|Le mépris - Contempt - By Bernard Stiegler|
The European Union and its Commission once again faced the affront of a wholehearted rejection in the recent elections. This time more disastrous than ever, as if the “construction of Europe” that it claims to embody, can only lead to the destruction of democratic life, and produce bitterness and distrust among Europeans concerning what they recognise not as Europe but, on the contrary, as the organisation of its disrepute, both at home and abroad.
Following the collapse of Fordian consumerism witnessed during the crisis of 2008, it is clear that we are, more than ever, in urgent need of European cooperation, in particular with America and Asia, to invent a new industrial model capable of overcoming the genuinely catastrophic situation into which the whole of humanity has been plunged by what can only be referred to as a reign of systemic stupidity. This new industrial model must give rise to a new lifestyle, a new culture.
The systemic stupidity that this new culture must now combat was born of and dominated by the hegemony of marketing of which the so-called cultural industries were the secular arm: obeying only the imperatives of consumerism, they slowly but surely destroyed culture – and in doing so they systemised the reign of stupidity by clouding minds and discrediting the institutions responsible for their growth. In this context, what we have called the “democratisation of culture” since the time of Malraux has been overturned and broken down into cultural consumerism.
If the consumerist model was founded on the functional opposition of producers and consumers, the model is dead and cultural consumerism with it. With the fall of Fordism and the major metal industries which adopted it and dominated the 20th century, the cultural industries which gave culture the role of organising consumption – destroying the public and transforming it into audiences – have also fallen. It is sad that Michel Piccoli, whose despised character so very clearly embodies this question in Le Mépris, was so little aware of it – he, Juliette Greco and others who have fully – not to say artfully – taken advantage of this system.
For the past four years, Ars Industrialis has asserted that this model, which has given rise to so much contempt, is no longer tenable and that a different organisation of the industrial economy is possible: what we call the economy of contribution, based on the characteristics of digital technology networks where the functional pairing of production and consumption is no longer pertinent. The contributor, who is neither a consumer nor a producer, implements cognitive and cultural technologies, which together form technologies of the mind.
Clearly, there is a new social environment, which is increasingly pervaded by these technologies, and currently gives rise to the appearance and proliferation of ultra-consumerist models, addictive and highly mimetic. Marketing organises these models in a highly systematic manner, and the unprecedented potential of which it uses to control individual behaviour and manipulate groups. In other words, digital networks together with the cultural technologies and social practices that develop within them provide radically alternative possibilities:
* One possibility facilitates the development of economic and industrial relations based on personal and collective investment, shared intelligence and the creation of new spaces and critical times supported by an industrial policy of technologies of the mind which should first and foremost be a cultural policy, bringing together artists, writers, thinkers and scientists.
* The other possibility aims to nip in the bud the unprecedented potential for a new age of a life of the mind offered by cultural technologies, and to increase the power of behavioural control, of the instrumentalisation of artists, writers, thinkers and scientists and of the ultra-consumerism of culture, exacerbating systemic stupidity in the process – despite the economic catastrophe that this inflicted on the world in 2008.
It is clear that the European Union has not opted for the first possibility, even if there is nothing to prove that it has adopted the second: the Union is a complex organism which is often affected by conflicts. However, it is certain that its lack of clarity in this field as in so many others has contributed to its electoral failure. For in Europe and throughout the world, everyone now knows, either intuitively or after due consideration, that unless we witness a burst of collective intelligence, the future of the entire world is compromised, at least in the short term. Everyone expects Europe to finally play the role that its economic and cultural power demands.
The question of the alternative provided by digitisation has never been asked by what is referred to as the industry of knowledge, the society of wisdom, the battle of intelligence and creative economy: so much discourse which seems more interested in invoking the reality of “cognitive” or “cultural capitalism”, but which, at present is producing the exact opposite of knowledge, wisdom and creation, rather than putting an end to the reign of stupidity, this discourse is very often a direct contribution.
And not once has the question of this alternative been considered in the context of the European year of creativity and innovation 2009 as designated by the President of the European Commission. What does “creativity” mean here? There can be no doubt that, used in conjunction with the word “innovation”, it refers to the concepts of creative economy and creative class put forward by John Hawkins and Richard Florida in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The theories of Florida and Hawkins emerge against a backdrop of a managerial theory of creativity which itself is a version of the theory of innovation. Its particularity lies in its suggestion that the source of innovation is the creativity of individuals.
The entire theory of innovation was established in a consumerist framework. Nevertheless, while it was giving rise to the concept of the creative economy, new practices were developing which no longer corresponded to this consumerist model founded on the increased social connectivity of the individual, but which corresponded to a model based on contribution which highlights the individual in a collaborative model, an intrinsically social model – with what have become such well-known examples as Wikipedia, the open source world and the model of creative commons constituting the real subject of what we will call not the creative economy but the contributory society.
The total lack of vision and understanding of these objectives is one of the many factors of the failure of the European Union. It will only really exist, meaning it will only succeed in uniting its constituent countries and populations, when it proves that it has a vision of the future. This “year of creativity and innovation” should have been devoted to orienting the ongoing digitisation process, which affects every aspect of psychological and social life, towards a new industrial policy placing culture and the mind at the heart of its concerns, such as the contributory economy, against consumerism and more importantly against cultural consumerism with a view to inventing a new industrial age founded on the economy of a value more precious than any other: intelligence in the 18th century sense of the word whereby it forms the cornerstone of sociability in every form, both sensorial and intellectual.
But none of this has come to pass. And that is why the European cultural landscape will be no more mobilised than the peoples of the Union themselves in the democratic undertaking offered them. And yet, it is never too late. That is why we call on artists, writers, thinkers and scientists from throughout Europe to take action by meeting in Brussels before the end of the year to demand that culture be placed at the heart of the European Union’s project for the future and in the service of a renaissance of industrial society – of which the Europe of the Enlightenment was the historic cradle.