Volume 7, Number 1 (January, 2010)
Author: Victor Gazis
In contemporary society ‘addiction’ is not the isolated territory of a small proportion of the population. It is no longer a world known only to those who ‘abuse’ mind altering substances, or exhibit recognised forms of compulsive, damaging or negative behaviour patterns. It is no longer simply a limited realm of ‘expertise’ occupied by a small team of professionals who deal with such ‘groups’. Certainly traditional forms of addiction remain (heroin, alcohol, cigarettes etc). However now, as a cultural phenomenon, addiction is becoming ubiquitous. Its linguistic references are shifting. Addiction is ‘exploding’ in terms of its associated concepts, understandings, ‘locations’ and responses. Drink, drugs, food, sex, chocolate, gadgets, shopping, and celebrities: a situation is arising where addiction is becoming multiply ‘located’, and everything is potentially ‘addictive’.
It also seems that, far from inducing the condemnation previously associated with addiction, it has become acceptable to talk openly about our ‘compulsions’, and to wear them with pride. Alongside established, sometimes negative, though (if we look at celebrity culture), increasingly ambiguously associated, pathological forms of addiction, we are equally, or more likely, to encounter a positive ownership of ‘addiction’, characterised by expressions such as ‘I am a chocoholic’, ‘I am a shopaholic’, ‘I am addicted to sex or reality TV’, ‘I just cannot control myself, I have to have that ‘thing’, object, or person’. In marked contrast to previous eras, contemporary Western culture is taking addiction to its heart and it is becoming central to the construction of personal identity. We want and need addiction in our individual lives, and we expect and search for it in others.
I suggest that, using Baudrillard’s terms: addiction has become a form that ‘fascinate(s) us today’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:36]). I wonder whether addiction has become an ‘agenda whose very power over the imagination is of a viral character’ (Ibid.:67). If so, then addiction and compulsive behaviour cannot be wholly determined as medical, psychological or sociological pathologies. A Baudrillardian approach can provide a fresh perspective on understanding and responding to ‘addiction’ in its present cultural form.
The purpose of this paper is to develop a theoretical analysis of addiction and compulsive behaviour. The concepts of ‘addiction’ and ‘compulsion’ are here considered interchangeable. ‘Addiction is compulsive behaviour’ (Giddens, 2007). The originality of my approach involves an examination of the social theories and cultural analyses offered by Jean Baudrillard applied to the issues at the centre of this project. Within Western culture, we are experiencing significant changes to the human experience of ‘addiction’, and a fundamental transformation in its associated discourse. My belief is that Baudrillard has provided us with a compelling and consistent social genealogy which offers a fascinating ‘vision of social history’. This, in combination with his astute and insightful assessments of contemporary life and culture, make his work worthy of the widest application. Accordingly, I have adopted a Baudrillardian position in order to enter the addiction debate. This approach allows me to effectively theorise current manifestations of, and changes to, experience(s) of ‘addiction’. I also draw from more traditional paradigms (medical, psychological, and sociological), which have, in recent history, occupied leading positions in constructions of ‘addiction’. It is not my intention to attack these paradigms, dispute their knowledge, or to challenge their significance. My objective is to question whether contemporary ‘addiction’ remains within their ‘realm(s) of expertise’.
In Part II, I examine my hypothesis from a Baudrillardian perspective. Initially, by setting out his ‘vision of social history’, expounded via a genealogy of the image, I establish a Baudrillardian framework within which to work. I will then place the traditional paradigms, referred to above, within this framework. In Part III, I begin to (re)consider ‘addiction’ in terms of a ‘cause and affect’ relationship.
Having, in Part II discussed the emergence of certain ‘cultural conditions’, in Part III I examine those that I believe are particularly conducive to change in terms of addiction, arguing that although particular conditions make certain behaviour patterns possible, they do not guarantee that behaviour taking place. Consequently I will offer my proposal as to why ‘addiction’, as a cultural phenomenon, might have ‘exploded’ in recent years. Here I explain, what it is that is so particularly attractive about the ‘signs’ of addiction. ‘Why do so many of ‘us’ appear to be modifying our behaviour, and choosing to ‘consume’ the signs and discourse of addiction so readily, as part of our daily lives?’
In Part IV, I return to the paradigms introduced in Part II. I consider when these dominant understandings and responses to ‘addiction’ rose to prominence. Then I consider whether, as expressions of particular social conditions and ‘social orders’, these institutions and their responses remain contemporary and comprehensive. In the light of the preceding Baudrillardian analysis, I will consider the ‘oligopoly’ that these paradigms have, and its sustainability in contemporary (fourth order) society. In Part V, I suggest an approach to understanding ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ that sustains Baudrillard’s notion of a new ‘fourth social order’. This is based on Baudrillard’s approach to ‘extreme phenomenon’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b]). I advocate that the form of theoretical ‘reversal’ that Baudrillard undertakes in his analyses of such ‘phenomenon’, and a future consideration of ‘addiction’ in these terms, might present new horizons for the ‘field’ of ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’. I also briefly consider where a Baudrillardian perspective on ‘addiction’ might be revealing for analyses of other chaotic intrusions into the ‘social order’.
II. A Baudrillardian Perspective on Change
How have particular social, environment and cultural factors emerged or changed and how have these changes facilitated an explosion in addiction and compulsive behaviour? In order to understand how a Baudrillardian approach might help to re-conceptualise addiction and compulsive behaviour, I begin with an overview of his social theory.
In Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976 ), Baudrillard began to detail an exploration into the ‘stages of the image in modern Western culture from the renaissance to the present day’ (Pawlett, 2007:70). In the light of rapid social change, this genealogy was re-visited in ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ (1981 [1994:1-43]). According to Baudrillard, Western culture has been dominated by four social orders. And each historical order has been characterised by a differentiating ‘law of value’, or ‘principle of equivalence’. Although it does not appear in his genealogy, a belief in a ‘fifth order’ is fundamental to Baudrillard’s theories. This ‘symbolic order’ preceded his genealogy, and does not appear his rough ‘sketch’ of the image, and its history. This is not because it has been condemned by Baudrillard as historically insignificant, or omitted because it lacks contemporary influence. It does not appear because, according to Baudrillard, it did not have a ‘law of value’.
