Towards a sociology of splintered minds

It occurred to me recently that my bleak view of the long term future, shared by my partner and some (far from all) of my friends, could be seen as a secular millenarianism to which leftist millennials are increasingly prone. It could even be seen as a leftist black pill, a fatalistic sense of a broken world which can no longer fixed, raising the question of how we make sense of and find meaning through our finite existence within it.

To put this in more sociological terms, if we’re leaving neoliberalism and entering something worse, what does this mean for our style of life and the possibility of finding meaning through it? If compensatory consumerism is breaking down alongside a cost of living crisis which can only worsen, what path remains for an hegemonic hedonism built around the comfort of things? If the states of exception we’ve termed lockdowns become recurrent features in a social world plagued by pandemics and climate breakdowns, what does this mean for the possibility of shaping a life? These are conditions in which what Mark Fisher describes as the twitchy interpassivity of depressive anhedonia might thrive:

Depression is usually characterized as a state of anhedonia, but the condition I’m referring to is constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as it is by an inability to do anything except pursue pleasure. There is a sense that ‘something is missing’ — but no appreciation that this mysterious, missing enjoyment can only be accessed beyond the pleasure principle.

I’m interested in the sense of foreclosure which feels increasingly pervasive, the embodied realisation that things will not go back to normal and in fact ‘normal’ was a mirage which was far from desirable for most, as well as how the newfound impossibility of floating freely in your own bubble leads people to ever more anxiously seize upon the remnant of ‘normal life’. I watched the original Matrix yesterday for the first time in twenty years and the language was darkly resonant with the benefit of hindsight, leading to me wonder what a general sociology of red pilling would look like, able to engage with the reactionary forms this takes while trying to connect them up to wider currents of social meaning:

What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.

The abandoned monograph I spent the latter half of the 2010s trying to write concerned the idea of distracted people and fragile movements. I was interested in the forms of agency which platform capitalism gives rise to and their capacity (or lack-thereof) to address the social problems which platform capitalism creates. In other words how, as we hurtle towards planetary scale computation, the problems we confront simultaneously undermine our capacity to solve them. Perhaps mainly for my own well being I want to understand what it means to be caught in this bind, to have these splinters inserted into our minds, caught between the mundane existence of day-to-day level and the wider crises which are transforming it.

In asking what it means to live well under these circumstances I’m trying to foreclose the slide into twitchy interpassivity by recognising the agency we do have at the site of the contradiction itself, as a matter of bringing what matters to us into a confrontation with the conditions which make mattering an increasingly fraught affair.

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