Is it time to give up both Astrology and Pathology? A bi-polar gemini scorpio rising aries moon on “what subjectivity are we actually building here?”
I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to both Astrology and buzzwords like ‘ADHD’ and ‘neurodivergent’. I do not believe in either of them, but then I have no expectation for truth, so there is no need for belief. I do not need to believe in something to value it or to acknowledge it as a maschine. Astrology can be very interesting because it offers a new perspective on the world, which makes just enough sense on a day to day basis for it to take hold as an immersive cosmology. It’s a very well designed social-maschine, that people collectively engage with in order to feel as though they are making some sense of the chaos around them. This is ideal, there is no condescension here, if we sustain this Deleuzoguattarian viewpoint, all of art, philosophy and science exists as machines for making sense of chaos (chaoids), so Astrology actually seems quite profound: it is a combination of art, philosophy and science, a unionized chaotic triad, which is itself that which is pursued by Deleuze & Guattari in ‘What is Philosophy?’ and “A Thousand Plateaus”.
Unlike this, our current way of understanding the mind and the world around us has become out of balance in regard to these chaoids. Mental health is indicative of this, being a field that is entirely obsessed with certain interpretations and modes of investigation that quite plainly seem to miss a lot of very obvious information in their calculations. By focusing on only science, in the way that Western post-enlightenment rationalism demands, there is a tendency to miss important data that is right in front of your eyes; for that reason we have three chaoids, three yet unified methods, of which science is only one. As may seem obvious to us, you need more than laboratory data to understand mental health, and recreating mental health patterns within lab conditions is a flawed methodology from the offset. What Western science has learned about the brain is just one third of a possible interpretation, and while all of its investigations are valid and interesting, history has shown that refusal to contextualize the scientific with the artistic and philosophical has led to embarrassments.
Take for example the irresponsibility of the US pharmaceutical and medical industries around the time of the publication of the DSM3, where millions of people self-diagnosed themselves with various disorders based on checklists and went seeking pharmaceutical help, which they received. The SSRI market boomed at this time, as if the systematizing of mental health, and the depoliticisation of mental health opened up the perfect conditions for capitalism to market a whole new series of needs to each individualized consumer through the rising pharmaceutical industry. The DSM was not written to help companies sell products, but it was written using the logic of capitalism, with capitalism representing the absolute peak of post-Enlightenment thought. It is simply no surprise that a medical text written by people who wholly endorse capitalism from its logocentric roots all the way up to free market policy specifics, articulated a conceptualization of mental health that made marketing medicine incredibly systematic and easy. There is no conspiracy here, we are all doing this constantly, in our support of capitalism, in our endorsement of the sponsored modes of intellect and inquiry, all we do is facilitate the expansion of capital. Capitalism gave us mental health issues, then in its diagnoses of these health issues made everything much worse by both misinforming us of how to think about health, and selling us incredibly dangerous fixes for misdiagnosed illnesses. It’s a vicious cycle because we permanently damage ourselves through misdiagnoses, then we misdiagnose those permanent damages. It’s a banal inferno, nothing short of a vortex of fuck ups. A literal shit-storm.
The root of the issue in this was that the scientific and industrially supported modes of psychiatry and medicine refused to pay attention to context, and as we have said before, there were immense benefits for the flow of capital if medicine could be individualised, and that health could be entirely internalised within the subject. It begins to sound paranoid, but those interested in protecting the unrestricted flows of capital would not benefit in any way from a diagnoses of society’s detrimental mental health crisis that frames external influences as essential. The conclusion that working full-time in alienated, meaningless labour makes people sick, is not beneficial to anyone who holds capital, given that capital is premised entirely upon exploitation. Imagine how different the discussion of mental health would be if it included the diagnosis that being exploited is the cause of most mental health problems today.
