“A recipe for disaster”: the business of anxiety in times of pandemic

“A recipe for disaster”: the business of anxiety in times of pandemic

Il n’existe plus de sphère de l’existence contemporaine qui n’ait point fait l’objet d’une pénétration par le capital. […]

Tout étant devenu une source potentielle de capitalisation, le capital s’est fait monde, un fait hallucinatoire de dimensione planétaire, producteur, sur un échelle élargie, de sujets à la fois calculateurs, fictionnels et délirants.

Le capital s’étant fait chair, tout est devenu une fonction du capital, l’intériorité y compris.

Achille Mbembe, Brutalisme, La Découverte, Paris, 2020

I was reading an article on the New York Times about the huge increase in advertising for anti-stress, anti-depression, anti-anxiety products in the last months in the United States. No surprise, I guess: these times of pandemic, political turmoil and climate crisis are in no way calling for good moods and nice feelings.

Are those more affected by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic (loss of jobs and income, in the first place) the ones who are more likely to turn to the advertising industry and buy the (most of the times useless) placebos companies are trying to make money out of? I do not know, but that could add even more problems and pain.

We are talking about “plush-toy animals”, “elixirs and trinkets”, “gumdrops”, “capsules” and “meditation apps” (about the latter: seriously, a meditation app? If you need an app to remember to take some time for yourself or take a deep breath and focus on the present… the problem might be bigger than you think!).

Maybe some of these products can even temporarily relieve the symptoms that we are experiencing but none of them goes to the root of the problem: they are not meant to. These items are being sold to keep everyone’s going: situation is getting worse? Take this new pill, it’s all natural, it will help you cope!

But what we need is not something to help us cope with the mess we are going through: we need critical tools to understand why and how the system has driven us to this point where no exit seems available. “The privatisation of stress is a perfect capture system”, wrote Mark Fisher. And he went on: “capital makes the worker ill, and then multinational pharmaceutical companies sell them drugs to make them better. The social and political causation of distress is neatly sidestepped at the same time as discontent is individualised and interiorised.”

We do not need expensive placebos to feel better, we need to acknowledge our discontent, our anxiety, our depression and use them to question the system that brought us here.

We are not going to find the solutions to our wounded society on the market. The solutions need to and must be political: human-driven, not advertising-driven.

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