Law in the Internet Society
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-- By CalebMonaghan - 22 Oct 2021 Outline Law in the Internet Society First Draft Paper #1

*Surveillance Capitalism: A Lacanian Perspective *

The internet plays a central role in our lives. Yet, despite the innumerable benefits it has brought to human civilization, many recent developments are cause for concern. This paper explores the internet through the lens of French psychologist Jaques Lacan to show the potential for manipulation and to explore the possibility of maintaining freedom. Lacan’s most meaningful contribution is commonly referred to as “The Mirror Stage.” The Mirror Stage refers to the child’s realization that it is itself, that the image in the mirror represents it. This stage, Lacan claims, is alienating, for the Subject self now has an objective form. From this point forward, the subjective self begins to attach signifiers to its objective form: boy, in first grade, etc. Yet these signifiers can never give us anything close to a complete understanding of the Subject. As a Freudian, Lacan believes the “I” is necessarily hidden by conscious thought about itself. (Lacan, Lionel Bailly)

Lacan was deeply inspired by the work of the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. The latter believed that language was composed of Signs, which, in turn, were composed of signifers (words) and signifieds (meanings). Building from the (perhaps erroneous) assumption that language differentiated us from other creatures, Lacan believed that studying the structure of language could reveal the structure of the human unconscious. (Id.)

Following the Mirror Stage, the subject comes into being by means of its relationship with otherness. The Lacanian “other” has multiple meanings. The “other” comes from the Mirror Stage; it refers to the projection and identification of the ego. The “Other,” by contrast, refers to that which predates the birth of the Subject (language, law, and society); it is beyond the realm of identification and consists, by contrast, of the unconscious organization of human society. These hidden structures control much of our unconscious action. We, according to Lacan, attach Signifiers to our objective self, while the Subject is subsumed by Signifieds. A student of Freud, Lacan believed the Subject surrounds itself with Signifieds in order to protect itself and, as a result, much of our speech has a secondary meaning. (Id.)

The parasite with the mind of God functions as the capital-O Other. The entire world is connected through it and we interact with it from the moment we are born until we breathe our last breaths. The internet is not a thing or a space. Rather, the internet is “the name of a new social condition,” it is a way people organize themselves. In much the same way as language, the law, and society predate the birth of the subject, so too does the internet following the close of the 20th century. The ubiquity of this new sociological condition makes sense when considered in Lacanian terms. The internet, in very general terms, is composed of software. Software, in turn, is language. Language, as was previously mentioned, reflects the structure of the human unconsciousness. Thus, from a Lacanian perspective, the new social condition known as the “internet” is a reflection of the human unconscious.

As a manifestation of the Other, the internet must be a source of both expressed Signifiers and repressed Signifieds. The anatomy of the internet suggests that the services we consume function as Signifiers while the data these services provide to technocratic oligarchs function as Signifieds. These conclusions are even more concerning when considered in relation to other portions of Saussure’s linguistic paradigm.

Saussure is known as the father of structural linguistics. He believed that words could only be understood in terms of their relation to other words. These comparisons could be done across time, which he referred to as its “Synchronic” meaning, and among all other words at a given point in time, which he referred to as its “Diachronic” meaning. A word means what it means because it is not another word. In both modes of interpretation, the key features of the Sign are both its immutability and mutability. A sign can change across time but this change cannot be affected by any one person.

The Signs of the internet-Other adhere closely to this framework with one important exception: the Signs appear much more mutable than is the case with language. Whereas no one person can unilaterally alter the meaning of a word, the same does not hold true for any of the internet services we consume. Our unconscious is, in short, readily affected and thus would seem to be controlled by those who control the services we consume.

We can perhaps take some comfort by the fact that the market and regulation both provide some measure of protection against the utter destruction of personhood. Yet, even though our relationship with this Other is not as injurious as that seen in the People’s Republic of China, we should not place our trust in the malevolence of the masters of machines. Rather, the Lacanian perspective counsels for a deep psychoanalysis of our condition on a societal level. Fortunately, the mutability of the internet’s Signs seems to indicate a new relationship can be achieved and thus a restructuring of our relationship with the internet-Other is possible.

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r1 - 22 Oct 2021 - 20:48:51 - CalebMonaghan
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