Terms like ADHD and Bi-Polar are such peculiar things, because they are presented as an arbitrary bundling of various symptoms, and there is a lot of overlap, and a lot of fluctuation; some psychiatrists can diagnose one as the other, and the line between being “moody” or “hormonal” and having “bi-polar” are not clear. Our symptom-obsessed approach to mental health is akin to putting out fires without understanding the source, but the obsession with symptoms and not influences and causation is again found within the worldview that capitalism demands; as Derrida articulated, within the logocentric mind, that which is not physically there is marginalized over what is. It is not possible to turn the scientific process toward the question of capitalism and mental health, as it is a social matter, immaterial, and in flux, so there is no attempt.
So the scientific enquiry of mental health becomes stuck in a little box, self-contained, going around in circles, measuring the responses of a million brains but being entirely incapable of realizing that instead we should be measuring the external influences on the brain and viewing any internal signals as reflexes, ripples, resonances, resoundings. The sad part is that a lot of people know this instinctively, but there are absolutely no means of acting upon these instincts, again due to how control societies function within capitalism today; you can know that talking about ADHD is problematic in its perpetuation of symptom-obsessed and flawed medicinal frameworks but we perhaps lack the language or the culture of discussing mental health in an uncompromised way.
An example of how to conceive of mental health in an anti-capitalistic way is to attempt to use less systems of categorisation, and to pay more attention to the external and social dimensions, rather than the internal, individualized dimensions. Our mind is far from static, nothing in the universe is still, no matter, no electron, no moment, even the most dead territory of space is defined by unimaginably complex quantum fluctuations. Our universe is change, is instability, and the mind can attempt to encase itself in stability, and perhaps that is what consciousness/the mind has evolved to achieve, but any anti-capitalist critique must embrace process philosophy as the antidote to the orthodox and static logic that capitalism has gained dominion via. The mind is in flux, and there are things which determine those fluctuations, like the ocean we can imagine that some of the forces that move the sea are coming from within the sea itself, in its convulsions and movements, and its throwing of energy around, but the sea is also influence immensely by that which is around it, falling into it, pushing it, (electro)magnetizing, gravity. Ofcourse gravity affects the mind, they exist in the same fabric ultimately, there are routes from which the energy of one becomes the energy of the other. Like the filament that flickers inside a microphone, entirely submissive to the air pressure that passes over it, our minds are entirely submissive to the outside, and after many years of turbulence, the storm of the mind can self-perpetuate, but nonetheless the external influences were important, and remain important always.
What creeps into a lot of these discussions is a set of solutions which Western capitalism has proposed in the last decades, seemingly as a desperate attempt to reimagine individualized medicine in light of the failings of late 20th Century psychiatry. Nowadays the word today is meditation and yoga, natural living and therapy, Zen Buddhism has been entirely co-opted as the ideology of Neoliberalism, with a strong assertion that through dedicated practice, you can endure capitalism, and this is extremely popular today. Today, in our hopeless individualized and commoditized subjectivities (projectivities), the idea of fixing ourselves without needing to engage with anyone else seems ideal. We are hopelessly narcissistic, another symptom of capitalism and individualisation, and we are easily tempted towards individualised pathways: “it’s my time to focus on me” they say, as if they haven’t been entirely self-interested up until that point.
What is important to note is that anticapitalist critique need not focus on such questions of “does meditation work?” as this is again an invalid question when trying to disengage in rationalism. In order for meditation to work, it need have an intention or an agenda, a task so to speak, and depending on what that task is, as a practice it may succeed. This is not interesting at all. The only thing that is interesting or radical about the discussion of yoga or meditation or therapy is in regard to what it is fixing. If the task of therapy is to constantly reintegrate an individual into individualism, to reintegrate them into the workforce, then therapy is despicable. If therapy is to support traumatized people or perhaps to aid collective support of traumatized persons, then the question of should be doing it changes. In other words, and this will seem obvious, therapy is sometimes relevant, sometimes not, it has a potential role in the path to postcapitalism, but also has a role in the obstruction of that pathway. It seems obvious when said like this but there is a fanatical ignorance around this.
