upcoming conferences pt. 5
Psychedemia | August 12–14 |Title: “Acid Communism and Psychedelic Science in the Age of Digital Capitalism”
Abstract: This paper examines the concept of “acid communism,” which was proposed by the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, in the context of the psychedelic research revival. My argument is that the intersection of these developments opens up a unique critical viewpoint on digital capitalism.
At the outset, I explain that Fisher used the term “acid” primarily as a metaphor for psychological transformation. The idea of acid communism suggests that capitalism secures its dominance by affecting the psyche, and that any move towards a more just economic system demands a collective shift in feeling and thinking. As Fisher wrote, the 1960s counterculture offers inspiration for techniques to spark this change. These techniques may include but are not restricted to the use of psychoactive compounds. Here, I consider Fisher’s claim that the sixties counterculture posed such a serious threat to neoliberal economics that it might be considered the “real” target of neoliberal policies (as opposed to these policies’ official target, Soviet communism). As a corollary to this claim, he argued that neoliberalism sought to divest the counterculture of its more serious valences and to reframe it as politically ineffective. Today’s “acid communists,” he implied, need not ingest mind-altering substances. Instead, they would expose the deliberately obscured political potential of older psychedelic milieus.
I then state that, contra Fisher, some scholars see psychoactive drug use as essential to the acid communist project. I do not take either side, but suggest that the “acid” of acid communism accommodates both literal and metaphoric interpretation. My particular reading of acid communism identifies a link between theories of class consciousness and theories of non-ordinary states of consciousness. Although psychedelic inebriation certainly counts as non-ordinary, so too do all experiences which resist recording, measurement, and homogenization. This is the precise point at which acid communism interfaces with the emerging science of psychedelics. As I argue, psychedelic experience is irreconcilable with market capitalism because it cannot be translated into measurable formats and assigned standard financial value. Its resistance to standardization also problematizes its study within the confines of positivist science; in particular, it confounds today’s datafied approaches to empirical inquiry. It is notable, then, that current research is riven with debates about the epistemic import of these drugs’ more unusual effects, e.g. hallucinations, which tend to elude capture in digital formats. As I point out, these debates have implications for the commercial viability of psychedelics as pharmaceutical products.
Towards the conclusion, I suggest that all mental phenomena — not only psychedelic encounters — resist objective study and generalization. This is why the psy-sciences have long been censured by leftist political thinkers: per an established line of criticism, these disciplines do not promote mental health so much as they construct biased norms for it. Nevertheless, many contemporary political theorists draw on psy- frameworks to conceive the mind as a site of political conflict in the digital age. This literature includes Bernard Stiegler’s “psychopower,” Byung-Chul Han’s “psychopolitics,” and Yann Moulier Boutang’s “cognitive capitalism,” among others. I conclude by identifying affinities between acid communism, psychedelic science, and this body of scholarship, indicating avenues for future research.