From a psychoanalytic point of view, when we speak about the social bond we know that we are referring primarily to the structure of discourse.
However, we must keep an eye on the common meaning of the term discourse, which is the well-organized expression of a thought, because after all, it is precisely from this order that we can speak about discursive structure.
We know that the order of discourse is intended as a precise method of controlling enunciated truths, as a way of determining what can be said or not. Through the definition of the order of discourse we pass then to a control of truth and to a regulated distribution of power.
Lacan conceptualizes in his own way the notion of discourse. His attention is not focused on power, although it is correct to explore its articulations, but on jouissance and on the problem of its distribution.
In hysteria the relationship with jouissance is characterized by a constant dissatisfaction and revindication. On the contrary, the master knows how to put the slave to work, the slave being the one who has the means to extract the jouissance he needs.
As a variant of the master’s discourse, Lacan also produces the capitalist’s discourse. He speaks about it quite extensively in the years between 1969 and 1972, although he wrote its structure only once in his lecture in Milan in May 1972.
We are now particularly interested in the capitalist’s discourse because the world is grounded on it. Of course, this is not an invariable discourse at all. We will now see how it has been changing across the years and across different ways of managing power.
According to Foucault’s classic subdivision, there was first a society of sovereignty. This was already a capitalist society ruling over territories. It was the time of enclosure capitalism, which enclosed common lands, creating large estates by subtracting them from everybody’s use. Then came disciplinary societies, which do not erect fences around lands but around people: in prisons, barracks, schools, asylums, but above all in factories.
Deleuze calls our society the society of control. Since 1990 Deleuze had seen the potentialities of exercising control through socio-technological development of machines able to give at any time the position of an element in an open environment. There was thus no need for fencing or confinement, but rather the logic of free appropriation of natural assets transformed into continuous goods.
This logic has today reached its climax following the turning point at Google between 2000 and 2001, when the giant of Mountain View began to collect what had previously been only waste products in order to earn added value. From the start Google had in fact collected data of every search made on its engine to improve the results, making them more precise, more targeted. But the data Google collected was overabundant and not all usable for this purpose.
Since Google was not producing a profit, despite the large amounts of venture capital required to support its business, they decided to collect this surplus of data containing information about users’ behavior to create behavioral forecasting schemes and to sell targeted advertising with a precision until then unthinkable. Since then Google’s profits have multiplied more than three hundred and fifty times the initial sum, which is an enormity.
Shortly thereafter, Facebook also agreed to profit from this way of exploiting behavioural data. In the intervening twenty years this logic has developed disproportionately. It is no longer limited to following tracks of our clicks, but physically follows our steps. For example, data is collected by Street views or by games like Pokemon Go, where chasing little monsters drive users to shops who have paid for the advertisement.
There are no forms of protection against this invasion of our privacy. The declarations on which we must click to sign our consent are notoriously a solemn mockery.
All this extraordinary data collection apparatus is not limited to commercial purposes. Edward Snowden had already alerted us about control techniques put in place by the US National Security Agency, but Chris Wylie revealed the political use of data collected by Facebook and extracted by Cambridge Analytica.
It is no longer a question of selling products, but of actually changing our behaviour and voting intentions. Capitalism, which found its natural environment in freedoms granted by democracy, was then transformed into the most dangerous threat to democracy. To the extent that it changes our behaviour, the logic of control through big data also affects the social bond, shaping it.
Durkheim argued that the division of labor in industrial capitalism gives shape to new forms of social relationship as family units disappear as autonomous labor organization. In the same way, in internet capitalism, knowledge is divided in an asymmetrical way. On one side there are the few who know how to manage the IT processes hidden in the apps that we use every day. On the other side are the mass of those who use them; data become free prey to an increasingly rapacious market.
Let’s consider the presuppositions of this total management of the intimate sphere of our existence, made up of extracted data. This is clearly explained by the agents of this large-scale predation. Chris Wylie, in an interview, tells how computer scientists are able to create a clone of ourselves and to modify our behaviors.
An example could be the Contagion experiment conducted by Facebook in 2014, when the newsfeeds of about 700,000 users were altered, without their consent, to verify the possibility that an emotional “contagion” could take place even without physical presence, and could actually modify the behavior of the guinea pigs.
Through our computer clone, Google, Facebook, and the other giants of the network gradually appearing in this market, therefore believe they can govern our conduct and our emotions by guiding us like robots.
It is precisely in this supposed equivalence between clone and real life, however, that we find the crack in the apparently solid system of the society of control based on big data. In this equivalence, the possibility of lying is not taken into account – which is not just a question of lying to others but also the prerogative of the human subject to lie to himself: because he has an unconscious.
Both Lacan and Freud highlighted the amazement of the child when, uttering the first lie, he finds that he is not discovered. He realizes that his thoughts are not a transparent crystal in front of the adult’s eyes, he understands that there is a screen behind which he can take refuge and hide his most intimate intimacy, the unconfessable core of himself, his desires and his fantasies.
The crack in the project of digital control lies in the impossibility of taking the unconscious into account, the unconfessable, the fantasmatic, the elusive, the detournement that each one of us exercises on himself.
In this sense, psychoanalysis is the green lung, the Amazon of a world crushed by marketing, stalked by populist enticements made to catch hold of electoral preferences. Psychoanalysis is today the ecology of thought and social relations. It leaves room for the encounter that is unplanned by Tinder’s match, for the psychotic delusion that becomes music in Schumann, for the visions that become a painting by Van Gogh, for the splendid and crazy poetry written by Dino Campana. It leaves room for the unexpected event, the surprise from which the transformation of the world starts both individually and socially.
These are the invaluable forces that psychoanalysis can cultivate to resist the project for the cloning of existence, to oppose the illusory cage, the captivating smile that propaganda keeps on weaving and that we, as nocturnal Penelope, can secretly unravel.
Translated by Micol Martinez