At a certain point, you have to lower your standards to get anything done. Lower them now so they can be higher later.

Byung-chul Han describes our achievement society as the next evolutionary step after Foucault’s disciplinary society. Occurring within neoliberal globalist capitalism and associated with sterilized digital aesthetics, the achievement society implants the disciplinary surveillance biopower into the subject as psychopower, so that they are compelled toward self-surveillance and self-exploitation. Han thinks this “society of performance” naturally selects for the suitable industrious class and eliminates the “depressives and misfits”.

The complaint of the depressive individual, ‘Nothing is possible,‘ can only occur in a society that thinks, ‘Nothing is impossible.’
—Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society

Those temperaments that can’t adapt to the achievement society inevitably become depressed or suffer burnout partly because they cease to, or cannot ever, derive a reward response that the susceptible or “normal” temperaments derive from the prospects in an achievement society.

In the same way, those physiologies that can’t adapt to modern ultra-processed food (or food-like products) and anti-biological living conditions will suffer illness both existentially and biologically (which comes first?) and the destruction of their intestinal barrier.

The extremely unpleasant response that such people receive from being subject to conditions so contrary to their nature coincides with alienation, disillusionment, nihilism, and burnout.

But the intolerance to the psycho-spiritual aspects of achievement society or the anti-biological aspects of industrial urban life, if enough resources are available as some luck or a God-given blessing, can be transmuted into redemptive fortune in some unexpected future.

Disillusionment can be the precursor to empowerment. Among the outliers that don’t perish, dissident individuals will arise. 

These dissidents survive by virtue of having become dissident. These are the true skeptics, rebels, revolutionaries (at the micro or macro level), and contrarians. To obey the achievement society and its disciplinarian neoliberal regime would surely destroy them. 

They realize what they are told to be suited for, they are not suited for and therefore have to reevaluate the conditions: first those conditions, and then all surrounding conditions! In career, diet, relationships, spirituality, aesthetics, altitude…

Ernst Jünger called such a person the forest rebel, and Byung-Chul Han talks of the sovereign idiot who disrupts the tyranny of sameness by “opposing the violence of consensus”:

The idiot is a modern-day heretic. Etymologically, heresy means ‘choice’. Thus, the heretic is one who commands free choice: the courage to deviate from orthodoxy… The idiot preserves the magic of the outsider. Today, in light of increasingly coercive conformism, it is more urgent than ever to heighten heretical consciousness.”
—Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power

This is not a conjecture, but a fact of history. We are simply dealing with mutations of past examples. An unprecedented technological structure has taken over the brains of human beings and we must look to the wisdom of the past to navigate this terrifying and exciting future.

The idiot does not exist as a subject – he is ‘more like a flower: an existence simply open to lightEvery philosopher who has brought forth a new idiom – a new language, a new way of thinking – has necessarily been an idiot. Only the idiot has access to the wholly Other.”
—Byung-Chul Han, Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power

Works Cited

Further reading

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