The philosophy school of Épineuil
in the context of post-consumerism and post-globalization
The entire planet is now witnessing an economic, political, moral and spiritual crisis of unprecedented historical magnitude. Three years after the sub-prime collapse and the destructive process which it unleashed, it has become clear that the consumerist industrial model has reached its end.
Founded on the functional opposition between producers and consumers, this model was established at the beginning of the 20th century in the United States, inspired by an entrepreneur, Henry Ford, an economist, Joseph Schumpeter, and by Edward Bernays, the inventor of public relations, the principles of which would later constitute the basis of marketing.
After the Second World War, the consumerist model was extended to Western Europe―notably through the Marshall Plan. And it was finally imposed upon the entire world in the last three decades―as what has been called globalization. But at the beginning of the 21st century, it has encountered its limits.
Another industrial society, however, has been put in place since the internet network has become accessible to everyone (1992). In this new form of society, that we call reticular society, and which we think establishes a new industrial model, the role of positive externalities (that is, of social activities productive of non-monetarized economic values) becomes more and more important on the economic plane as well as in the reconfiguration of social and political relations.
Thus emerges an economy of contribution―for which the economy of free software is both paradigm and precursor. Founded on digital networks and the TCP-IP protocol, the practice of which has been planetarized for at least twenty years with the technology of the world wide web, this reticular society constitutes in fact a relational space where producers are no longer on one side and consumers on the other side―instead, all actors have become contributors.
In reticular society, where the relation becomes crucial, and which is dominated by relational technologies―of which “social networks” are the most visible illustration, if not the most significant―distributed servers take the place of transmitters, central telephone exchanges, and central buying offices, while “smart grids” are in the process of making power stations obsolete.
The post-consumerist economy of contribution emerging in reticular society also opens the era of post-globalization. Post-globalization is not the end of the process of the planetarization of economic, political, scientific, technological, cultural and social relations: it is on the contrary the beginning of a new era of planetarization, founded on the reticular reconstitution of localities and territories, that is, on their being networked through relational technologies.
Because unlike the Hertzian networks founded on transmitters and frequencies monopolized by the program industries (radio and television), which short-circuit the life of territories, digital networks, aggregated on servers, and connected to proteiform personal terminals (computers, mobile telephones, smartphones, tablets, etc.), are territorialized, and enable the reconstitution of a territorial sociability opening across distances. As such they offer local and regional collectivities entirely unprecedented opportunities for economic and social developments.
It is in this context that for two years, Ars Industrialis has in France engaged in local and regional initiatives (with Nantes Métropole, the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and the Ile-de-France region) taking advantage of possibilities for re-territorialization opened by digital technologies.
Digital technologies, like all technologies are poisons as much as remedies. It is thus that the pathology of attentional deficit (attention deficit disorder) is often aggravated by digital technologies when these are socialized exclusively according to marketing models―which seize hold of the potentialities of reticular society without waiting for authorization from public powers. It is thus that digital natives, that is, the generations born after the appearance of the web, often seem more to be hyper-consumerist rather than actors in a new industrial model founded on contribution.
This state of affairs raises what Ars Industrialis, taking up Plato’s statements about writing, calls the “pharmacological” character of technologies. In Greek antiquity, in the epoch of Pericles, Socrates and Sophocles, that is, in the 5th century B.C., writing―which in the 7th century made profane law both possible and accessible to all, that is, made possible the Greek city and citizenship―becomes, in the hands of the Sophists, a means of manipulating public opinion. Writing is at once a remedy and a poison: a “pharmakon.”
In the same way, information and communication technologies―whether analogue or digital―must be called “pharmacological.” They pose as such a problem of relational ecology, which constitutes the stakes of digital cultural and cognitive technologies insofar they can be understood equally as technologies of spirit at the service of a new form of civilization or as technologies of behavioural control through traceability, of the destructive harnessing of attention, and, finally, of the spread of herdish behaviour.
With digitalization, the impact of relational technologies on individual minds as well as on collectivities tends to become hegemonic. This is so true that the educational system formed jointly by the familial and scholastic institutions finds itself profoundly destabilized and threatened. Democracy itself, resting on an educational foundation, suffers gravely as a result of these mutations.