Recognising and understanding the influence of the symbolic order is significant in an analysis of addiction. This is because Baudrillard discards Marxist or Hegelian dialectical principles. In his analysis, although seceding social orders have developed so as to dominate their precedent, orders are never entirely synthesised, absorbed, or lost. So, although the symbolic order (as organising principle) has gone, its cultural memory has not vanished. ‘Symbolic exchange as form or principle is ‘indestructible’’: it lives on in ‘act, gesture and social relation’ (Pawlett: 2007, 72). As we will see, although, according to Baudrillard, Western society is now in the grip of a new (fourth) order, one characterised by people’s willing subjugation to artificial intelligence (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:167]), there are remains from the symbolic order, and from preceding ‘feudal’ and ‘industrial order(s)’, that continue to influence contemporary social life. Their structures and principles have not been destroyed. They have been usurped, not consumed, synthesised, or obliterated by a new ‘fourth’ social order.
According to Baudrillard, pre-Renaissance, ‘signs [were] protected by prohibition which ensures their total clarity and confers an unequivocal status on each’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:50]). Obligatory, and not subject to a ‘law of value’, signs of status, rank, or hierarchical position could not be bought, sold or exchanged. There was no simulation, no ‘game of signs’. In these societies, the sign/’signifier relationship was non-negotiable. Everyone understood their position in the social order, and that was denoted by familiar, recognisable and grounded signs. Hereditary status, employment, location and clothing were signifiers of a simple and well-understood social order. ‘There is no fashion in caste society, …since assignation is absolute and there is no class mobility’ (Ibid.). Although Baudrillard positively represents such societies as uncomplicated and ‘ordered’, he is careful not to idealise them. They were, he asserts, times of subjugation and cruelty.
In Baudrillard’s analysis, the reign of the first ‘order of simulacra’, or the ‘counterfeit’ schema, began when a newly wealthy and increasingly powerful bourgeoisie unshackled the ‘obligatory sign’ from the restricted caste, feudal or medieval system. A freer exchange of signs enabled a ‘game of signs’ (Baudrillard, 1979 [1990:91-92]). This ‘game’ was characterised by conspicuous consumption, which, although modified, continues to be played in contemporary society. Exemplified by ‘The Stucco Angel’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:50]), a ‘fashion’ for buying ‘counterfeit’, or simulated, ‘signs’ of status and success emerged. Signs became arbitrary when ‘instead of bonding two people in an inescapable reciprocity, the signifier starts to refer to a disenchanted universe of the signified, the common denominator of the real world, towards which no-one any longer has the least obligation’ (Ibid). Status could be ‘signified’ via the purchase and conspicuous display of non-obligatory ‘signs’. The ‘principle of simulation’ was emerging. Grounded referents were being challenged and usurped, as floating, ambiguous, and metaphysical signs became the predominant points of reference. Once it is exchangeable and non-arbitrary, a modern sign gives the appearance that it is bound to the world…this designatory bond, however, is only a simulacrum of symbolic obligation (Ibid.:51).
‘The extinction of the original reference alone facilitates the general law of equivalences, that is to say, the very possibility of production’ (Ibid.:55). ‘Production [was] the dominant schema’ in the second ‘industrial simulacrum’: an era operating ‘on the market law of value’ (Ibid.:50, 55). Economic exchange was the characterising principle of equivalence. A time of rational exchange, and instrumental thought, transcribed ‘all that was in the order of the imaginary, the dream, the ideal’ into an ‘operational reality’’ (Baudrillard, 1970 [1998a: 50]). ‘The principle of operativity’ ensured that production became central to ‘economic/ industrial practice and linguistic, referential practice’ (Pawlett, 2007:75). However, although he recognises that this era was characterised by production, Baudrillard does not ground his genealogy in the market economy. Baudrillard maintains a focus on the image or signs. He claims that ‘the principle of operativity’ (Ibid.:75) paved the way for signs to be infinitely reproduced: in terms of, and for the sole purpose of, their ‘economic exchange value’. Socially, and experientially, this was not a superficial development. Mass production of signs, produced solely for rational exchange, initiated a progressive disenchantment. Signs of the second order were ‘crude, dull, industrial, repetitive, echoless, functional and efficient’, whereas, signs of the first were ‘magical, diabolical, illusory…..enchanting’ (Ibid.:76).
According to Baudrillard, the second industrial order quickly gave way to ‘the third-order simulacra’, as signs were no longer ‘mechanically produced, but conceived according to their very reproducibility’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:56]). All forms change once they were conceived from a ‘generative core called a model’ (Ibid.). The third order, claims Baudrillard, was characterised by the arrival of the digital age. The ubiquitous television set followed and compounded the mechanical reproduction of art (Benjamin, 2006:18). Gradually the boundaries between media and ‘reality’ were becoming increasingly blurred. Grounded reference became progressively barred. Instead of referring to others, signs began to refer to equivalent signs; media representations referred to media representations and images to other images. Here, the public responds to a mediated spectacle, where ‘only affiliation to the model has any meaning’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:56]). ‘All signs and signified joined (in cross reference) to form a complete ‘simulacrum’ and the ‘precession of simulacra’’ (Baudrillard, 1981 [1994:1]). In terms of ‘equivalence’, the ‘structural law of value’, as limitless sign exchange, dominated. Still focussing on the image, Baudrillard argued that, with fixed, grounded, or traditional points of reference becoming barred, meaning became unstable. When ‘reality’ refers primarily to fluid ‘images’, ‘signs’ and ‘simulations’, then meaning itself is a simulation and an unstable ‘simulacrum’. Consequent to enlightenment thought, in terms of meaning, traditional and natural references and obligations became barred, and conceptual binary-oppositions emerged. The terms within binaries come to have a ‘tactical’ role in the third order. The negative term of each opposition can be used to ‘energize’ its opposition. Neither term is really distinctive; instead they operate together to maintain or simulate ‘reality’’ (Pawlett, 2007:77).
While developing his genealogy, Baudrillard (1929-2007) also wrote in great depth about the world in which he lived. Consequently, the ‘third order’ digital age was central to his thoughts. Baudrillard exemplified this order in a way which resonates for the following analysis of addiction and compulsive behaviour. Baudrillard illustrated the existence and fragility of the third order with an analysis of DNA and its associated discourse. He recognised that within contemporary dialogue (lay and professional), DNA research is claiming a place as a source of ‘truth’. However, Baudrillard re-conceptualised DNA as ‘the code within’, and re-presented it as a new quest for ‘equivalence’. It is a commonality that is inclusive of all ‘things’. Through DNA any thing can be cross-referenced. Driving DNA research is a belief in a single (albeit cold and sterile) map or image of life. A map that is both pre-determining and inescapable. Through an abstraction of life, DNA is presented as a pre-determinate and (pre) representation of exactly who and what we are.