In response to a social media phenomenon in Cyprus, no, we do not “all need therapy”, not unless what you want is total pacified capitalist integration into precarity. Precarity is an important word to neoliberalism, as it has much to do with individualisation. In the social atomization of society under neoliberal capitalism, everyone has become uniquely privileged, and to put it crudely, uniquely fucked. Intersectionality is the attempt at opening the discussion of privilege in regard to this hyper-individualisation as no longer were people so unified by common enemies or common oppressive forces. In everyone’s tailor-made crises, the role of a therapist becomes even more important, as it is precisely the tool to prevent individualized crises from becoming collective crises. As said before, it is not a question of whether therapy can help you find balance, but it is extremely important to be critical of how society defines balance.
External influences are everywhere. While many critics use Erich Fromm or Karl Marx as a framework for critiquing the damage capitalism inflicts on us, using terms like alienation or consumerism to suggest how capitalism structurally and culturally makes us miserable. These are important starting points, as the way consumerism intensifies needs and desires can easily be understood as having detrimental effects on our neurotransmitter scene, and the mundane and alienated labor performed in spaces that are either banal or dangerous is the perfect environment for a temporal depressive fluctuation to consolidate into a permanent perpetual storm. Such things as individualisation and identity entrap our minds and prevent a health flow of energy, ideas, and electrons, and somewhere within our consciousness we carry that burden. Depressive thought patterns don’t emerge simply out of an individualistic disciplinary failure, our thoughts are actualized within the packaging of language which is compromised. Perhaps some internal blockages are self-inflicted, but some are penetrating from the outside, and those major interruptions are far more important to focus on in terms of mental health than the unbalanced fluctuations that such interruptions cause. Current neuroses are simply the consequence of capitalism entrapping people through identity, alienation, individualisation and the consequential competitiveness, commodification, and ubiquitous nihilism. These mental health issues are the tensions and turbulences that arise when the mind is shaken. Anecdotally, it can feel to us as though someone is trying to heal our wounds by studying the precise way the body responds to violence, while insisting the violence continue occurring.
However, in the current era of communicative capitalism, there are more pressing matters than just the abyssal sisyphean struggle. There are few better accounts (especially the accounts of Deleuze and Guattari) of the lobotomising and depressing effects of capitalism on mental health than Mark Fisher, who details these effects in a way that can make you really feel their presence. While avoiding any reactionary position on technology, Fisher’s discussion of communication technology shows how the way capitalism is putting pressure on us is intensifying out of control; any spike or rise in mental health problems since the 80s can be firmly attributed to email and smartphones.
Perhaps the most beloved image of this comes again from Fisher, with this idea of the electrolibidnal parasite. At once, Capitalism is a maschine for producing more capital, and it does so by behaving as a parasite that commands our nervous systems. Like an addict hitting gamble time and time again, our drive towards capital power is so indescribably neurotic that it could look like a form of possession or bewitchment. Like something taking hold of our nervous system and squeezing us in just the right place to make our fingers pull the level once more, or to sign a dubious contract once more. Through smartphones which command us to act within an inescapable workplace environment, our nervous system is hijacked, and we have little to no control over that. Again there are these temptations to discuss meditation as a way of taking back some control over your nervous system but this just descends into class politics. The members of the precariat who have no choice but to work a zero-hour contract cannot hope to achieve any emotional distance from their smartphone commander, their access to resources depends on the next phone call, and even if they could, in whose service would it be? Would the meditation be in service of the individual by giving them some relief from their suffering but offering no way out of it? It’s akin to decorating your prison cell, putting a sofa in there and a TV, rather than trying to break out. We can practice meditation until the day we die, but without aiming that meditation specifically at postcapitalism, it serves only the unrestricted flow of capital.
To conclude, it seems appropriate to finish with the remarks of Deleuze & Guattari, who wrote that if their notion of schizophrenia is the condition that marks the outer edges of Capitalism, then bi-polar is the condition of the interiority of capitalism, and one should simply expect a mind that is subjected to the bubble and depression bi-polarity of capitalism (as the social, cultural, ideological, metaphysical waters we swim within), which today feels almost binary in its intensity of polarization. There is work to be done, on ourselves, but that work mostly regards the missing social dimension of our being, and in developing our understanding of how we are largely at the mercy of uncontrollable currents, doing our best to survive the rapids.