Bernard Stiegler has rightly observed that “we are now in the midst of a revolution in cultural and cognitive technologies, and in the very foundations of knowledge.” It is a revolution in which “intelligence must wage a battle for intelligence” against psychotechnological systems of psychopower which function as “attention control apparatuses” which destroy attention, and responsibility with it. One might reformulate Stiegler’s description of the revolution in contemporary cultural and cognitive technologies in Arendtian terms as “a battle for the life of the mind,” which would constitute a resistance against all forms of technological hegemony that seek to eliminate human spontaneity, as it is exhibited in the human capacities to think, will, and judge.
Stiegler has noted the similarity between psychopower and education. Education, according to Stiegler, is attention formation. As he explains, to “capture attention is to form it… and to form it is to capture it.” Attention formation has historically taken place through psychotechniques such as reading or writing. These psychotechniques form attention through “the play of retentions and protentions individually and collectively.” Here it is possible to map Arendt’s activities of the life of the mind onto Stiegler’s model of intelligence. Retention can be understood as judging, which is concerned with the past and relies on the retentive (hypomnesis) and productive (anamnesis) capacities of the imagination. Protention can be understood as willing, with its concern for future projects. Attention can be understood as thinking, the inner dialogue which interacts with the other activities. Stiegler explains how these capacities develop through the use of psychotechnics:
The formation of at-tention always consists of the psychotechnical accumulation of re-tentions and pro-tentions. Attention is the flow of consciousness, which is temporal and, as such, is created initially by what Husserl analyszes as “primary” retentions – “primary” because they consist of apparent (present) objects whose shapes I retain as though they were themselves present. This retention, called “primary” precisely because it occurs in perception, is then “conditioned” by “secondary” retentions, as the past of the attentive consciousness – as its “experience.” Linking certain primary retentions with secondary retentions, consciousness projects protentions, as anticipation. The constitution of attention results from the accumulation of both primary and secondary retentions, and the projection of protentions as anticipation.
Without the formation of attention (education), maturity from childhood to adulthood cannot take place. This is a central concern for Stiegler because he recognizes that this maturation process is a prerequisite for becoming responsible. However, this maturation process is under siege by attention control apparatuses, which are linked with an capitalist economy, that seek to create consumers rather than citizens. One of the primary indicators of this shift from citizens to consumers is the
transition from psychotechniques that facilitate knowledge and understanding to psychotechnologies that produce information. Stiegler seeks to maintain a crucial distinction between knowledge and information that is similar to Arendt’s distinction between reason and intellect:
Knowledge and understanding must be psychically assimilated and made one’s own (one’s own self), while information is merchandise made to be consumed – and is therefore disposable… Knowledge individuates and transforms the learner, interiorizing the history of individual and collective transformations; this history is knowledge. The information diffused by the programming industries disindividuates its consumer.
What is ultimately at stake in the disindividuation of consumers is the destruction of attention, which for Stiegler is the ability to care – to be responsible. Stiegler incessantly pleads for a “new responsibility”:
…in the face of the care-less-ness of generalized irresponsibility, a new responsibility of public power arises, first and foremost instilling and protecting attention in children and adolescents, but inscribed within the broader challenge of reconstituting systems of care in civil and civilized societies in which political systems can potentially save democracy by reinventing it through organological evolutions and psychotechnologies themselves. Such a struggle could be based only on our having no further doubts about the program’s first priority: the battle for intelligence.
The battle for intelligence is a struggle to preserve the life of the mind against psychotechnological systems of power that seek to capture and control attention, and eventually eliminate it completely. These psychotechnologies create care-less consumers (Arendt’s thoughtless individual) that know how to purchase products, but not care-full citizens (Arendt’s Selbstdenken) who know how to live responsibly.
New epochs demand new ethics to ensure the preservation of human being; that is, an ethics of resistance that safeguards against human superfluity. Hans Jonas, who emphasized the ethical imperative of responsibility for future generations of human beings, once reformulated Kant’s categorical imperative to address the threat of the coming technological age. His formulation is worth reconsidering: “Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life; or expressed negatively: Act so that the effects of your action are not destructive for the future possibility of such life.” This imperative could be reformulated in Arendtian terms as “Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of the life of the mind; or expressed negatively: Act so that the effects of your action are not destructive to the human capacity for thinking, willing, and judging.”