DNA is, in Baudrillard’s terms, true to the Borges tale ‘Of exactitude in science’: the DNA map ‘precedes the territory – precession of simulacra’ (Baudrillard, 1991 [1994:1]). DNA research characterises an era that has no warmth (Nietzsche in Merrin, 1999, 41). It represents the desert of the real, where what it is to be human, in terms of a social, referential, enchanted and warm character, struggles to ‘persist here and there’ (Baudrillard, 1981 [1994:1]). Perhaps it is worth considering the increasing availability and use of DNA paternity testing here? An ‘enchanted’, ‘symbolic’ relationship between parent and child can be reduced (or produced?) by ‘cold’ science. All ‘warmth is lost, and the world becomes increasingly disenchanted, as the clear difference between map/territory, object/subject, real and model, dissolve or implode. DNA renders human life and destiny as no longer meaningful, because with the precession of simulacra, the ‘genetic code writes life in advance’ (Pawlett, 2007, 78).
Baudrillard insists that DNA is like capital, a metaphysical principle, and he theorises it as cultural form rather than a fact of nature. DNA, for Baudrillard, is the ultimate homogenous substance or principle of general equivalence; ‘it is the ultimate in plural difference because it is a single universal scale on which all life can be plotted, measured and compared’ (Pawlett, 2007, 78). For Baudrillard, DNA exemplifies how the third order promises control through ‘prediction, simulation, programmed anticipation and indeterminate mutation’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:60]). Contradiction and tension in the social order are ignored/hidden/devalued through the ambition to reach and claim absolute truths. However, ‘remains’ from preceding eras are like ghosts, ‘haunting’ our fragile ‘reality’. In The Perfect Crime (1996) Baudrillard argues that the ‘project’ of imposing absolute ‘truths’ and the pre-determinate code of the ‘third order’ can never be complete, it can never BE the ‘Perfect Crime’.
a) What is happening now?
In Simulacra and Simulation, Baudrillard re-visited his genealogy. In his essay ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ (Baudrillard, 1981 [1994:1-43]) he re-analysed contemporary Western culture, and began to theorise the emergence and nature of a ‘fourth order of simulacra’. In doing so, he also introduced some new concepts and ideas that would become central to his future studies, and investigations into modern culture. The fourth order, he contends, is characterised by media saturation and virtual technologies. In the light of this development, Baudrillard’s now recognisable philosophical approach was to reverse the terms and concepts that are familiar to us. Consequently he declared that, now ‘you no longer watch TV, it is TV that watches you (live)… a switch from the panoptic mechanism of surveillance…to a system of deterrence, in which the distinction between the passive and the active is abolished’ (Baudrillard, 1981 [1994:29]). In this highest stage of simulation (Baudrillard, 2005, 44), the opposition between ‘reality’ and ‘virtuality’ has imploded. Within this system of ‘deterrence’, that does not require ‘violence or surveillance: only information’ (Baudrillard, 1981 [1994, 29-20]), ‘it is not nature that lays the trap of objective reality for us, but the digital universe which sets the trap of a hyper-objectivity, of an integral calculus in which the very play of the mirror and its objects is abolished’ (Baudrillard, 2005, 42).
In the fourth order, we have lost ourselves as a mass. We have become part of the machine. We are grounded by terminals: the camera and the screen. Having lost all ‘natural’ referents (including other people), ‘reality’ has reached the ‘hyperrealism of simulation’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:70]). Subjugation to the code (Ibid.:50) is becoming final. We are playing the end game as even symbolic expression/exchange between people is threatened, by (mediated) communication through an interface. In ‘the age of soft technologies, the age of genetic and mental software’ there is ‘no turning back and no moving forward’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:119]). Kant’s enlightenment ideal to ‘use ones own understanding without the guidance of another’ (see Cahoone, 1996: 51) has been lost. Now ‘it is the created object [media/technology] which thinks us, and which sometimes thinks better than we do, and quicker than we do: which thinks us before we have thought it’ (Baudrillard, 2005, 42). Our role in this order is to follow not create, to act not to think, to do not to be.
In ‘After the Orgy’, Baudrillard (1990 [1993b:3-13]) appears to anticipate a new social order through his analyses of the 1960’s cultural revolutions; particularly in sexuality, politics and aesthetics. When these pillars of Western culture became fractured, they possibly paved the way for the fourth order of simulacra. A revolution in capital meant that it entered into an ‘unchecked orbital whirl’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:27]). In the second and third orders, economic ‘reality’ made reference to tangibles, particularly the profitability of particular forms and levels of production. Now, capital has been ‘hyper-realized’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:27]). Capital and debt flow (needlessly) from bank to bank, producing virtual profit and loss. Billions are won and lost on the stock exchange (or the housing market, or in credit crises?), ‘when it does crash, [it] causes no substantial disequilibrium in real economies (in sharp contrast to the crisis of 1929…)’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:27]). Third world debts are lost on balance sheets, never to be repaid. And none of this has the slightest tangible impact on the ‘real’ world. All grounding has been lost, and consequently ‘value radiates out in all directions….without references…there is no longer any equivalence, no law of value, a haphazard proliferation and dispersal of value’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:5]).
According to Baudrillard, radiation and non-equivalence is not confined to value. It is the characterising feature of the (fourth) social order. All meaning associated with concepts and signs, both physical and metaphysical, can enter an ‘orbital phase’ and spiral off in ever changing directions. This is ‘a fractal or viral order’ (Pawlett, 2007, 73) in which meaning has become blurred. Distinct (binary) oppositions have collapsed, exemplified by indistinct sexes and sexualities, and a new androgynous ‘transsexuality’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:20]). Perhaps this element of Baudrillard’s vision is evident in the ‘metro-sexual’ and the recent availability of cosmetics such as Guy-liner and Manscara through a leading UK store (Dilnott, 2008). Although pockets of influence remain, with the ‘end of production’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:9]) as the defining characteristic of the modern era, and the ‘imaginary’ of the masses ‘forethought’ by virtual technologies, contemporary (trans) politics only simulates its historic power by supporting the simulacrum of ‘the social’. With the simulacrum complete, every ‘thing’ is simulacra, ‘art’ simulates art, sex simulates sex, gender simulates gender and ‘politics’ simulates politics. When everything is ‘aesthetic’ – we have reached the totality of ‘hyper-reality’. Now ‘we manufacture an abundance of images in which there is nothing to see’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:17]). This is the fourth order of simulacra – an order characterised by increased communication via interface. There is a proliferation of, and a powerful desire for more virtual technologies that think for us. We experience increased consumption of media as form and suffer control (intimidation) through mediated information. In terms of ‘denotation and connotation’ (Baudrillard, 1972 [1981:157]), the sign/signifier relationship became ambiguous once the Saussurean bar of meaning and representation collapsed. Relatively stable mediated models are imploding in an era of liberated signs where every thing can be cross-referenced. All signs, signifiers and references are liberated and fluid. The fourth order condition cannot entirely synthesise with, destroy or absorb preceding systems and symbolic, economic and structural exchange will continue to haunt simulation, as ‘each order remains and is joined by another, creating evermore paradoxical relations’ (Pawlett, 2007:71).
b) Addiction and the ‘Orders of Simulacra’
It is important to examine the ‘institutions’ of medical, psychological, and sociological paradigms and their approaches to addiction and compulsive behaviour from a Baudrillardian perspective. The idea is locate each paradigm within Baudrillard’s genealogy.
