J Armitage on Tue, 19 Nov 2002 15:14:38 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> JEAN BAUDRILLARD: The despair of having everything

>    Le Monde diplomatique
>    -----------------------------------------------------
>    November 2002
>                  -----Original Message-----

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Le Monde diplomatique [SMTP:english@Monde-diplomatique.fr]
> Sent: Thursday, November 14, 2002 3:30 PM
> To:   Le Monde diplomatique
> Subject:      The despair of having everything
>      _______________________________________________________
>    The West's mission is to make the world's wealth of cultures
>     interchangeable, and to subordinate them within the global
>      order. Our culture, which is bereft of values, revenges
>             itself upon the values of other cultures.
>                                           by JEAN BAUDRILLARD *
>      _______________________________________________________
>      IS globalisation inevitable? What fervour propels the
>      world to embrace such an abstract idea? And what force
>      drives us to make that idea a reality so unconditionally?
>      The universal used to be an idea. Yet when an idea is
>      actually realised globally, it commits suicide. With
>      humankind as the sole authority of note, occupying the
>      empty space left by a dead God, the human species now
>      rules unchallenged, though it no longer has any
>      overarching goal. Since humanity's enemies have all fled,
>      it must generate foes from within its own ranks, while
>      showing symptoms of inhumanity.
>      Hence the violence associated with globalisation, with a
>      system that wants to eliminate any manifestation of
>      negativity and singularity (including the ultimate
>      expression of singularity, death). This is the violence
>      of a society in which we are almost forbidden to engage
>      in conflict. This violence, in a way, marks an end to
>      violence itself, because it yearns for a world free from
>      any natural order that might govern the human body or
>      sexuality, life or death. It might be more accurate to
>      use the word virulence, rather than violence. This
>      violence has viral force: it spreads by contagion and
>      chain reactions. It gradually destroys our immunity and
>      ability to resist.
>      Globalisation's triumph is not certain yet, though. Faced
>      with its homogenising and destabilising effects, hostile
>      forces are arising everywhere. But anti-globalisation's
>      ever-sharper manifestations - including social and
>      political resistance - should be seen as more than just
>      outmoded forms of rejection. They are part of an
>      agonising revision that focuses on the achievements of
>      modernity and "progress", a process that rejects both the
>      globalised techno-structure and an ideology that wants to
>      make all cultures interchangeable.
>      Anti-globalisation actions may be violent, abnormal or
>      irrational, at least as judged by our enlightened
>      philosophy. They may be collective, bringing together
>      different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups, or
>      they may be individual, including maladjustment and
>      neurosis. It would be wrong to denounce
>      anti-globalisation forces as populist, antiquated or
>      terrorist. Every current event - including Islamic
>      hostility to the West - happens in opposition to the
>      abstraction that is the concept of universality. Islam is
>      now public enemy number one because it has shown the most
>      vehement opposition to Western values.
>      Who or what can thwart the global system? Surely not
>      anti-globalisation forces, whose only aim is to slow the
>      pace of deregulation; their political influence may be
>      considerable but their symbolic impact is nil. The
>      protestors' violence is merely another event within the
>      system that the system will absorb - while remaining in
>      control of the game.
>      Singularities [unique or unusual identities or
>      approaches] could be used to baffle the system. Being
>      neither positive nor negative, they do not represent
>      alternatives; they are wild cards outside the system.
>      They cannot be evaluated by value judgments or through
>      principles of political reality; they can correspond to
>      either the best or the worst. They are obstacles to
>      one-track thinking and dominant modes of thought,
>      although they are not the only kind of contrary approach.
>      They make up their own games and play by their own rules.
>      Singularities are not inherently violent. Some can be
>      subtle, unique characteristics of language, art, culture
>      or the human body. But violent singularities do exist,
>      and terrorism is one of them. Violence revenges all the
>      varied cultures that disappeared to prepare for the
>      investiture of a single global power. This is not really
>      a clash of civilisations. Instead, this anthropological
>      conflict pits a monolithic universal culture against all
>      manifestations of otherness, wherever they may be found.
>      Global power - as fundamentalist as any religious
>      orthodoxy - sees anything different or unorthodox as
>      heretical, and the heretics must be made to assume their
>      position within the global order or disappear completely.
>      The West's mission (we could call it the "former West"
>      since it lost its defining values long ago) is to reduce
>      a wealth of separate cultures into being interchangeable,
>      of equal weight, by any brutal means possible. A culture
>      that is bereft of values revenges itself on the values of
>      other cultures. Beyond politics and economics, the
>      primary aim of warfare (including the conflict in
>      Afghanistan) is to normalise savagery and beat
>      territories into alignment. Another objective is to
>      diminish any zone of resistance, to colonise and tame any
>      terrain, geographical or mental
>                            Furious envy
>      The rise of the globalised system has been powered by the
>      furious envy of an indifferent, low-definition culture
>      faced with the reality of high-definition cultures. Envy
>      is what disenchanted systems that have lost their
>      intensity feel in the presence of high-intensity
>      cultures. It is the envy of deconsecrated societies when
>      confronted with sacrificial cultures and structures.
>      The global system assesses any resistance as potentially
>      terrorist, as in Afghanistan (1). When a territory bans
>      democratic liberties such as music, television or women's
>      faces, when nations take courses opposed to what we call
>      civilisation, the "free" world sees these events as
>      indefensible, regardless of what religious principles may
>      be at stake.
>      So to disavow modernity and its pretensions of
>      universality is not allowed. Some resistors reject the
>      belief that modernity is a force for good or represents
