In the contemporary world, there exists an undeniable reality that no longer necessitates empirical validation: nearly everything has transitioned into a visual realm. Levin's thesis (1993) revolves around the concept of "visualism," which denotes the tendency to prioritize sight over other sensory modalities and to reduce reality to what can be visually apprehended. He argues that this bias towards vision has far-reaching consequences, influencing not only our perception of the world but also our social structures, epistemological frameworks, and modes of communication. This transformation unfolds through escalating and often addictive encounters with screens, particularly favouring the visual content disseminated through social networks, video games, online video platforms, television, and other mediums alike. What are the economic, social and psychological trends behind this observation? What are the mechanisms and knowledge mobilized by this observation? What are the pathological consequences? What tools do we have at our disposal to remedy this slide towards scopic colonialism (SC)?
The proposition that capitalism heavily exploits visual modalities necessitates careful examination. Capitalism, operating as both an economic and social construct, thrives on the mechanisms of production, consumption, and exchange, all of which heavily rely on visual communication and stimulation for the purposes of marketing, branding, and advertising. An argument can be made that visual modality experiences extensive exploitation within capitalist societies, owing to the widespread use of images, symbols, and visual narratives to endorse products, services, and lifestyles. Advertising agencies, media conglomerates, and marketing firms dedicate substantial resources to fashioning visually captivating messages that seize consumers' attention and sway their purchasing choices. For reference, based on data from the website Statista, ad spending in the advertising market is forecasted to reach US$1,088.00 billion in 2024. Audio, search advertising, and digital banner advertising exhibit notably high levels of significance. To address the damages caused by marketing, revenue in the mental health market is projected to reach US$38.42 billion (€32,747,000,000) in 2024. Can we envision that to address the damages caused by marketing, revenue in the mental health market is projected to reach US$38.42 billion (€32,747,000,000) in 2024?
In the realm of capitalist societies, visual representations often assume pivotal roles in shaping cultural standards, values, and aspirations. On a multitude of platforms, individuals are saturated with imagery that molds perceptions of beauty, success, satisfaction, and accomplishment, frequently intertwined with consumerism and materialism.
The concept of "scopic colonialism" (SC) is not widely addressed in scientific literature. However, there exists a rich body of research on capitalism, colonialism, scopic capitalism (Illouz, 2021), and colonial capitalism (Ulas Ince, 2018). By integrating these diverse perspectives and considering the available observations, we can posit the hypothesis that contemporary digital societies contend with a distinct form of SC. This phenomenon reproduces colonial ideologies at both individual and collective levels by perpetuating and reinforcing the power dynamics, hierarchies, and ideologies that were characteristic of colonial rule: control of representation, construction of otherness (the colonized "Other" as fundamentally different and inferior to the colonizers), reproduction of hegemony, normalization of colonial narratives, perpetuation of power structures, etc.
The logics of colonialism refer to the ideologies, social structures, political frameworks, and thought patterns that underpinned and justified colonial expansion. They are deeply rooted in the history of European expansion across the globe, where European nations conquered, occupied, and exploited vast territories and populations in the name of colonial power. Colonizers frequently justified their dominance through claims of cultural and racial superiority, economic exploitation, exertion of stringent political and social control over colonized territories, and assimilation of indigenous populations into the culture, language, and norms of the colonizers (Césaire, 2001; Fanon, 2001). Colonial logics were frequently rationalized by ideologies such as civilizing colonialism, which purported to bring civilization, progress, and development to colonized territories.
We assert that in the context of SC, the global dissemination of media and technology, viewed as colonial tools and weapons, yields narratives and ideologies that perpetuate colonialism across both mental and biological domains. This phenomenon no longer exclusively concerns territories and populations categorized as inferior and in need of assimilation into a process of civilization. Everyone is rendered inferior in the face of the unrepresentable and unpredictable advancement of artificial intelligence and corporate powers. It affects the entire global population, subjecting individuals to the dominance of SC through a prevailing logic of programmed and perpetual obsolescence. This compels individuals to adjust their aspirations, behaviors, moral values, etc., due to the fear of social and economic exclusion. Whether consciously or unconsciously, people internalize and reproduce these dominant narratives, thereby contributing to the perpetuation of colonial logics and power structures. Consequently, SC extends the influence of colonial logics beyond physical territories and populations to the mental landscapes of individuals, shaping their understanding of themselves, others, and the world around them.
