them.

How can we escape the neoliberal colonization of the self? We need to understand that constant consumption makes us slaves to a system where we have to perpetually create better versions of ourselves.

PS: I am also currently reading Kluge and Negt’s History and Obstinacy and will follow up on this theme.

1. Marx, German Ideology Chapter 1
2. Lemke 2002. Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique. Rethinking Marxism

The Milos Foreman movie ‘Amadeus’ is a brilliant movie. While Salieri (teacher of Beethoven and Schubert) might not have been a true adversary of Mozart, seeing the world through his eyes is astounding. The detail that went into the movie is great. While rewatching it, I noticed how religious a movie it actually is. Salieri is obsessed with the fact that Ama-deus (love of God) is God’s son (incarnation) but he is shocked at the infantility of the person. At best we are destined (by God) to be mediocre beings in a world that is like a lunatic asylum.

Mozart was very vulgar, he seemed to be obsessed with the ‘ass’ and faeces. Some speculate that he had Tourette’s syndrome. Oliver Sacks even debated the idea.

I think it should not surprise us that ‘genius’ sometimes comes in very simple and blunt forms. Genius is a product of talent/genes and education. Devoting your life to one activity only will lead to underdevelopment of other faculties. WA Mozart’s father Leopold was one of the best violin teachers in Europe at the time. Wolfgang was not allowed to live his childhood, that’s why he had to carry it with him through his life.

Genius can be like an overtrained muscle, if you only lift heavy things with your right arm you will look very disproportional.

Genius requires simplicity.

We need to differentiate between a simple genius and a universal one like Goethe. Maybe Einstein who was a musician and physicist was the last one alive.

Imagine what music Mozart could have written if he lived a more stable and longer life and would have put more mature thought into it.

Mr Robot is an exceptional TV (on demand) series about our time. It portrays the lonesome, schizophrenic hacker as the epitomic hero of our time. He is the one who can see through our reality, he can solve the ‘matrix’. This show is interesting on so many levels: it has technology, mental disease, drugs, self-harm, conspiracy, loneliness, psycho-drama, social unrest, capitalism critique etc.

The main character Elliot can see our numbness, he has the gift to reveal our secrets by tracing our digital footprints. He lives an almost un-digital life, where he constantly has to destroy the tech to untrace himself. With the erasing of the data, he also erases his memory – he has merged physical and mental memory. All that remains is the association of a song on the burned disc.

Elliot is split, he has a good and a bad side, his dad is the Id that drives him to destroy this fake world. He wants to liberate us from our debt (our past) and from our digital prison. He wants to expose the crime that goes unnoticed.

He is a hero but vulnerable.

Watch the clairvoyant scene when his alter ego exposes our unreal reality: A bipolar world which is a kingdom of bullshit.

He talks to us. He breaks the fourth wall. Is he talking to us or his demons?

I went to a talk by psychology Prof Zimbardo who is famous for the prison experiment. He was talking about how young boys are disconnected because they play too many video games and watch too much porn. He whizzed through 1 slide per minute packed with numbers. Although I agree with him on the dangers of gaming and porning, he didn’t fully prove the link that those patterns really explain the underperformance and withdrawal of teenagers. His main thesis is that young men are less sociably adapt and that makes them less successful. The audience disagreed with him on certain parts:
- Young mean always had trouble
o I agree with Zimbardo that the addictiveness of gaming/porning is different as it disconnects men for life
o He also stated that young men are more likely to be hooked onto prescription drugs (eg Ritalin)
- Zimbardo neglected patriarchy and male sexual violence
o Rather irrelevant claim as talk wasn’t about that
- Zimbardo has an antiquated picture of men as competitors or womanisers
o Somewhat true, but I think people judge him by his character rather than what he says academically
o Men do need some competition and success, whether in sports, academia or business, funny example is this movie

… from the Apprentice is a great case of a neurotic. He cites his father’s death as an important event in his life. He internalised the traits of his demanding father before his death. The death triggered him to follow what his father had wanted – he created an imago his dad in his psyche. Since he never succeeds in fulfilling the high expectations, he is doomed to a cycle of (good) achievement and new goals – without the celebration of success. He uses his drive as a defense against other people’s feelings and demands upon him. At some point I thought he is using the ‘drama’ of his father’s death and his own hardship as a facade, but I think his spiel is genuine.

While Neil comes across as a very driven and successful individual, he is a very unhappy person. He is constantly under-achieving according to his standards. This also makes him quite unsociable as his achievement drive makes him egotistical – self-centered. He never rests. Compared to other candidates he lacked a sense of humour and irony. Failure for him is due to lack of effort not to a wrong strategy.