Being different has become somewhat of a commonplace. Starting out with the proliferation of subcultures that seemingly oppose the capitalist machinery, to the internet warrior’s pride in being “woke”, it seems like standing out from the thicket of the cultural industry has a general appeal. And yet, it can’t be overlooked that this dominant mode of differentiation is in itself very unitary — as a negative delimitation against the monolithic “it”, by simply trying one’s best to be “not it”. But judging from the sleek manner in which said “it” has been capable of adjusting to these tendencies, integrating the subcultures just as well as providing the “woke” individuals with a plethora of conspiracy videos on YouTube, is it not rather the other way, namely that this segmentation itself is an inherent part of contemporary capitalist culture, with that dominant mode of differentiation being anything but a rebellious stance? In many cases one gets the impression that these ‘counter-cultural’ acts of differentiation are at times more like pressure valves, band-aids, and analgesics to keep the whole big show lumbering and sputtering forward.
It’s a bit of a cliche today to say that capitalism exists in a constant state of crisis, that it’s energized by its antagonisms, and just needs to funnel them. But even if a cliche, it is worth remembering as a sobering thought when one believes oneself to be holding the hammer of critique, or wearing the off-brand t-shirt of rebellion.
If we try to gather the elements of this dominant mode of differentiation, maybe we can attempt to sketch out possible alternatives. For example, a mode of differentiation that is not “corrective” could be understood in itself as a positive failing. As one of our authors argues, the brain as a self-referential computational structure might itself necessarily fail in creating perfect representation, with consciousness being but a result of such a failure. Another mode of differentiation might object to differentiating the individual from such a monolithic “it”, the Universal, instead postulating a different relation, the Kierkegaardian leap to the Absolute. Even if such an individuality will potentially oppose societal structures, it will not be defined by such a negativity. A third, seeing the failures of the negative mode of differentiation (that sees us needing to ‘solve’ the problem of our ‘fallen-ness’ with a return to a primordial authenticity), will focus not on the separating element of differentiation, but on its relational potentials in light of trends in the art world that commenced in the 1990’s. Last but not least, we might ask, if the supposed dichotomy between a radical materialism, which denies all internal experience, and a radical idealism, which is forced to even deny the existence of space, is not a false problem. Maybe if we just crook our necks and realize this dichotomy might just be an inherent antagonism in experience itself, we’ll see straight through the problem without doing much at all…