Devotional Objects of the Neoliberal Regime

From Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld, by Byung-Chul Han, 23-25:

Non-things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld“It is not we who use the smartphone; the smartphone uses us. The real actor is the smartphone. We are at the mercy of this digital informant, beneath the surface of which various actors steer and distract us.

The emancipatory aspects of the smartphone are not all there is to it. There is no fundamental difference between being reachable at all times and being enslaved. The smartphone is a mobile labour camp in which we voluntarily intern ourselves. The smartphone is also a pornophone: we voluntarily expose ourselves. The smartphone functions like a mobile confessional box. It is the continuation of the “sacral rule of the confessional box” on another form.

Every form of rule has its own devotional objects. The theologian Ernst Troeltsch speaks of “devotional objects that fascinate the imagination of the people.” These objects stabilize rule by making it habitual and anchoring it in the body. In German, devot also means submissive. Smartphones have established themselves as the devotional objects of the neoliberal regime. As apparatuses that serve the purpose of submission, they resemble the rosary, which is just as mobile and handy. The like is the digital amen. By clicking on the like button, we submit ourselves to the context of rule.

Platforms like Facebook or Google are our new feudal lords. We tirelessly work their land and produce the valuable data that they exploit. We feel free, although we are completely exploited and controlled. In a system that exploits freedom, there is no resistance. Once it coincides with freedom, rule becomes total….

The communist system that represses freedom differs fundamentally from the neoliberal surveillance capitalism that exploits freedom. We are too intoxicated by our digital drugs, by communication, to raise the voice of resistance and cry “No more!”…

The neoliberal regime is itself smart. Smart power does not operate through orders or prohibitions. It does not make us docile; it makes us dependent and addicted. Instead of breaking our wills, it serves our needs. It wants to be liked. It is permissive rather than repressive. It does not condemn us to silence. Rather, we are constantly asked to share our opinions, preferences, needs and desires – even to tell the stories of our lives. Smart power conceals its intention to rule by coming across as friendly, smart. The subject is not even aware of its submission. It believes that it is free. Capitalism culminates in the capitalism of the like. Because it is permissive, it need not fear resistance or revolution.

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