From this conference paper (doc) by Jodi Dean, “Is Democracy Possible? Sure, This Is What Democracy Looks Like.” Says do not cite, but no one reads this blog anyway.
It’s as if the dismantling of the social welfare state were somehow disconnected from the celebration of networked communication as the new ensemble of tools and skills and associations that will enable the individuals left exposed by the disintegration of a social safety net to compete, even survive, in the brutal environment of neoliberal capitalism. It’s as if the incitement to individualize and personalize were not an element of the diminution of a sense of the collective and the common—a sense that the protests are reinvigorating.
In other words, neoliberal democracy seeks to hyperindividuate so as to divide and conquer. It presents equality in communication as compensatory for economic inequalities. We resign ourselves to “capitalist realism,” accepting this as the only real alternative. “Fixing democracy” is a cover story for accepting the status quo.
The conditions that enabled democracy to name an ideal have passed. Now it is a means of financialization and xenophobia. So to continue to appeal to democracy is in effect highly conservative, an instance of misplaced longing for a movement that has already been realized. No one contests democracy. No one says that people should not express their views, participate, get involved
At the same time, the economy is changing to something more communication driven.
My goal is to highlight the convergence of communication and capitalism in a formation that incites voice, engagement, and participation only to capture them in the affective networks of mass personalized media, networks that presuppose and intensify individualism such that widely shared ideas and concerns are conceived less in terms of a self-conscious collective than they are as viruses, mobs, trends, moments, and swarms. It’s odd, isn’t it, this transformation of publicity into the terms of epidemiology—an idea or image with an impact “goes viral.” Channeled through cellular networks and fiber optic cables, onto screens and into sites for access, storage, retrieval, and counting, communication today is trapped in the capitalist circuits it produces and amplifies.
Good description of social media as form of immaterial labor that reproduces the social as a set of atomized personal brands seeking synergy.
The two ideas get connected this way, through psychoanalytic idea of drive:
In drive, enjoyment comes from missing one’s goal, from the repeated yet ever failing efforts to reach it that start to become satisfying on their own. This is democracy for the left: our circling around, our missing of a goal, and the satisfaction we attain through this missing. Media companies love this—not only do they enable us to keep circling, ever more and ever faster, but they can capitalize our satisfaction, privatize and monetize our traces.