Medicine: It appears to me that dominant Western medical discourse maintains a foundational, enlightenment driven, and rational perspective when dealing with the focus of each particular field. Using Baudrillard’s words, it operates in the ‘mirror of production’ (Baudrillard, 1973 ). Its drive and purpose is to establish direct and quantifiable relationships between cause and effect: whether that is an investigation into a particular virus, genome or pathology. This methodology allows it to uphold relatively stable and fixed positional relationships between the signs and signifiers of its paradigm. Significantly, for a Baudrillardian analysis, medicine remains concerned with uncovering, through rational processes, biological causes of addiction, the propensity to abuse physically addictive substances, and solutions to the medical consequences of substance abuse. Medicine’s ambition and goal is perhaps best characterised by research into the genetic ‘truth’ of addiction; a sanitary research project, which must have eradication as its goal.
As we have seen, within Baudrillard’s genealogy, the second order was characterised by the ‘principle of operativity’ (Baudrillard in Pawlett, 2007:75). In parallel with Marxist analyses of the economy, all things became analysed and assessed in terms of instrumentality. Such a strong focus on instrumentality is evident in contemporary medical and scientific analyses of addiction. As Melemis (2007) expresses it: ‘Anyone can become an addict. We all have the genetic predisposition for addiction because there is an evolutionary advantage to that. When an animal eats a certain food that it likes, there is an advantage to associating pleasure with that food so that the animal will look for that food in the future. In other words the potential for addiction is hardwired into our brain’.
Furthermore, Wes Allison (2002) claims that: ‘In the hunt for powerful forces that drive addictions, researchers say they have definitively linked a common genetic trait to drug and alcohol abuse’.
According to Baudrillard, enlightenment philosophy, and its associated concepts of instrumentality and rational thought, were critical in developing the second order, maintaining the relative stability of the third order, and remain crucial to preserving the simulacrum of the fourth order. It still forms the foundation of the West’s historically specific and singular ‘reality principle’. This single discourse usurped and still silences/bars all others. One of its consequences has been a separation of all fields of academic enquiry into binary-oppositions. This is shown by medicine where, when something is deemed not scientific; it is rejected, as it is considered of no value. It is other, so it is violently and mockingly dismissed into the secondary spiritual realm as a matter of faith or belief. Baudrillard wanted to show how it is only a particular ‘reality principle’ which promotes a ‘rational’ analysis of all things, and emphasises only instrumentality and production. Abandoning dialectics, and emphasising ‘evermore paradoxical relations’ (Pawlett, 2007:71), facilitated a consistent challenge to the creeping totality of ‘rational thought’. He represented Marxist theory as overly-deterministic. Where does it stand, and how relevant are its concepts of ‘labour’, ‘wages’ and ‘strikes’, now that ‘We are at the end of production’ and ‘value [is] beyond its commodity form into its radical form’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:6, 9, 12, 19, 23]) He confronted Foucault’s thought for its over-perfection – ‘ too beautiful to be true’ – ‘a mirror of the power it describes’ (Baudrillard, 1977 [2007:30]). ‘The Will to Knowledge’ (Foucault, 1978) was, he argued, a perfect copy of the West’s political economy, and its systematic extortion of all things (human and other) for the purpose of production, growth and progress.
Baudrillard used anthropological studies in order to stress how in clan and religious societies, and in pre-renaissance Western schemas, warm and dangerous forms of symbolic exchange were played out to the death. In terms of the economy, in a reversal of Western terms and values, ‘The symbolic social relation is the uninterrupted cycle of giving and receiving, which, in primitive exchange, includes the consumption of the ‘surplus’ and deliberate anti-production’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:143]). Furthermore, without an economic determinate of value, status was once played out through gift-giving, and Potlatch ceremonies (Baudrillard, 2003:17). It is conceivable that there are some remains from these symbolic-exchanges amongst our ‘paradoxical relations’ (Pawlett, 2007:71). Furthermore, it is also possible that conventional medical expositions on addiction and compulsive behaviour, which accentuate instrumentality, and quantifiable relationships, have also been operating in the mirror of the same Western political economy. Whereas the rational medical paradigm (can) only conceive of the instrumentality of addiction and compulsive behaviour, perhaps, like the economy, there is a (barred) symbolic element at play here.
A strong emphasis on instrumentality locates medicine’s place in the second order. The value it places on DNA, from Baudrillard’s perspective, indicates its location in the third order. However, in my opinion, despite strong and unequivocal expert statements, such as those that I have quoted above, in terms of the ‘fractured nature of addiction’, the ‘DNA waters’ are decidedly murky. There seems to be disagreement about which particular genes are involved in traditional addiction. In the New Scientist On-Line, Khamsi (2006) claims that a gene has been uncovered, and that it is linked to smoking behaviour and nicotine addiction. In her article she reveals that ownership of different forms of a gene called CYP2A6 influences smoking behaviour, the likelihood that an individual will become addicted to smoking (if he/she tries it), the ability of an individual to give up smoking (after they have become addicted), and the extent to which an individual can metabolise nicotine. However, a different study appears to link the same smoking behaviour to a different genome. ‘Three research teams, writing in the journals Nature and Nature Genetics, each pinpointed two key areas of variation on chromosome 15’ (BBC, 2008). Agrawal et. al. (2008) argued that gene clusters ‘GAMBA’ have been linked with compelling evidence of a relationship between genetics and addiction (Agrawal et. al., 2008, 1027). By raising doubts about the high rates of ‘false positives’ associated with DNA research, Ball’s (2007) article confronts the prospective potential of genetic research into ‘traditional addictions’. But even if its veracity was not in doubt, can DNA research really shed any light on our contemporary cultural form of addiction? What can it promise? Would we really expect it to define genome ‘u’ as the shopping gene, genome ‘v’ as the celebrity obsessive gene, genome ‘w’ as the smoking gene, genome ‘x’ as the drinking gene, genome ‘y’ as the sex gene and genome ‘z’ as the gadget gene?
