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Attention deficit disorder, the anticapitalist condition

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You can’t blame the parents, though. Not receiving the right nurturing doesn’t necessarily mean abuse or neglect, though it can. Parents being stressed out and not being able to attune to their infant can do the job. Maté was born to Jewish parents in Budapest two months before the Nazis occupied the city. But it doesn’t have to be that extreme. Show me one parent who isn’t stressed to the eyeballs struggling with work, finances and trying to raise kids without enough help and on no sleep.

These are individual neurophysiological features but they arise within social contexts. Our capitalist societies create stressed-out families, carceral schools and toxic workplaces. No wonder our brains are going haywire on an unprecedented scale. ADD is a capitalist condition.

ADD is the new schizophrenia

I’m not the first person to say this. In his 2011 book ‘Capitalist Realism’, the late Mark Fisher wrote that ADHD was “a pathology of late capitalism – a consequence of being wired into the entertainment control circuits of hypermediated consumer culture”.

Gabor Maté is clear that ADD is not a pathology; it is a developmental divergence. It isn’t fundamentally caused by our era’s hypermediated culture, he argues – however, culture can and does feed and reinforce it.

Fisher was riffing on critical theorist Fredrick Jameson’s metaphor of ‘the schizophrenic’ as typical of 1980s postmodern culture. Jameson described a culture in which we are constantly being bombarded by random images, a ‘series of pure and unrelated presents in time’. He wrote that people with schizophrenia embodied the fragmentation of identity that this experience of time creates: the failure to craft a coherent sense of self that connects the past, present and future.

Other thinkers of the late 20th century had their own unorthodox theories of schizophrenia, notably philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Felix Guattari in their 1972 book ‘Anti Oedipus’.

Fisher, a further-education teacher cum philosopher, pointed out that the culture industry had moved on since Jameson was writing in the 1980s. Fisher wrote: “What we in the classroom are now facing is a generation born into that ahistorical, antimnemonic blip culture – a generation, that is to say, for whom time has always come ready-cut into digital micro-slices.”

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