Tech UPTechnologyJean Baudrillard:

Jean Baudrillard:

Jean Baudrillard’s is not critical thinking. Many years ago he decided to leave the philosophical world of theories to switch to simulation. He formulates his ideas more as metaphors and hypotheses than as concepts. For this reason, there are those who accuse him of being the “administrator of the theoretical void”, of joining a literary or aesthetic discourse that has little to do with thought. But the truth is that this retired sociologist, once committed to the cause of May ’68 and today disenchanted with all ideology, has endeavored to endow current times with his personal philosophical apparatus. Is he a clever formulator of epitaphs for the old order of utopias – closed permanently, according to him, after the “orgy of the sixties”? and he seeks the tickle of a postmodernism in which ideas, commitment and rebellion are diluted like an aspirin in a glass of Coca-Cola. Thus, Baudrillard has become the best thinking head about the world of technology, computer networks, the power of the media and virtual reality.

Full of skepticism and ironic detachment, Baudrillard has coined such seductive terms as “simulation”, “hyperreality” and “virtuality” and has been applying them to every social phenomenon. Wars, sex, passion, the press, politics …, nothing escapes the wise dart of this disbelieving Frenchman who thinks that we live in a “virtual” world, that is, that it only exists on the television screen , in an iconographic representation or in its possibility of becoming binary information transferable via cable.

We have finally reached the height of virtuality: the world connected through the information highways. Isn’t it time for the insurgents who refuse to be part of it to appear? Will there be something that allows the birth of a counterinformatics revolution?
-It seems to me that something already exists. And I suppose there are rebels that nest in the system. In a way, that’s the hackers and hackers who play with technology and rebel against it. Although it is evident that they follow the same logic: they accept the principles of electronics and then deny it. They resemble a virus, that is, they are born from the network itself but become more skilled than it and tend to destroy it. In my opinion, there are two possible insurrections to the new technological order: a subjective one, in which individuals like me participate, contrary to the electronic method, and an objective one, of which spontaneous viruses are part. They are accidents that could lead to catastrophes. Unfortunately, though, skeptics shouldn’t have too much hope that this will happen. The system is too strong to break down.

If there is no hope for the future, we run the risk that salvation will consist of a return to the origins. Thus, for example, science fiction looks back and becomes history …
-Yes. Science fiction is conceivably looking back. In fact, elements of the past are already used in many fantastic stories. Before, this genre was based on anticipation. It was a hypothetical science that intervened in time and postulated that the future was going to be something superior to the present. This has changed. There is no past-present-future distribution and anticipation is not possible. Technology is immediately anticipated and only real time exists. So, for today’s science fiction, the true discovery cannot be anything other than what has been lost, what has been forgotten. Ultimately, it has become an original fiction rather than a final fiction. The great science fictions, like those of HG Wells or Jules Verne, are out of date. Now other universes are being explored: the brain universe, the simulation universe. Today’s science fiction has become the science of genetics and the neural.

In any case, let’s look to the future: will virtual and electronic power ever become real powers?
-Those who govern the networks or the floating capital of the banks are not really the masters of the planet. They live in a parallel virtual world, not the real one. By definition, they cannot be made real. The virtual has ceased to be real forever. A very clear example is media power. Some say that the owners of the media are the most powerful beings in society. But there we have the example of Berlusconi. He was accused of having carried out a media coup in Italy and, when push came to shove, when he was elected president, he had great difficulties in transforming his power in the press into political power. It is no longer as important to politicians as it was to media moguls. That is the great victory of virtuality: transforming politics, culture, economy … into ungraspable systems.

However, we are seeing that the network begins to structure itself as a micro-society. There are poor and rich, wise and ignorant, and there are even minorities. Perhaps an identity of its own will emerge from there, a power that can be converted into real?
-Do not. The virtual does not need any identity. And that is so because it has the possibility of a continuous metamorphosis. The fascination of the virtual is that everyone can transform into anything. It is, by definition, the end of identity. What there may be are lukewarm reactions of subjectivity. I am sure that the interconnected world will create violent movements that seek an ethnic, linguistic, cultural singularity … Some current conflicts, such as that in Bosnia, are already the product of the world’s desire to virtualize, because there are still people who offer a – very strong resistance to losing your identity. In fact, it seems to me that we will experience a separation between two very different worlds. On the one hand there will be the supposed cosmopolitan and transnational order that the information highways already offer us and, on the other, there will be minorities pushing for their own identity. Electronic elites will bring about the emergence of a computer underdeveloped Fourth World. This does not mean that the losers will become the new proletariat capable of subverting the system. They will simply be excluded. Meanwhile, those with access to technology will be a stronger and stronger power group.

Do you think that the average citizen participates in this pessimism of yours?
-But I’m not pessimistic! Optimism and pessimism are psychological qualities related to a possible future, with the opposition between the real and the imaginary. Faced with this dichotomy, one could hope or despair, that is, be optimistic or pessimistic. But in this virtual world we live in, there is no longer “room” for hope or despair. There is no room for pessimism or optimism. My analysis, more than pessimistic, is tonic, that is, it is part of the event. There really is a positive tension in him because he is not depressive; yes it is true that he is disappointed, but not depressed. What I am trying to do is lead the system towards its own contradictions. That is the last subversive act left to the analyst or the intellectual. In fact, that is their goal, and not to get the truth, far from it. In this field of theory-fiction in which analysts today operate, we play with hypotheses, we use the simulation of real models. And that game has its rules. No game can be depressing, it is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it is simply played. And the stronger the system, the more interesting it is to play with.

_What will dominate scientific thinking of the future?
Well, I’m not a prophet, but I do see a problem: the scientific object itself has become random and chaotic. In microscience, the scientific object is not nature, but its computer image. Particles only exist because of the traces they leave on the screen. In fact, scientists no longer study reality, but the iconographic representation of that reality. In other words, they are contributing to the virtualization of the system. The old objective science is over. In the future, science will be a paradoxical system that will not know how to define either its object or its subject, understood in the manner of classical experimental science.

And what hope is left in this shed for the humanistic sciences?
-Humanism was a very strong value system that was born in modernity linked to the human race, its morals, its philosophy. It was a progressive and optimistic system. Today, all that has changed and humanism has been replaced by humanitarianism. The bad thing is that the humanitarian is a weak value that is based only on survival and affects the human being as a species, rather than as a gender. Contrary to what happens with humanism, the humanitarian is a defensive and depressive concept. In other words, by exchanging one for the other, we have lost out. I don’t even know if humanitarianism can be classified as a value system. During the good times of humanistic thought, utopias were believed; In times where the humanitarian dominates the only utopia is the minimum possible: to survive.

But since there are no humanistic ideas, at least it is good that they are replaced by the humanitarian …
-Well, we don’t have a choice. All we can do is imagine what will come after humanitarian.

And what will come?
-The very concept of being human will be lost. We will move on to the area of the subhuman, of mere genetics, where species develop and mutate, but not based on human values. Science goes, in this sense, towards an exclusively molecular action. It will act on the genetic code, the particles … That is, it will understand man according to his formula, and not according to his form.
Jorge Mayor

This interview was published in October 1995, in issue 173 of VERY Interesting

 


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