Medical research continues. Some remains focussed on uncovering the instrumentality of each gene and a subsection of this research concentrates on determining the genes involved in addiction. One of Baudrillard’s hypotheses appears worth considering here. He suggested that ‘knowledge is a duel’ (Baudrillard, 1999 [2001:23]). ‘When the object discovers the subject … the converse, and never innocent, discovery is also made: the discovery of the subject by the object’ (Ibid.:23]). So, is it worth considering whether in the case of genetic research, the object/subject relationship has imploded? Is genetic research revealing more about science, than science is revealing about genetics? Are scientists refusing to give up on an impossible mission, because they cannot step outside their own paradigm? Their quest might just be an unthinking extension of an existing ‘reality principle’. Theirs might be an ‘impossible exchange’ (Baudrillard, 1999 ). Following rational processes, researchers keep on digging. But genetics may not hold the truth. Are scientists staring deeper into a meaningless abyss, digging deeper and deeper, and finding only themselves there? Because, to paraphrase Nietzsche, ‘When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you’.
More evidence that medical research into addiction is an active remain of the second and third orders is how, as a paradigm, effort is expended on maintaining the illusion of stable binaries characteristic of the industrial and ‘code governed era(s)’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:50]). Therefore, it is unlikely to be able to explain our contemporary (fourth order) addiction as a ‘cultural form’, in an era of liberated signs and signifiers. To expand upon an earlier point, Baudrillard believes that ‘Western metaphysics and [enlightenment] rationality’ (Kellner, 1989:105), established conceptual binary-oppositions and disjunctions that formed the basis of ‘reality’. Every field of ‘reality’ was dominated by its binary-oppositions. In each we perceived one ‘term’ as the ‘imaginary’ of the other (Ibid.:105). Life as the antithesis of death, masculine as the opposite of feminine, gay diametrically opposed to straight and so on. Signified concepts and forms precluded exchange from the other by the Saussurean bar of meaning and representation (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:6]). Medical thinking appears to maintain this process. It establishes and upholds similar binaries. These include: addict/non-addict, prescription/illicit drugs, doctor/patient and subject/object. Obviously genetic research will continue, and in many fields breakthroughs will follow. However I find it difficult to believe that such a fixed paradigm can throw much light of our contemporary order, and the spiralling and orbiting signs that characterise a ‘culture of addiction’.
Psychology: The terrain of psychology, from a Baudrillardian perspective, is also unlikely to adequately theorise ‘our’ contemporary ‘culture of addiction’. From his perspective, ‘psychology’ is a ‘third order simulacrum’. The ‘field’ is a simulation, comprised of ‘models’. And it is a ‘machine’ that both endorses, and reinforces, itself as a simulacrum. Essentially, it is a ‘field’ that exemplifies and echoes Baudrillard’s concept of ‘precession of simulacra’ (Baudrillard, 1981 [1994:1]). Psychology concerns itself with relatively stable ‘models’. ‘Models’ constructed by, and contingent upon, the (pseudo) scientific and (abstracted) enlightenment philosophy, that forged disciplines such as psychology. Furthermore; like other spheres of human enquiry, such as ‘politics, law and aesthetics’, it is characterised its ‘non-equivalence’ (Baudrillard, 1999 [2001:4]). Using Baudrillard’s words, an examination of psychology (and these other disciplines), reveals that ‘Literally, they have no meaning outside themselves and cannot be exchanged for anything’ (Ibid). Psychology obediently follows the rational enlightenment dream. But it has ‘nothing to justify it at a universal level’ (Ibid.:6). Its concepts, and proof of their existence, lie within the sphere of psychology. ‘Outside that sphere lies radical uncertainty’ (Ibid.). The search for otherness has ‘died’, leaving psychology to validate itself. The paradigm is a simulation.
Continuing with this Baudrillardian perspective; it appears that psychology has constructed ‘models’ of the addict, and its (normal) ‘other’. And these ‘models’ have been supported and proliferated by the media. These models include: The victim of childhood abuse, the vulnerable, anxious, oppressed, alienated-urban, isolated-rural, the lonely, the ethnic and cultural ‘other’ etc (McMurran, 1994:31-34, 39, 42). However, perhaps in this ‘field’, these models/images now precede any ‘reality’. And, consequently, psychology (and perhaps all of us) seeks out its own creations/models in the patient, before the patient even has time to speak – precession of simulacra? Under the guise of the ‘Enlightenment dream’ and its ‘operational genesis’, psychoanalysis is not about people talking, but about making people talk. It of the ‘age of the factitious’; ‘psychoanalysis, is indeed endless, aimless, illusionless performance’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:48-49]). Furthermore, in line with the earlier discussion on ‘medicine’, psychology also constructs and refers to binary oppositions in order to establish and support its knowledge claims. However, once again, the rigid distinctions, that form these binaries, such as normal/abnormal, right/wrong, mad/sane or sick/well are unlikely to shed light on the contemporary condition of ‘cultural addiction’ with its floating, orbiting and ambiguous references .
Sociology: Baudrillard (1978 [1983:67]) argues that sociology and the social sciences have consecrated the ‘obviousness and agelessness of the social’. And, at the heart of this consecrated ‘social’, there remains an equally unchallenged concept of ‘the masses’. Through a ‘reversal’, Baudrillard challenges this ‘apathy’. He declares that the term mass, as a ‘real population, body or specific social aggregate…has no sociological ‘reality’’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:5]). So perhaps it never did? This raises the question of whether these ‘sciences’ have also allowed their own constructions to dominate their ‘field’. Are traditional social sciences, like psychology, an internal dialogue (a simulation), which also lacks anything to ‘justify it at a universal level’ (Baudrillard, 1999 [2001:6])?
Giddens work is ‘of the form’ condemned by Baudrillard. It assumes the existence of ‘a social’ characteristic of the academic sociology. As well as a presupposition of this ‘social’, it also adheres to a conception of ‘the masses’ as a responsive and reflexive unit. An acceptance of a ‘social’ which is ‘reflexive’ and responsive to intervention by a ‘political elite’ is apparent in his (2007) article sub-titled ‘The state can only deal with our myriad compulsive behaviours by first recognising their common basis’. ‘What to do? How to act? Who to be? These are the focal questions for anyone living in circumstances of late modernity’ (Giddens, 1991:70). According to Giddens, in ‘high-modernity’, the state, its institutions, and the political elite, remain central to education, understanding, and organisation. ‘The masses’ are individually and collectively ‘reflexive’, and they are ‘malleable’ into responding rationally, and appropriately. It is the role and responsibility of the ‘political elite’ (amongst whom Giddens is a New Labour favourite and a Labour peer!) to establish ‘valid’ choices’, then educate and encourage people to select ‘rationally’ from their options. Thereby Giddens demonstrates, not only a belief in the utilitarian state, but also in a state that respects its citizens and their ability to choose. His is a ‘caring’ government that, since the 1900s, has continued to assist in the management of risk (Ibid.:115).
c) Giddens: Reflexive Modernity and Addiction
A significant theme of Anthony Giddens’s sociology of late modernity is an ongoing attention to this concept of ‘reflexivity’. It is through ‘reflexivity’ that Giddens explains how behaviour patterns emerge, are maintained, and then develop into ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’. According to Giddens, ‘the self is not a passive entity’ (Giddens, 1991: 2). ‘In the setting of what I call ‘high’ or ‘late’ modernity – our present-day world – the self, like the broader institutional contexts in which it exists, has to be reflexively made’ (Ibid.:3). So an individual has the role and responsibility to choose from an array of ‘lifestyle options’, in order to establish a personal narrative, and accomplish an operational level of ‘ontological security’ (Ibid.:225). Thus the ‘self’ becomes a reflexive project and the ‘identity of the self [is] routinely created and sustained in the reflexive activities of the individual’ (Ibid.:52).
