No Future

There is, in other words, no future to realize except to accede to the exigencies that are already written into the ruling capitalist system. The point of critique is not promissory, not futural, but wholly immanent.

[…] There is no deeper or more authentic satisfaction that will overcome the antagonisms of society or the failures of subjectivity, despite what anticapitalist revolutionaries have traditionally promised. We do not need the belief in a future replete with a deeper satisfaction in order to reject capitalism, if that is what we decide to do.

The alternative to capitalism inheres within capitalism, and the revolutionary act is one of recognizing capitalism’s internal and present future. […]

Capitalism functions as effectively as it does because it provides satisfaction for its subjects while at the same time hiding the awareness of this satisfaction from them. If we recognized that we obtained satisfaction from the failure to obtain the perfect commodity rather than from a wholly successful purchase, we would be freed from the psychic appeal of capitalism. That is not to say that we would never buy another commodity, but just that we would do so without a psychic investment in the promise of the commodity, which is already, in some sense, a revolution. (13-14)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Costs of Free Markets



Against Revolutionary Hope

This is the problem with the insistence on revolutionary hope: it partakes of the logic that it tires to contest. Revolutionary hope represents an investment in the structure of the promise that defines capitalism. As a result, it is never as revolutionary as it believes itself to be. Though obviously the act of promising precedes the onset of a capitalist economy, once this economy emerges, the promise enters completely into the capitalist logic. To take solace in the promise of tomorrow is to accept the sense of dissatisfaction that capitalism sells more vehemently than it sells any commodity. As long as one remains invested in the promise as such, one has already succumbed to the fundamental logic of capitalism.

[…] As long as radical politics operates with the belief that revolution will remove some of the prevailing repression, it accepts the ruling idea of capitalism and buys into the fundamental capitalist fantasy. No revolution can transform dissatisfaction into satisfaction, but this is how revolution has been conceived throughout the entirety of the capitalist epoch. The revolutionary act has to be thought differently. The revolutionary act is simply the recognition that capitalism already produces the satisfaction that it promises. (12-13)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Costs of Free Markets


Capitalism has the effect of sustaining subjects in a constant state of desire. As subjects of capitalism, we are constantly on the edge of having our desire realized, but never reach the point of realization. This has the effect of producing a satisfaction that we don’t recognize as such. That is, capitalist subjects experience satisfaction itself as dissatisfying, which enables them to simultaneously enjoy themselves and believe wholeheartedly that a more complete satisfaction exists just around the corner, embodied in the newest commodity.

[…] The problem, I contend, is not that capitalism fails to satisfy but that it doesn’t enable its subjects to recognize where their own satisfaction lies. The capitalist regime produces subjects who cling feverishly to the image of their own dissatisfaction and thus to the promise, constantly made explicit in capitalist society, of a way to escape this dissatisfaction through either the accumulation of capital or the acquisition of the commodity. (11)

Todd McGowan | Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Costs of Free Markets

Animal Multitasking

The attitude toward time and environment known as “multitasking” does not represent civilizational progress. Human beings in the late-modern society of work and information are not the only ones capable of multitasking. Rather, such an aptitude amounts to regression. Multitasking is commonplace among wild animals. It is an attentive technique indispensable for survival in the wilderness.

An animal busy with eating must also attend to other tasks. For example, it must hold rivals away from its prey. It must constantly be on the lookout, lest it be eaten while eating. At the same time, it must guard its young and keep an eye on its sexual partner. In the wild, the animal is forced to divide its attention between various activities. That is why animals are incapable of contemplative immersion — either they are eating or they are copulating. The animal cannot immerse itself contemplatively in what it is facing because it must also process background events. Not just multitasking but also activities such as video games produce a broad but flat mode of attention, which is similar to the vigilance of a wild animal. Recent social developments and the structural change of wakefulness are bringing human society deeper and deeper into the wilderness. For example, bullying has achieved pandemic dimensions. Concern for the good life, which also includes life as a member of the community, is yielding more and more to the simple concern for survival. (12-13)

Byung-Chul Han | The Burnout Society

Compulsive Freedom

The achievement-subject stands free from any external instance of domination forcing it to work, much less exploiting it. It is lord and master of itself. Thus, it is subject to no one — or, as the case may be, only to itself. It differs from the obedience-subject on this score. However, the disappearance of domination does not entail freedom. Instead, it makes freedom and constraint coincide. Thus, the achievement-subject gives itself over to compulsive freedom — that is, to the free constraint of maximizing achievement. Excess work and performance escalate into auto-exploitation. This is more efficient than allo-exploitation, for the feeling of freedom attends it. The exploiter is simultaneously the exploited. Perpetrator and victim can no longer be distinguished. Such self-referentiality produces a paradoxical freedom that abruptly switches over into violence because of the compulsive structures dwelling within it. The psychic indispositions of achievement society are pathological manifestations of such a paradoxical freedom. (11)

Byung-Chul Han | The Burnout Society