depresive hedonia

I have a pretty decent idea of what kind of grumpy old man I’ll become, should I live that long. Like some kind of postmodern atheist puritan, I’ll start to becme vocally opposed to Fun. Or opposed to short-term pleasure, at least — opposed to the capitalist agenda of momentary hedonism.

This kind of addictively shallow pleasure-seeking is closely linked to the constant availability of short-term stimulus. Here’s how K-Punk describes it in Capitalist Realism:

“Many of the teenage students I encoutnered seemed to be in a state of what I would call depressive hedonia. Depression is usually characterized as a state of anhedonia, but the condition I’m referring to is constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as it is by an inability to do anything else _except_ pursue pleasure. There is a sense that ‘something is missing’ — but no appreciation that this mysterious, missing enjoyment can only be accessed _beyond_ the pleasure principle”

This is a general social trend, but massively exacerbated by instantaneous new media and mobile communication, and in particular by the commercial interests built around them. In a world of constant, instant news, the economy of attention is built around addiction.

It’s barely a stretch to claim that this is taking its place alongside the better-known socio-cultural distortions which have shaped the world up to now. Planned obsolescence, advertising-fuelled inflation of gigantist consumerist desires — these continue, but news-addiction takes its place alongside them as a market distortion of desire.

It’s a particular problem when combined with ‘walled gardens’, which give one corporation control over the mechanisms of communication, and power to unilaterally change the terms of conversation. We need some kind of ‘escape gardening’, a set of technical innovations and social practices which would let us engage with communities in such closed platforms, while building ways to guide people out of them into the open web, or into interpersonal relationships not mediated by blinkenlights.

Addiction-seeking mechanisms and walled gardens can exist independently, of course, but the latter provides a strong commercial incentive to generate the former.

There are ways out of this situation. But they all require consciously stepping off the hedonic treadmill, and accepting stress and misery on the path towards doing something. There’s no shortage of models for this. Any number of classical philsophical schools, many religious teachings. Walden, and other forms of intentional simplicity. Romanticism, emphasising the intensity of feeling over its quantity or pleasantness. The Aesthetic movement, and the idea of the Lebenskunstler.

But to reach them we need, not necessarily a deceleration, but a willingness to exist in the absence of stimulation.

As you may guess, much of this post comes from my personal frustration at a work-style which requires me to be constantly plugged in, but which hasn’t yet helped me achieve any human closeness or intensity of feeling

tw :yes

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