A Giddensian emphasis on reflexivity constructs ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ as ‘reflexivity gone wrong’, or as a ‘pathology based in reflexivity’. Regarding anorexia, Giddens wrote, ‘You can easily see that anorexia is a form of compulsion’ (Giddens, 1999). ‘The self, of course, is embodied… [and] …bodily control is a central aspect of what we cannot say in words’(Giddens, 1991:56). So, to be a competent agent in late modernity requires ‘body discipline’ (Ibid.). Therefore, anorexia stems from the reflexive project of the self. It is, like its opposite, compulsive overeating, a ‘causalit[y] of the need-and responsibility – of the individual to create and maintain a distinctive self-identity’ (Ibid.:105). This ‘pathology’ of self-control, requires a ‘marked reflexive component’ (Ibid.). It is not a lifestyle that someone simply falls into, casually follows, or mindlessly (hyper) conforms to. In order to adhere to a deliberate aesthetic, a great deal of care and attention is required. It necessitates sufficient effort to collect lifestyle information and to become ‘highly active and coordinated’ (Ibid.:106). For Giddens, the anorexic is not refusing to become an adult, or the passive victim of fashion magazines, but is making themselves (at least initially) in charge of the ‘reflexive self’.
Giddens theorises anorexia is an aberration. It is a pathological consequence of a ‘cultivated risk’ (Ibid.:125). ‘Pathology of reflexivity’, seemingly, according to Giddens, forms the common component behind all addictions. ‘Addiction is about compulsion in behaviour, especially where in that compulsion you experience a negative cycle. What originally gave pleasure, normally pleasure of the body but maybe pleasure of the mind, becomes transformed into a fix, and the fix becomes part of the degenerative circle until the pleasure gained from achieving something becomes a compulsion to do it, and you get locked into a routine mode of production [emphasis added]’ (Giddens, 1999). So, a ‘reflexive’ individual is able and willing to reflect upon the ‘pros and cons’ of taking up the smoking and drinking lifestyle options. And, although smoking cigarettes has become widely condemned as a lifestyle in recent years, for many it remains (initially) a psychologically rewarding choice in terms of self-identity, perhaps as a means of expressing rebellion or bravado. The same ‘truth’ holds for alcohol and for illicit drugs. ‘When an initially pleasurable experience becomes a fix, individuals have lost control of their behaviour. To regain the intensity of the initial high, they have to have a higher dose, or more frequently repeated doses (Giddens, 2007).
I understand a Giddensian argument to be that, in terms of state intervention, ‘life politics’ has usurped ‘emancipatory politics’ (Giddens, 1991:210-214). In ‘high modernity’ the centrality of the self has become paramount. The government and its institutions have a ‘new’ requirement. This is to recognise, understand, and support the ‘reflexive’ nature of life in late modernity. It is the role of the (caring) state, its institutions, and the ‘political elite’, to understand the common ‘reflexive’ element behind ‘addiction and convulsive behaviour’. Then, for the good of society and its individuals, establish and promote an accessible range of lifestyle options that either prevent ‘bad choice’, offer the addict the chance to break ‘pathological’ habits, or provide more favourable and constructive opportunities to its ‘reflexive’ population.
d) The ‘Death of the Social’ and an ‘Explosion’ of Fractured Addiction
Baudrillard began his ‘career’ as a sociologist. However, his challenge to the ‘obviousness and agelessness of the social’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:67]) now separates him from sociology, and the traditional social sciences. Baudrillard argues that it is ‘time to change our tune’ regarding the social sciences’ ‘consecration’ of the social (Ibid.). This is a characteristic act of ‘reversal’ in which Baudrillard suggests that ‘the social’ requires re-conception from the perspective of its ‘death’. So, whilst sociology remains of the ‘second and third orders’, maintaining the life of ‘the social’, upholding its (own) references to the economy, production, to the ‘the masses’, and to models such as class and gender, Baudrillard contends that ‘the social’ has imploded and ‘the masses’ now form a MASS. ‘We form a mass, living most of the time in panic or haphazardly, above and beyond any meaning’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:11]). Furthermore, according to Baudrillard (1978 ), whereas once perhaps, the state and its ‘political elite’ might have simulated respect towards its citizens, and exuded nurture and inclusion, now the state explicitly demonstrates its fear of the ‘terroristic’ public, and treats them accordingly. They are constantly watched, monitored, bombarded with information, analysed, quantified and made ‘equivalent’ to each other in the form of ‘data’. Through ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’ the state tries to (intimidate) control, not manage risk and provide for its citizens. Furthermore, through organised systems, the data/information is so comprehensive and accessible, that the gap between the ‘real’ and the ‘duplicate’ has collapsed. Often, in the case of political surveillance of the population, or in law enforcement, the duplicate (data-simulation) precedes the ‘real’ – precession of simulacra.
In Baudrillard’s analysis, ‘the mass’ does not conform to the ‘Giddensian’ model of a docile, ‘reflexive’, and responsive unit. It is not a unified group that responds rationally to stimuli. And, via a process of ‘reflexivity’, chooses from the ‘overt’ options that are presented by a benevolent ‘political elite’. ‘The Silent Majorities’ may not recognise their subjugation, but they have still developed ways of defying the ‘elite’. Recognisable responses include ‘non-action’, and ‘withdrawal’. The ‘silence’ of the masses can ‘disturb the system’ (Pawlett, 2007: 84). ‘Silence’ cannot always be ignored by the ‘elite’. To retain ‘a shadow’ of its former power, politics must ‘play out’ its own simulation. This requires imitating, and reinforcing the consecration, of ‘the social’. By not-voting, and withdrawing from (traditional) political involvement, the ‘silent majorities’ have forced the hand of politicians, made them act upon their legitimacy, and consider a broader approach to political inclusion. ‘Neutralisation’ is a response which can also be characterised by non-response and withdrawal. However, we only have to think of New Labour and Jamie Oliver’s ‘healthy eating campaign for schools’ to see how the ‘mass’ is capable of actively absorbing and neutralising ‘education’ from the ‘political elite’. In response to a school ‘improving’ the food provided in its cafeteria, ‘Students at Rawmarsh Comprehensive are not allowed out of the grounds at lunchtime, so some parents are taking their orders for the chip shop instead’ (BBC, 2006).
