Conceptual Cluster 13: Noopolitics

by evaminoura

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Reading this cluster I am none the wiser as to what noopolitics actually means, yet these readings resonated with me. If, as Foucault claims, control societies are taking over from disciplinary societies, what is the effect of living under ”continuous assessment” where access to information is mark of one’s place in society (Deleuze)? I am especially struck by the claim that ”in control societies you never finish anything” (true!) and being the unfinished specimens we are, always becoming never being, how vulnerable we are to the onslaught of consumption society. Deleuze describes the shift toward a control society as marked by ”a capitalism no longer directed toward production but toward products, that is sales or markets” (Deleuze). This captures, I think that the relationship between supply and demand is no longer unidirectional, today supply generates demand, if the marketing is effective enough. A good example is the proliferation of corn byproducts due to industrialized farming (in North America) where corn is used to feed livestock. For a time this generated an overabundance of corn syrup for which new products were invented to capitalize on this by-product. Hence, the explosion on the world markets of soda beverages and a number of other products using corn syrup (rather than the more expensive cane sugar) as sweetener. Thus is created an entirely constructed market niche whose express purpose is to sell a product whose ”service” to share-holders is to create revenue out of a waste byproduct. (Detailed in the book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser). For the consumer in a captitalist society, it becomes increasingly clear that the ”job is to discover whose ends these [service-products] serve,” to modify Deleuze’s point somewhat.

In the cultural context of current global capitalism, the ”capacity to act and the capacity not to act” as outlined by Agamben (in Hauptmann) is cast as the power to purchase or to abstain from purchase of whatever product is being marketed at you. Hauptmann considers this desired quotient the result of intensely branded networks linking commodities in an ”attention economy” (Hauptmann). If effective branding can be likened to a dynamic transmission of (collective) memory serving to increase the desire quotient of a given product, then such an affective (rather than cognitive) transmission means that we are constantly barraged with persuading forces (both outright marketing as well as trends picked up in the orbits we move in). Henri Bergson’s description of the brain as not so much having thinking as its primary function, ”but that of hindering the thought from becoming lost in dream” seems an apt description of the challenge of living in today’s consumption-oriented societies (Hauptmann). How do we protect ourselves and our solitude from the onslaught? How do we defend the ’stimulus independent’ mind-wandering so important for self-reflection and to position ourselves and our values so that we are free to exercise a will independent of the control channelled to us by our gizmo-oriented lifestyles. As I sit here with an Ipad, not one but two Iphones and my MacBook in front of me, I realize how willingly and whole-heartedly I have succumbed to both a cyborg-existence and to the marketing vehicle and trendy affects aimed at me. I’m reminded of a Ted Talk with so-called cyborg anthropologist Amber Case who suggests that it is when you have no external input that you form your conception of self which is neccessary in order to define a persona which can resist constant stimuli, not merely responding to this and that input, but with an awareness of one’s own agenda. This, I would argue, is at the heart of agency and of defending agency in a control society full of supposed freedom but also muddled by noise.

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Deborah Hauptmann, ‘Introduction: Architecture and Mind in the Age of Communication and Information’, in Deborah Hauptman, eds. Cognitive Architecture: From Biopolitics to Noopolitics, Rotterdam 010 Publishers, 2010.

Maurizio Lazzarato, ‘The Concepts of Life and the Living in the Societies of Control’ in Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen, eds. Deleuze and the Social, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

Gilles Deleuze, ‘Societies of Control’ in Negotiations: 1972-1990, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.