A Society of Depression Through the Loss of Self | Alienation, Sadness, and Creativity
with the help of Alain Ehrenberg, Byung-Chul Han, and Mark Fisher
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Okay, one more thing….I’m wondering how many of you would be interested in some more fiction writing? I’m in the beginning stages of writing a novel and I’m thinking about placing it in a section of my Letter. However, I also do not want to bombard my readers’ inboxes!
But enough of that….
So, this is an expanded essay from what I wrote on Medium…including a bonus section, enjoy!
“The depressed individual is unable to measure up; he is tired of having to become himself.” — Alain Ehrenberg
“As its flipside, the society of achievement and activeness is generating excessive exhaustion. These psychic conditions characterized a world that is poor in negativity and in turn dominated by excess positivity… tiredness of this kind proves violent because it destroys all that is common or shared, all proximity, and even language itself.” — Byung-Chul Han
“My (so far successful) escape from depression coincided with a certain externalization of negativity: the problem wasn’t (just) me but the culture around me… Capital demands that we always look busy, even if there’s no work to do. If neoliberalism’s magical voluntarism is to be believed, there are always opportunities to be chased or created; any time not spent hustling and hassling is time wasted…the whole city is forced into a gigantic simulation of activity, a fanaticism of productivity in which nothing much is actually produced, an economy made out of hot air and bland delirium.” — Mark Fisher
We live in a society that forces us to become a commodity of the self. Do you have a hobby? We look to profit off of it. I’m doing it as I write these words! (This is not lost on me)
Gain a social media following? Those following begin having an expectation that your online persona must meet. Your identity begins mirroring what is reflected back at you.
Is your ‘self’ feeling sad? We have a product for that and it’s on you to solve your sadness.
We struggle to articulate our pain because we live in a society that wishes for us to distract ourselves from the origin of the pain. ‘Buy more stuff’ and ‘distract yourself with a hobby’ — and hope the pain goes away! When we cannot articulate or express our pain, in a way that we find meaningful, we come face to face with our own cosmic horror.
So, when we are unable to articulate our pain, we are told to simply work harder! Distract yourself from those thoughts! Grind away until you die!
Thus, we see social burnout all around us. Make content? You better be recording, making a video, writing that poem, making that essay, creating that painting, and so on. Express! Express! Express!
The expression quickly turns into a means of distraction!
And with your expression, you must commodity, and then identify yourself with the commodification.
Perform yourself for the world to see! And that structure in place performs a decoding of our desire, and upon the decoding, wishes to consume it, and not allow that desire to truly be free. So, the hierarchy and authority structures repress our desires — our creativity. Then your desire is always subject to one form of power or another.
The structures in place push our desires towards creating a cohesive sense of self and then exploiting that self. And depression then begins occurring because of a loss of function of the self, where we are unable to find ourselves inside of the social structures. To put this another way, using the concept of the Other by Lacan, we are unable to place ourselves within the Big Other.
Why do we not want to talk about the alienating process of finding your individuality?
However, depression is not the fault of the depressed, as the ego is simply trying to account for the loss it feels — it’s loss of relation to the gap between the external and internal. So, maybe part of the process towards depression is us being unable to place our sense of self within the world.
But should we put this blame on the individual, or should we be looking at the social structures of society that we find ourselves placed in? I know my answer. What’s yours?