Or perhaps these parents are demonstrating a disruptive ‘hyperconformity’. An example of how disruption arises through an ‘unswerving’ conformity to parental choice, at the expense of all others references. Baudrillard argued that the system can be ‘destabilised by an unswerving conformity to its expectations’ (Pawlett, 2007: 83). This can be exemplified by a brief look at ‘celebrity culture’. Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘culture industry thesis’ remains central to understanding a ‘structuralist interpretation’ of celebrity, and its relationship to consumption. It holds that, in late capitalism, changing forces and relations of production gave the ‘the masses’ time and money to indulge in cultural and leisure pursuits. However, the entertainment industry was developed as an extension of existing capital. It operates in order to maintain industrial productivity, by imprinting the ‘power of industrial society’ (Horkheimer and Adorno, 2006:45), and extend the reach of capitalism, by creating new markets. Each product of the culture industry: ‘is a model of the gigantic economic machinery, which, from the first, keeps everyone on their toes, both at work and in the leisure time’ (Ibid.:45).
Contemporary structuralist approaches to the ‘culture industry’ still reflect Horkheimer and Adorno’s thesis. Celebrities are products of the ‘culture industry’, and celebrity culture, it is argued, subdues ‘the masses’ and indoctrinate[s] them into pursuing imitative cultural and consumption patterns. ‘Celebrity’ creates profit and spreads ‘false consciousness’ through imitative consumption, and ‘repressive desublimation’ (Marcuse in Rojek, 2001:34). I contend that ‘our’ obsession with ‘celebrities’ is clearly beyond any ‘rational’ or ‘structuralist’ ‘laws’ of value, equivalence or consumption. A ‘hyperconformity’ to celebrity culture (at the expense of other references) has become a ‘viral’ obsession that can disrupt the ‘rational order’, such as when it develops into stalking (by the media or by individuals) or even murder. In ‘our’ media age, a disruptive obsession with a hyper-real ‘celebrity’ could include assassinations, and assassination attempts, on musicians, popes, politicians and royals. It is interesting to note the similarity between Baudrillard’s concept of hyperconformity and Nietzsche’s perception that ‘To predict the behaviour of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence’.
Whereas sociologists such as Giddens maintain ‘the social’ as a ‘living’ entity, Baudrillard’s reversal allows him to develop some alternative theories of ‘the social’. These involve looking at ‘the social’ as pure simulation; and ‘the social from the perspective of its ‘death’. These theories can be summarised as follows. Firstly: ‘The social has basically never existed…nothing has ever functioned socially’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:70-71]). The social has always been a ‘simulation’. Secondly, Baudrillard proposes that perhaps ‘The social has really existed, it exists more and more [but] the social is only residue’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:72]). It is formed out of debris from the symbolic order – an accumulation of residues that, beginning with the sick and weak, has expanded until ‘everybody is completely excluded and taken in charge, completely disintegrated and socialised’ (Ibid.:73). Finally Baudrillard considers whether ‘the social has well and truly existed, but does not exist anymore…It existed in the narrow gap of the second order simulacra’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:82]). But we are witnessing the ‘death’ of the social and the emergence of contact and mediated information through ‘terminals’. Instead of transforming ‘the masses’ into energy, this shattering of ‘the social’ and ubiquitous information produces even more ‘mass’. As we have seen, in the social sciences, and with the continuous efforts of today’s political elite to seduce individuals back to ‘the social’, ‘immense energy is expended…in maintaining this simulation of the social and in preventing it from totally imploding’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:85-86]).
To summarize: Following Baudrillard’s theories, in the ‘fourth order’, ‘the social of academic modernity’ is reversed, and the world is becoming evermore disenchanted. We are increasingly isolated at our terminals, and (in our hyperreality), the ‘signs’ (of addiction and any other) have become distant and cold. Furthermore, these cold signs are in ‘orbit’, and uncertainty is the rule. ‘After the Orgy’, exemplified by ‘value’, all meaning is fractured. Any ‘thing’ can refer to anyone, anything, any concept, physical or metaphysical. Perhaps advertising has been a ‘paean’ (Baudrillard, 1970 [1998a:193]) to ‘fracture’, and played a ‘starring role’ in the ‘implosion’ of the sign / signifier relationship. It has, along with the ‘Orgy’ of the 1960s brought about the melodrama, ‘courtesy of analytic metadiscourses’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:125]). Now we live in a world where a car can be a ‘sign’ of freedom, style, status, success, greed and (green) politics. Or a shirt can be a ‘sign’ of status, respectability, youth, cool. Or a cigarette can signify (Giddensian) rebellion and bravado.
It is worth considering whether, from a Baudrillardian perspective, it might be the ‘fractured’ character of the ‘fourth order’ that is facilitating an ‘explosion’ in the concepts, understandings, ‘locations’ and responses associated with ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’. It might only be in this environment where ‘the new principle of uncertainty holds sway over all’ (Ibid.:40) that addiction could have become multiply located, connoted and denoted. Perhaps Baudrillard’s ‘principle of uncertainty’ (following the ‘death’ of the social) might be more able, than traditional paradigms, to shed some light on ‘our’ culture of trans-addiction. A culture of shifting ‘locations’, from sex to chocolate, and fractal ‘signified’ from danger to endearment and pride. In modernity, as Giddens seems to suggest, when sign/signifier relationships appeared to be relatively ‘fixed’ and stable, perhaps people could make rational judgements and take a calculated ‘risk’ (Giddens, 1991:182) when considering a possible path to addiction. However, now, in the wake of the ‘fourth order’, where we appear to reach a ‘trans–addictive’ state of addiction – to accompany the states of the ‘trans-political’, ‘trans-aesthetic’ and ‘trans-sexual’ (Baudrillard, 1976 ), matters are more confused, and the idea of ‘reflexivity’ should be challenged.