>      the natural ideal of our species; others question the
>      universality of our mores and values. Even when the
>      resistors are described as "fanatics", their contrariness
>      remains criminal, according to the received wisdom of the
>      West.
>      This confrontation can only be understood by considering
>      symbolic obligations. To understand the hatred the rest
>      of the world feels towards the West, we must reverse our
>      perspectives. This is not the hatred felt by people from
>      whom we have taken everything and to whom we have given
>      nothing back. Rather, it is the hatred felt by those to
>      whom we have given everything and who can give nothing in
>      return. Their hatred stems from humiliation, not from
>      dispossession or exploitation. The attacks of 11
>      September were a response to this animus, with one kind
>      of humiliation begetting another.
>      The worst thing that can happen to global power is not
>      for it to be attacked or destroyed but for it to be
>      humiliated. Global power was humiliated on 11 September
>      because the terrorists inflicted an injury that could not
>      be inflicted on them in return. Reprisals are only
>      physical retaliations, whereas global power had suffered
>      a symbolic defeat. War can only respond to the
>      terrorists' physical aggression, not to the challenge
>      they represent. Their defiance can only be addressed by
>      vengefully humiliating the "others" (but surely not by
>      crushing them with bombs or by locking them up like dogs
>      in detention cells in Guantanamo Bay).
>      There is a fundamental rule that the basis for all
>      domination is a total lack of any counterflow to the
>      prevailing power. Bestowing a unilateral gift is a
>      powerful act. The "good" empire gives without any
>      possibility of a return of gifts. This is almost to
>      assume God's place or to take on the role of the master
>      who ensures his slaves' safety in exchange for their
>      labours. (Since work is not a symbolic compensation, the
>      only remaining options for the slaves are revolution and
>      death.)
>      But even God allowed humanity to give him the gift of
>      sacrifice. Within the traditional order it was always
>      possible to repay God, or nature, or another higher
>      authority, by sacrifice. This safeguarded the symbolic
>      equilibrium between human beings and everything else.
>      Today there is no one left to compensate, to whom we
>      might repay our symbolic debt. This is the curse of our
>      culture: although giving is not impossible, giving back
>      is impossible, because sacrifice has had its importance
>      and power taken away, and what remains is a caricature of
>      sacrifice (like contemporary ideas of victimisation).
>      So we find ourselves stuck with always being on the
>      receiving end, not from God or nature, but from technical
>      mechanisms that provide general exchange and
>      gratification. Almost everything is given to us. And we
>      are entitled to it all. We are like slaves, bondservants
>      whose lives have been spared but who are still bound by
>      an intractable debt. At some point, though, that
>      fundamental rule always applies and any positive transfer
>      will be met with a negative reaction.
>      This is a violent expression of repressed feeling about
>      lives in captivity, about sheltered existences, about, in
>      fact, having far too much existence. The return to a more
>      primitive condition may take the form of violence
>      (including terrorism) or the form of denials
>      characterised by powerlessness, self-hatred and remorse,
>      negative passions, which are a debased form of the
>      payback that it is impossible to make.
>      The thing we hate within ourselves, the obscure focus of
>      our resentment, is our surfeit of reality: our excessive
>      power and comfort, our sense of accomplishment. This is
>      the fate that Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor had prepared
>      for the tamed masses in The Brothers Karamazov ["to
>      vanquish freedom and to do so to make men happy"]. It is
>      exactly what the terrorists condemn in our culture. Hence
>      the endless coverage of - and fascination with -
>      terrorism.
>      Terrorism depends not only on the obvious despair of the
>      humiliated, but on the invisible despair of
>      globalisation's beneficiaries. It depends on our
>      subjugation to the technology integral to our lives, and
>      to the crushing effects of virtual reality. We are in
>      thrall to networks and programmes, and this dependence
>      defines our species, homo sapiens gone global. This
>      feeling of invisible despair - our own despair - is
>      irreversible because it is the result of the total
>      fulfilment of our desires.
>      If terrorism is really the result of a state of profusion
>      without any hope of payback or obligation to sacrifice,
>      of the forced resolution of conflicts, then eradicating
>      it as if it were an affliction imposed from the outside
>      could only be illusory. Terrorism, in its absurdity and
>      meaninglessness, is society's verdict on - and
>      condemnation of - itself.
>        ____________________________________________________
>      * Philosopher and author of The Spirit of Terrorism and
>      Requiem for the Twin Towers (Verso, New York, 2002); The
>      Perfect Crime (Verso, 1996) and The Gulf War Did Not Take
>      Place (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1995). This
>      article also appears in Power Inferno, Galilie, Paris )
>      Iditions Galilie
>      (1) You could say serious natural disasters are a form of
>      terrorism since, although they are technically classified
>      as accidents (such as Chernobyl), they may resemble
>      terrorism. In India, the Bhopal poison gas tragedy
>      (technically an accident) could have been terrorism. Any
>      terrorist group could claim responsibility for an
>      aviation accident. Irrational events can be attributed to
>      anyone or anything, so that, at the limit, we could see
>      anything as criminal, even cold weather or an earthquake.
>      There is nothing new about this: in the aftermath of the
>      1923 Tokyo earthquake, thousands of Koreans were blamed
>      and killed. In a system as integrated as our own,
>      everything destabilises; everything seeks to undermine a
>      system that lays claim to infallibility. Given what we
>      are already undergoing because of the system's rational
>      grip, we may wonder if the worst catastrophe is the
>      infallibility of the system.
>                                    Translated by Luke Sandford
>        ____________________________________________________
>        ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ) 1997-2002 Le Monde diplomatique
>    <http://MondeDiplo.com/2002/11/12despair>

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