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Narcissist's Dilemma

In 2018, Bartlett graduate, Christine Wurth speculates a near future where haptic communication device, Neotouch becomes a standard communication tool that allows people to touch each other at any distance. This design fiction posed a critical question on future ethics concerning pervasive issue such as the loss of privacy when a device like Neotouch is brought to life. Like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and Dave Eggers’ The Circle, this paranoia was developed based on the current societal obsession on mobile technology, wearable technology, internet and social media in which Byung Chul Han termed as the neoliberal psychopolitics technology (Han, 2016). Therefore, the paper hypothesised that Neotouch is another embodiment of neoliberal technology that will make thinking future ethics to be an undeniable conundrum as neoliberalism has the power to redefined ethics as an entity relative to self-interest. Therefore, I will discuss how neoliber-

alism changes the notion of ethics then argue on the reasons why thinking future ethics in the context of Neotouch; neoliberalism dominated reality is a narcissist’s dilemma in this paper.

The Dogma of Ethics

Firstly, what is ethics? In Glanville’s, A ship without a rudder suggested that goals are determined by a network of different objectives in light of the symbiotic relationship between man and the machine (Glanville, 1997). However, I argue that he/she behind the steer is not only an individual with his/her conscious mind but many that involved in fabricating his/her mind. This is because Peter L Berger theorised that our reality is socially constructed through socialisation apart from nature itself (Berger,1991). Therefore, it is not only the system that is the sum of all goals but the mind of “his/her” also embodied a set of constructed objectives by the others. The constructed objectives are also known as the total goals that allowed him/her to activate the system while the system. is the embodiment of the creators’ minds. Just like ethics is a set of moral principles that regulate people’s actions (Perez,2017). It is also commonly known as the code of conduct and the most primitive form of disciplinary technique that subjugate and dictate one’s action. It is an intersubjective entity devised by higher authorities like religious entities and ruling members that members of the society shared to define the distinction between good and evil until today. 


Nevertheless, this intersubjective narrative is different from the law as it is moral guidance that guides individuals in moral reasoning, rituals to do good and to prevent themselves from performing the crime. Therefore, the goal and idea of one’s thought are not inherently molded by his/her personal goal, but decided by a network of constructed objectives determined by institutions and societal beliefs per se. However, the age of neoliberalism has augmented the latter definition of ethics due to the political emancipation of private entities from the government.

Neoliberalism and Psychopolitics

The decentralisation of power has pushed the sole responsibility of the government to ensure collective good to the private entities ergo, making them autonomous. It gave the autonomous entity the capacity to uphold the responsibility to self-govern and self-optimisation such as the ability to reason what is good and bad independently. Thus, The strong emphasis of “Self ” hitherto on Thatcher’s remarkable quote “No Such Thing As Society” until today’s burgeoning practice of entrepreneurship has shown that J.S Mill’s utilitarian practice also deeply rooted in a neoliberalism society. Given that “self ” nor “private” as an autonomous entity based on “Homo oeconomicus” is deemed to be responsible for pursuing a goal that based on decisions that give him/herself the best outcome. However, the best result relies on whether the autonomous entity has sufficient capacity even when it comes to obtaining the basic necessity. According to Gershon, autonomous being is an assemblage of assets that continually developed on his/her own will to meet a specific benchmark of capabilities for him/her to acquire something that is inherently good for his/her welfare (Gershon, 2011). For instance, one has to be not just an impeccable Swiss Army knife but also one that can be upgraded nor polished at any time. Hence, the reality of the society no longer subjugated by the normative values of collective but by the Laissez-faire system that has turned everyone into a walking capital. Besides, Thanem and Wallenberg also argued that those who cannot achieve the goal deemed morally weak because they failed to self-optimise (Thanem and Wallenberg,2015). Since the goal embodied the needs and desires of the individual, the capacity that he/she needs in exchange depends on the neoliberal agency, the facilitator of needs. It inevitably fueled individual with the desire to seek for the agency of improvement to survive in this reality. In that sense, capacity is an institutionalised universal unit of exchange while desire is the fuel that allows individuals to reach their goal nor making the right decision. Hence, More is more, more is good, more is better has placed society in the delirium of consumption for good.


Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams described that the perpetual need for advancement marks the importance of education, an immaterial construct that keeps one capable to survive under the hegemony of Neoliberalism(Srnicek and Williams, 2015). It meant there’s a need for an abundance of information, immaterial products for capacity building. Therefore, people devoted themselves to the products and services produced by tech companies like Facebook, Alphabet, Apple, and so forth for living assurance. This was because the products are designed to fulfill their desire for self-optimisation and self-improvement. Nevertheless, it embodied the provision of “Progression”, “Abundance” and “self-optimisation” in which is essential for the Neoliberal life. For example, Utilitarian tools like iPhone allow users to stay connected incessantly, Fitbit provides bio-data for users to optimise their body and an immaterial platform like Google’s search engine enabling users to access the world of knowledge instantaneously. Such a provision often defined as an extension, an upgrade to our capacity let it be our social status or obtaining new skills in which it is rationally good for the people in this living reality. Likewise, Barbara felt good as she no longer has to be the black sheep of the community after adopting Neotouch in Wurth’s design fiction (Wurth,2018). Besides, users who played LovePlus, a virtual relationship game, fell in love with the digital avatar, Rinko Kobayakawa because it offers fantasies that overcome the insecurity of a real relationship like breakups, etc.; One of the users thinks this is deemed good for their wellbeing (DarkNet, 2016). Also, In this situation what’s good or evil is determined by the fulfillment of desire and the benefit in which is a mere utilitarian basis. What benefits “me” is essentially good has turned “ethics” into a consumer product in which the society only legitimises it when it suits one’s needs and fulfillment.


Nonetheless, it is feared that the concern for the loss of privacy lamented in this Pseudo research techno-paranoia design fiction and much other technological satire will hardly be taken seriously by the people since Han stated that neoliberalism had turned humankind into selfish consumers (Han and Butler, 2016). For that reason, they only care about whether the products or services still benefit them. Likewise, People still use social media and smart devices extensively despite The Facebook Cambridge Analytica data scandal and Edward Snowden revealed that NSA’s, mass surveillance program, Prism can trace all kinds of online communication. Besides, Wurth stated in her Neotouch research that people are aware of exploitation, but they still submit. This is because all that the tech companies need to do is to fulfill the desire of the users for self-optimisation that based on Bertrand Russell’s theory of four desires that drives humankind such as acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity, and love of power (Russell,1950). However, the loss of agency on privacy and autonomy were not wholly because of tech companies designing ways to make people submit to them for gaining the incentives. I argue that it is mostly due to the social norm shaped by the neoliberal political project. In neoliberalism, self-identity is part of the capital that keeps the person sustainable as it just the capacity. Identity is an immaterial product that is constructed by an immaterial construct like knowledge. According to Han, when there are more information and communication, it increased productivity and growth ergo this made us voluntarily self expose to the internet, product, and services offered by tech companies (Han and Butler, 2016).

Although self-exposure is the Achilles heels of privacy lost, it also strengthens the ego of oneself, and that gave people agency on their own identity. Nevertheless, the reliance on the immaterial provision is formed to maintain the capacity as in identity before tech companies intervene in our lives and turn against us. The thirst of capacity indeed fosters the devotion, but motivated by the competition for gaining basic needs to live thus, conceived the selfish consumer as mentioned above. In this condition, neoliberalism is a psychopolitical project theorised by Byung Chul Han because it manages to psyche everyone into conformity by taking control of their inner thought, hidden wish, desire, and needs (Han and Butler, 2016). The relationship between the user, the “agency of improvement” and neoliberalism resembles the connections between people, the church, and religion scripted in the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Consequently, submission gives tech agency to improve the life of an autonomous being at the same time loses its own autonomy whereas to forgo the submission might be ethically irresponsible for an autonomous being.


