This reference to (material) production is pivotal today, in the context of the ongoing digitalization of our lives. We live in the midst of an arduous revolution in the ‘forces of production’, whose much-publicized tangible effects (new and newer gadgets invading our lives) overshadow its much more far-reaching repercussions. The true question apropos of cyberspace and Virtual Reality is not ‘What happens to our experience of reality?’ but, rather:’How does the interposition of the World Wide Web affect the status of inter subjectivity?’ The true ‘horror’ of cyberspace is not that we are interacting with virtual entities as if they were human – treating virtual non-persons as real persons, but rather, the opposite: in our very interaction with ‘real’ persons, who are more and more accessible only through their stand-ins in cyberspace, we are treating ‘real’ persons are virtual entities that can be harassed and slaughtered with impunity, since we interact with them only in Virtual Reality.Žižek, Slavoj (2001) Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?
The mistake of melancholy, however, is not simply to assert that something resists symbolic ‘sublation’ but, rather, to locate this resistance in a positively existing, albeit lost, object. In Kant’s terms, the melancholic is guilt of committing a kind of ‘paralogism of the pure capacity to desire’, which lies in the confusion between loss and lack: in so far as the object-cause of desire is originally, in a constitutive way, lacking, melancholy interprets this lack as loss, as if the object lacking were once possessed and then lost. In short, what melancholy obfuscates is the fact that the object is lacking from the very beginning, that its emergence coincides with its lack, that this object is nothing but the positivization of a void/lack, a purely anamorphic entity which does not exist ‘in itself’. The paradox, of course, is that this deceitful translation of lack into loss enables us to assert our possession of the object: what we never possessed can also never be lost, so the melancholic, in his unconditional fixation on the lost object, in a way possesses it in its very loss.Žižek, Slavoj (2001) Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism?, Verso, pg 143
Despair is the sickness unto death in another and still more definite sense. For there is not the remotest possibility of dying of this sickness in the straightforward sense, or of this sickness ending in physical death. On the contrary, the torment of despair is precisely the inability to die. Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as though there were hope of life. No, the hopelessness is that even the last hope, death, is gone. When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life. But when one learns to know the even more horrifying danger, one hopes for death. When the danger is so great that death has become the hope, then despair is the hopelessness of not even being able to die.Kierkegaard, Søren (1849) The Sickness Unto Death
If light be not given to the senses, we cannot represent to ourselves darkness, and if extended objects are not perceived, we cannot represent space. Neither the negation, nor the mere form of intuition can, without something real, be an object.
For truth or illusory appearance does not reside in the object, in so far as it is intuited, but in the judgement upon the object, in so far as it is thought. It is therefore quiet correct to say that the senses do not err, not because they always judge correctly, but because they do not judge at all. Hence truth and error, consequently also, illusory appearance as the cause of error, are only to be found in a judgement, that is, in the relation of an object to our understanding.Kant, Immanuel (1781) Critique of Pure Reason
Torture is a dangerous innovation; it would appear that it is an assay not of the truth but of a man’s endurance. The man who can endure it hides the truth: so does he who cannot. For why should pain make me confess what is true rather than force me to say what is not true? And on the contrary if a man who has not done what he is accused of is able to support such torment, why should a man who has done it be unable to support it, when so beautiful a reward as life itself is offered him?
I think that this innovation is founded on the importance of the power of conscience. It would seem that in the case of the guilty man it would weaken him and assist the torture in making him confess his fault, whereas it strengthens the innocent man against the torture. But to speak the truth, it is a method full of danger and uncertainty. What would you not say, what would you not do, to avoid such grievous pain?
Etiam innocentes cogit mentiri dolor.
[Pain compels even the innocent to lie.]
Montaigne, Michel de (1580) Of Conscience
And when feeling or understanding or will has become fantastic, then in the end the whole self can become that, whether in a more active form, where the person plunges headlong into the fantastic, or in a more passive form he is carried off into it, though he is responsible in both cases. […] But to become fantastic in this way, and therefore be in despair, although usually obvious, does not mean that a person may not continue living a fairly good life, to all appearances be someone, employed with temporal matters, get married, beget children, be honoured and esteemed – and one may fail to notice that in a deeper sense he lacks a self. Such things cause little stir in the world; for in the world a self is what one leasts asks after, and the thing it is more dangerous of all to show signs of having. The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.Kierkegaard, Søren (1849) The Sickness Unto Death
The scale at which we are able to operate today is sometimes too big for us to wrap our heads around. By its very nature, scale creates distance, and at distance human concepts start losing their meaning. A consumer is just that: an abstraction of a person who we hope will consume whatever we have to offer. We try to guess what this ‘consumer’ wants so that they will consume more of what we have. And if they do, we will keep track of lots of metrics so that we may better manage the process. And as our processes, metrics and scale continue to grow, we employ technology to help us operate at greater speed and scale. In other words, human beings, the end users of all this, become so far removed from the people who mean to serve them that they simply become just another metric to be managed. The more distance there is between or the more things we do that amplify the abstraction, the harder it becomes to see each other as human. It is not the abundance we need to manage or restrict, it is the abstraction.
We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, e-mail addresses and expenses to be tracked. Now more than ever, we are trying to work and live, be productive and happy, in a world in which we are strangers to those around us.Sinek, Simon (2014) Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
Morality is not properly the doctrine how we should make ourselves happy, but how we should become worthy of happiness. A man is worthy to possess a thing or state when his possession of it is in harmony with the summum bonum [the highest good].Kant, Immanuel (1909) Critique of Pure Practical Reason
What a strange idea, inspired by the wash-pot, that a jug of water washes away all crimes! Now that all children are baptized because a no less absurd idea assumes them all to be criminals, they are all saved until they reach the age of reason and can become guilty. So butcher them as quickly as possible to assure them paradise. This conclusion is so logical that there existed a devout sect who went about poisoning or killing all newly baptized infants.These devotees reasoned perfectly. They said: ‘We are doing these little innocents the greatest possible kindness; we are preventing them from being wicked and unhappy in this life, and we are giving them eternal life.’Voltaire (1778) Baptism
If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.
Bradbury, Ray (1953) Fahrenheit 451