Remember Baudrillard

by CT on October 11, 2014

In what sense is the individual unique? Within the sphere of understanding or "reasonableness," in Western formulations the individual is not only unique but sacred. The individual is therefore “recognised” as unique, and worshiped for his or her uniqueness as an absolute value.

The issue is, nevertheless –as anybody experienced in corporate life (public or private)—that to be recognised the individual has to be categorised, classified as member of one or more sub-groups of society.

And in doing this “reasonable” classification, we clearly apply a reduction of the individual, not only as a subject but as a subject that may be seen, understood,  i.e. addressed, within a sub-category of shared values.

Let’s consider the context: of all the social changes registered since the ascent of modernity, the most damaging to social life has been the incremental difficulty in sharing values and meanings between people. The loss of shared values is truly the engine of social modernisation insomuch as artificial (simulated) values stand in their place.

Now, if on the side of social cohesion we have only quantitative measures of value (for example the price of a trendy work of art or the amount of salary or revenue) on the side of social diversity we have only “shared values.” There are interdependent, because the quantitative occupies the surface of human interactions, especially those most critical to survival, while the simulacra of values occupies the sphere underneath.

While people dis-identify themselves as exchanging mere monetary values (in extreme cases through anomic and strictly self-interested, destructive relationships), people identify themselves still by holding shared values (for example the sports, TV programmes, fashion trends, "political opinions"). But these identification mechanisms are fragmented and have to be fragmented. There is no global fashion that is not accompanied by global anti-fashion and a mirror-play of simulacra of the simulations. There is no "political opinion" which exists without inevitable and irreversible opposition.

At a different level, while the isolated person may find identification with others around some of these simulacra, it rarely is the case that the conformity is complete in other areas. So people become paradoxically more isolated within this interplay of des-identification through mercantile exchanges and identification through fragmented simulacra.

The result of these mechanisms are entire generations of uprooted minds who worship their own "freedom to be inauthentic," that is the "freedom" to choose socialised trends,  to follow fashions, as these become the only way to express uniqueness.

So, the individual is a sad entity sitting at the end of a long and opaque process of social destruction.

What we have are individuals who can be addressed only as categories, not as persons, and only for a small fraction of what they are as living beings. We have a society where, people can be recognised for what they “freely” adopted (the masks of identification) but not for that they forcibly lost (for example their family and their fatherland). Forged by these forces of loss and classification, what remains of individual uniqueness?

In this sense the individual is not anymore unique, but part of a suffering mass of wandering peoples all equal in their desperation but all equal in a nightmare where very few know what has been lost.

Reference, a collection of Jean Baudrillard’s writings:

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