This situation is essentially tied to the inability of the economic and political spheres to think the new world emerging from the ruins of the preceding one. Or more precisely, it results from the resistance that the old model brings in opposing the transformation underway―because it is clear that many revenue streams are threatened by the decline of consumerism and of the epoch of globalization which resulted from the planetarization of the American way of life.
Now, if it is at present widely acknowledged that the 21st century faces extreme threats involving the human species as a result of a combination of factors such as demography, physical and mental toxicity, the depletion of traditional energy sources, the air, water, cultivable land, etc., then these immense ecological questions will find no response without the implementation of a well-founded ecology of the spirit and a relational ecology―which reconstitutes a political project founded on the re-discovered responsibility of each person, and of each in their place.
Such questions, necessitating the elaboration of a new political economy, can only be confronted if new and original models are developed at the territorial level, based on the reflective appropriation of relational technologies and of reticular society by local actors, and not based on the sterilizing replication of “best practice” recommended by a “benchmarking” which always consists in more or less adapting individual and collective behaviour to the prescriptions of marketing.
There remains no possibility of isolating oneself from the becoming induced by the spread of digital technologies, and the only way of struggling against the toxic effects of these recent developments of industrial society is to rethink the economic and political future in totality in relation to the specificities of this new remedy that is the digital “pharmakon,” and in struggling against its poisonous aspects.
The project of the school of Épineuil is to contribute to this reflection at a regional or territorial level, in direct relation to the life of the inhabitants of the region, but also by opening this region at the same time to very high-quality relations with researchers coming from all continents, and to questions are proper to our time, but which find their first formulation in the Greek epoch in philosophy, questions which, when faced with the challenges of the 21st century, cannot be ignored.
The crisis provoked by the pharmakon of writing when the Sophists seized hold of it is also that of the desire of the citizens of Greece. And given that the consumerism conceived in the United States was based on an organization and exploitation of desire that it is a matter of diverting toward commodities by the means of the culture industries―which is thought by Bernays, who happens also to be Freud’s nephew, as the American way of life, but which leads at the end of the 20th century to the destruction of what Freud himself described as a “libidinal economy”―then in Greece as in the contemporary world, it is the relation between the pharmakon and desire that is at stake.
Everyone knows that Socrates defined philosophy as the love of knowledge, that is, as desire. And everyone knows as well, however, that knowledge is only the fruit of logos, that is, of thinking, and is so to the degree that it contains its passions―that is, the sublime. In Plato, the process of this sublimation passes through the question “ti esti?,” which means, “what is?”
This is the question of what is the essence of a being, and it provides the foundation for what will become the ontology of Aristotle. Now, insofar as it constitutes a definition and as such an indexation, ontology is a question which is posed in our time in the new terms of contributive digital networks, insofar as they essentially consist in producing what one has since the 1990s called metadata, the basis of both the semantic web and the social web.
The school of Épineuil will study these question in their totality with high school students of the region as well as with international researchers from around the world and with the inhabitants of the Centre region. In order to do so, it will implement concepts emerging from the work of Ars Industrialis and Bernard Stiegler, and in particular, the concepts of general organology, grammatization and pharmacology.
It is thus a matter of promoting an intrinsically interdisciplinary contributive research, linking the academic world to the everyday world (and not only to the economic world). The school of Épineuil will thus be open to researchers from numerous disciplines as well as to the wider public.
This laboratory of contributive research on territorialized reticular society will supply regional reflections on economic and social development in the context of the new industrial model being implemented, but also form and secure the loyalty of young researchers emerging from the region, and creating around them new types of social networks.
Collaborations with Nantes Métropole (in the framework of Quartier de la création and its research centre, to which Ars Industrialis has been assigned) and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region (in the framework of the Mineurs du Monde programme, to which Ars Industrialis has also been assigned) could reach fruition as the project develops.
Finally, through its seminar, the school will bring these questions to the academic world and to the international level with the goal of conducting an interdisciplinary doctoral programme.