Narcissist's Dilemma

In short, neoliberalism raised the members of the society to be narcissists who only adore themselves like Narcissus from Greek mythology because it is the most ethical way to survive and behave in Neoliberalism and laissez-faire reality. Therefore, design fiction like Neotouch that strived to steer society to question about the future ethics would be like the battle between David and Goliath nor John’s Anti-Soma movement in Brave New World. It would be impossible to make an impact on society to prevent such a dystopian future happen nor perhaps setting a broader agenda such as legislating hard ethics. It is a priori because the future projected by Neotouch, an exaggeration based on the formidable implication of digital attachment since the early 21st century is a double-edged sword. The first reason behind this is the psychopolitics of neoliberalism may have embedded psychopolitics apparatus such as smart technology, social media, mobile technology, wearable devices, internet, and medium that provides the valuable upgrade to the autonomous being, or the narcissist. Second, the narcissist relies on the apparatus to maintain his/her identity to compete and survive in the laissez-faire reality as mentioned in the previous chapter. Thirdly, good ethics meant the narcissist has a moral responsibility for constantly upgrading his capacity. Therefore, this is an impasse situation even though academic research or real-world condition affirmed that the devotion is exploitation nor Naomi Klein starts ideological warfare on neoliberalism. The psychopolitics tool is not only a tool for the narcissist to resolve their identity issue but a natural extension to them ergo, needs are defined by the bio-state and the extension; The extension is like another inseparable organ to them as their self-constructed identity needed it to function. According to Ronningstam and Baskin-Sommers, the narcissist has the tenacity to pursue a goal focused on self-enhancement, and it is not possible to redirect them(Ronningstam and Baskin-Sommers, 2013). Hence, they will choose to conform especially to the popular media instead resign from the system nor seek ways to reform it even they are aware of the exploitation that may be harming the majority. Researchers claim this is due to their low empathy level to understand others whereas keeping their superiority is more critical (Cizek et el, 2008). However, some might give up part of the benefit provided by the system like Barbara gave up Neotouch because it is bringing her more harm than good, but she remains in the system such as using the technology that gave birth to Neotouch. Also, this situation is termed as the narcissist’s dilemma as we are well aware of the threat, we went against it but not the whole system because at the same time we realised that it is the system that defines us ergo we cannot lose everything. Even Christine Wurth stated in her research that people had accepted the reality that they need to exist online to be relevant in this contemporary society(Wurth,2018). Thus, this is the problem in thinking future ethics especially when it comes to finding a solution on rationalising it. All we know our society has overshadowed Kantian thinking with utilitarian ideology in justifying the act of morality. Maybe it is time to look back into Kant’s Deontology given that it has more control in regulating desire as Adam Curtis once stated that we are the proletariat of our desire.


In a nutshell, the pessimism drawn from the debate of this paper did not mean to signify that the society is trapped in an inescapable vicious cycle. It is an attempt to describe the postmodern crisis of self that might have led us to illustrate situations like Neotouch or Black Mirror that picture the darker side of the future. Christine Wurth established Neotouch as a design fiction to discuss the discontent of current technology and digital ethics, considered to be a subtle polemic. However, such counterculture efforts might need a more coherent strategy for the long run to make an impact in this neoliberal narcissistic society. It is because the majority has been whitewashed by neoliberalism ideology and the fate of future ethics depends on the consensus of the majority too. It is the common ground that our society needs to establish to welcome a more holistic future. Nonetheless, we accept the fact that the self-serving attitude cultivated by the laissez-faire reality is part of the societal norm, it gave everyone voice and rights, but this is the time that society needs to curb their ego as ethics is a narrative drawn by all walks of life. It is sure that neoliberalism can hardly be defeated as it has embedded into parts of everyday life from making a choice and decision. 


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