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Ataraxia as a solution to the problems of social media 

The notion of ataraxia comes from Pyrrhonism, a form of Ancient Greek scepticism which advocated a suspension of judgement in the face of invocations to believe. It sought to cultivate a calmness of spirit through an affirmation that things could not be known in themselves. The point is not to actively doubt but rather to withdraw from judgement given the epistemic predicament we face and what this means for our judgements. As Josh Cohen describes it on loc 726 of his Not Working, though I think he reads the notion a bit too literally:

Pig, cow, rabbit –these are the blank animal screens onto which we project desire for the non-desire we ourselves can never attain. This wisdom, Pyrrho suggests, lies in his intuiting the truth of ou mallon, that any given entity is ‘no more one thing than another’. With this phrase, all judgements and all determinations are suspended at a stroke, and all clear distinctions collapse. As the later Pyrrhonists saw it, ‘a thing can never be apprehended in and by itself, but only in connection with something else. Hence all things are unknowable.’

Could this not be a virtue for social media? If platforms rely upon encouraging reaction, the cultivation of refraining from judgement becomes hugely significant. It is not an active scepticism but rather a learned withdrawal from feeding what Richard Seymour calls the Twittering Machine, co-produced through our affective reactions to its constant machinations. What we find on social media becomes at most a pointer to something we must follow up beyond social media. Perhaps ataraxia is necessary for ensuring we use social media but don’t live in it, as Mark Fisher once put it. It is our judgement on demand which keeps us tied us, immersing us even if we intend not to be immersed.

Categories: Archive


3 replies

  1. Every other week or so, one of your posts coincides exactly with my intellectual preoccupation at that moment. Articulates the nebula, so to speak. Thank you.

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