As we understand, computer programming serves as the genesis of a techno-society wherein humans constitute merely one element of a hybrid state subject to multiple logics: economic, algorithmic, physical, social, psychological, anthropological, cultural, political, environmental, and more. Alongside these known logics, discerned through diverse fields of study, emerge others that elude rational comprehension as AI advances at a pace surpassing human capacity. The intricate dynamics engendered by these interactions fundamentally redefine the concept of representation. Traditional viewpoints, wherein representation denotes the presentation of an absent object or concept via an image, figure, or sign, are no longer adequate. The emphasis on the symbolic dimension of representation, divorced from techno-social reality and its production contexts, proves insufficient in an era where images are generated within networks or even live, following infinite and dynamic circularities primarily driven by colonizing economic logics. This scopic production of representativeness infiltrates the classical concept of representation, rendering obsolete its binary understanding of representation-reality and absence-presence.
Visual studies facilitate a critical analysis of the multiplicity inherent in the concept of the image, conventionally associated with mental representations and linguistic metaphors. This approach unveils the logic of domination in the second historical phase of image examination, which expands upon or even diverges from the iconology championed by art historians. Visual studies broaden the scope of image invisibility by reassessing the multidirectional forces and factors that contribute to its production and utilization (Hoelzl, Marie, 2015). It is evident that the proliferation of the image realm, propelled by the democratization of television and later the Internet, necessitates a post-positivist reevaluation of iconology beyond the paradigmatic analysis of artwork as an object imitating another.
Throughout this study, we will explore how most bio-cognitive, behavioural, and emotional treatments occur at an unconscious level and are consequently heavily exploited by emerging paradigms. Squire & Kandel (2005) propose that vision is the primary sensory modality in humans and other primates, engaging over 30 different brain regions. Therefore, it is not surprising that we are captivated by the stream of images, leading to the commodification of the visual. This insight is supported by Breedlove, Rosenzweig, and Watson (2012), who assert that vision, with its reliance on numerous brain regions, confers significant advantages to essential behaviours such as predator avoidance, foraging for food, seeking mates, or finding shelter. These behaviours are currently condensed, impulsively and perilously, onto screens in the pursuit of psycho-social-economic security and sexual gratification, aiming to protect oneself from internal and external economic threats (by seeking entertainment and information), respond to an onslaught of images, amass content, and so forth.
It is important to note that our cognitive processes inherently prioritize the processing of negative stimuli, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the media, particularly social networks. These platforms algorithmically capture our attention by emphasizing negativity: negative emotions, poor parenting, and negative comments wield a stronger impact than positive ones, and negative information is scrutinized more thoroughly than positive information (Baumeister et al., 2001). This has given rise to a pervasive, global communication model that thrives on capturing attention by any means necessary, while perpetuating a culture of suffering and frustration as opposed to the pursuit of well-being, success, and rewards. Only the concept of “total war” (Alliez, Lazzarato, 2018) can offer a comprehensible answer to this dissonant and paradoxical quest.
The visual system is inherently attuned to detecting potentially dangerous, threatening, or alarming stimuli in our surroundings and reacts to them with priority, involuntarily, and automatically (Rozin, Royzman, 2001), resulting in a perceptual bias favouring negative stimuli. Therefore, we can assert that scopic colonialism is founded on the exploitation and dissemination of an ideology characterized by negativity, fear, danger, and catastrophe.
The proliferation of socio-clinical data stemming from this paradoxically negative context is raising significant and deeply concerning alarms. Jean Twenge (2017) emerges as one of the pioneers in offering substantive insights for psychopathological contemplation. Through an examination of ongoing longitudinal surveys spanning several decades in the United States, Twenge uncovers results that are profoundly startling: it appears that, in the United States, the rate of suicide among girls aged 12 to 14 increased threefold in 2015 compared to 2007. Twenge also observes a decline in social interactions and a recent uptick in depressive symptoms and feelings of helplessness, particularly among adolescents. Frances Haugen, alongside numerous others, corroborates these findings with highly pertinent data on the morbid effects of Instagram, a platform primarily focused on images. Haugen, the whistleblower from Facebook (now Meta), revealed in 2021 that the company was aware of the detrimental impact of its apps, noting an increase in suicide rates among young girls: "We exacerbate body image issues for one in three teen girls," states a slide from an internal presentation by company researchers in 2019. This information reportedly surfaced on Facebook's internal bulletin board and was brought to light by The Wall Street Journal (Wells, G., Horwitz, J., Seetharaman, D., 2021). The underlying issues prompting concern are encapsulated in the following questions: How does scopic colonialism profoundly reshape individuals and societies? Aren't Haugen's revelations paradigmatic of scopic colonialism and its consequences?
In an era where visual elements permeate every aspect of society, this study embarks on a transdisciplinary exploration aimed at delving into the intricacies and repercussions of the profound interplay between economic mechanisms, visual studies, visual neurosciences, perception psychology, psychoanalysis, and the ethical dilemmas stemming from the manipulation of human visual capacities within the context of contemporary capitalism.
This research seeks to offer insights into how visual stimuli influence consumer behaviour and societies, exploring various scientific intersections. Beyond this inquiry, we advocate the hypothesis that both the digital subject and societies, within today's digital ecosystem, are exposed to political and psychopathological ramifications that remain inadequately assessed in their multidimensionality and multidisciplinarity.
First and foremost, it is crucial to acknowledge that the majority of processes stemming from these plural and interwoven mechanisms and dynamics are unconscious. This suggests that the psyche and the brain are extensively subjected to the injection and production of colonial codes through mechanisms such as automatic processing, social learning, conditioning, selective attention and perception, emotional contagion, implicit associations, and attentional biases. Furthermore, this encompasses mirror neurons, social cognition and perception, embodied cognition, mimetic processes, and similar phenomena.
It is widely recognized that a significant portion of cognitive processing occurs outside of conscious awareness. Throughout his work, Sigmund Freud consistently emphasized the predominance of primary, unconscious psychic processes over conscious processes. Following Freud, a substantial body of neuroscientific research confirms this hypothesis (Kahneman, Bargh, Damasio, Dehaene, Sacks).
Oliveria, Guerreira, and Rita (2022), in their literature review on neuroscience research in consumer behaviour, observe that neuromarketing is a broader field encompassing the application of neuroscientific methods to comprehend both conscious and unconscious consumer behaviour in reaction to marketing stimuli. Neuroscience has significantly influenced brand memory studies by assessing unconscious responses, thereby yielding more credible and effective results for enhanced ad recall. The objective is to enhance the effectiveness of campaigns by uncovering unconscious emotions and preferences. By employing neuroscience techniques, researchers can effectively examine consumers' unconscious responses to such stimuli. Through the analysis of both conscious and unconscious responses, managers can adjust their future strategies to align with their target expectations.
Ramsøy (2019) reminds us that the overall market interest in consumer neuroscience, neuromarketing, and nonconscious assessment methods stands at about 80 percent. Therefore, it has reached a tipping point and is now being embraced by the majority of the industry using one or more of the non-conscious key methods available. As we will see, these scientific and economic manoeuvres related to unconscious functioning may raise questions about the clinical elaborations, clinical tools, and epistemological developments associated with clinical psychology, particularly concerning individuals ensnared in the grip of scopic colonialism. It is worth acknowledging that the dynamics of cybercapitalism are indeed destabilizing, to put it mildly. From the fight-flight-freeze responses manifested on screens to cognitive fatigue, and the deliberate engineering of addiction by engineers to bolster online engagement, a myriad of challenges emerges. Additionally, there is the ongoing struggle against inherently negative digital content, as previously mentioned, which infiltrates and colonizes the self. Moreover, there exists a significant gap between the pressure to attain an ideal life and the stark reality of its impossibility within the context of both the self and life itself. These complexities underscore the intricate interplay between technology, human psychology, and societal constructs in the contemporary digital era.
WORK IN PROGRESS