III. The Explosion of Addiction As A Cultural Phenomenon
According to Baudrillard’s theories, the potential for an ‘explosion’ in addiction has arisen. But why has it been so widely seized upon, and with such apparent enthusiasm? I believe that Baudrillard’s theories compellingly theorise re the potential for an ‘orbiting’ and ‘spiralling’ form of (trans)addiction`. In the ‘meta-discourse’, fractured ‘signs’ with potentially infinite array of denotations and connotations are available for ‘our’ inculcation and ‘consumption’. However, Baudrillard argued that people construct their (pseudo) identities through the acquisition and display of multiple commodity signs, from many different pre-coded ‘choices’. So, although the ‘signs’ of addiction have become available to all consumers, this can be no guarantee of their consumption. People can select from a range or ‘a sliding scale’ (Baudrillard, 1970 [1998a:88-9]).
a) Why select addiction? ‘Disenchantment’ is a powerful theme in Baudrillard’s work. He argued that the movement of modernity transcribed ‘all that was in the order of the imaginary, the dream, the ideal’ into an ‘operational reality’ (Baudrillard, 1970 [1998:50]). In the ‘third order’ – digital age – this disenchantment progressed, as, in terms of meaning, points of reference became homogenous mediated images and models, which, although intangible, became the pillars of a ‘cold’ and distant ‘reality principle’. Baudrillard’s focus on ‘disenchantment’, associated with a collapsing media-reality binary, extends earlier analyses of ‘the media age’. It was a theme central to the ‘culture industry thesis’ referred to earlier. Horkheimer and Adorno (2006:45) argued that ‘The whole world is passed through the filter of the culture industry’ and the ‘guideline of production’ within this industry is to ‘reproduce the world of everyday perception’. ‘The more densely and completely its techniques duplicate empirical objects, the more easily it creates the illusion that the world outside is a seamless extension of the one which has been revealed in the cinema…According to this tendency, life is to be made indistinguishable from the sound film’ (Horkheimer, Adorno, 2006:45).
Furthermore, Walter Benjamin recognised that since the ‘age of mechanical reproduction’, the ‘aura’ of works of art, images of the world, performances and performers had progressively ‘wither[ed]’ (Benjamin, 2006: 21). In previous ‘eras’ access to works of art was exclusive. ‘Sacred’ works were separated from the ‘profane’ (Durkheim 1976:47). Secular works could not always be accessed or acquired by ‘commoners’ (through galleries), only by those of a certain social-class. Even once access could be bought, an engagement (with art) required some knowledge, effort and education. It also required members of the public to engage with each other as they visited galleries, the theatre, and other forms of ‘live’ performance. Now, however, ‘cold images’ are mass produced and re-produced solely for their reproducibility. Images and filmed performances are generally viewed alone, or in isolated groups. ‘Interaction’ with ‘art’ or ‘images’ requires no more than the flick of a switch. Our past ‘heroes’ were imbued with ‘charisma’ (Weber, 1968:20), and our ‘idols’ retained genuine ‘warmth’ (Benjamin, 2006: 26). The pre-modern artists can remain ‘enigmatic’. The charismatic Winston Churchill will be revered long after his death: However our contemporary ‘celebrities’ rapidly become fleeting memories. Perhaps their survival requires the public exposition of ‘warmth’ via human interest stories. Getting into OK Magazine seems to demand it!
Nietzsche comments: ‘Our age is an agitated one, and precisely for that reason not an age of passion; it heats itself up constantly because it feels that it is not warm-basically it is freezing…In our times it is merely by means of an echo that events acquire their ‘greatness’- the echo of a newspaper’’ (Nietzsche in Merrin 1999:41). Over 100 years ago, Nietzsche portrayed a ‘cold’ age that looks to the media to warm up its cold heart. With the concepts of ‘coldness’ (Nietzsche) and ‘disenchantment’ (Baudrillard) in mind, it is worth considering a Baudrillardian reversal. What might ‘addiction’ have to offer? What does it provide? What does it save us from? Could it, like the mediated circus that surrounded the death of Princess Diana (Merrin, 1999), provide the population with (illusory) ‘signs’ of warmth, and a ‘space’ in which to escape the repressive horrors of simulation. Perhaps our media stars and celebrities are ‘consuming’ and displaying multiple signs of addiction as tools for restoring or simulating their lost ‘aura’ (Benjamin, 2006:21). An actor is a man who ‘has to operate with his whole living person, yet forgetting its aura’ (Ibid.:26). Is ‘addiction’ being used by these ‘disenchanted’ people to indicate that they are still ‘human’? Is ‘addiction’ a ‘warm human interest story’ to survive the cold? And, if so, perhaps ‘mass consumption’ of multiple ‘signs’ of addiction is a performance: a mass parody of addiction that allows multiple engagements. It denotes that ‘in a rational enlightenment driven society, ‘I AM NOT A ROBOT’. ‘I am engaged and I am engaging’. ‘Not everything in ‘my’ life is disenchanted, rational, instrumental, ordered and under control’.
As Baudrillard has long argued, the reign of a new (fourth) social order will not abolish the influence of its predecessor. So, ‘third order’ mediated ‘models’ will remain influential. Adorno and Horkheimer (2006:63) recognised that the consumption of ‘signs’ expresses a ‘pseudo individuality’. Baudrillard argues that ‘identity is a dream pathetic in its absurdity’ (Baudrillard, 1998b:49). An identity as a ‘liberated being’ is not universal. It is a Western ‘remain’, and a consequence of enlightenment thinking and the modernist project. However, in the ‘fourth order’, in Western society, people are still encouraged to construct their own (pseudo) identity. So, it is more than possible that, in the same manner in which Baudrillard assessed the consumption of ‘media generated models’ as a means of expressing individuality, rebellion, status and success, perhaps, in our ‘cold’ environment, people now select and consume media generated models/signs/language/discourse of addiction. Of course such a ‘performance’ does not require a possible ‘game to the death’ of the dangerous ‘exchanges’ involved in alcoholism, drug addiction or anorexia. A ‘parody’ and a (hyper) performance of the now fractured signs of addiction (chocolate, shopping, cars etc) can be enough to express or denote a certain (pseudo) individuality and ‘warmth’ of character, without inviting un-required ‘specialist’ attention or condemnation.
Perhaps it is true (as psychologists might inform us) that ‘troubled’ people make desperate decisions, in terms of their choices, and show an increased propensity for developing compulsive drug and alcohol use. However, perhaps this is because those ‘individuals’ are ones for whom (like today’s actors and celebrities) the world has become ‘colder than cold’, and suffered an intense disenchantment, perhaps by the ‘violent’ severing of ‘symbolic relations/exchange’ (sexual abuse – violent significant relationships – rural loneliness – urban alienated etc). Therefore, they may be more desperate for the ‘warmth’ that addiction offers, disappointed not to find it at it at any superficial level of performance, and so stare deeper into the ‘abyss’. Perhaps, for many people, ‘experience’ teaches them that life cannot be understood either through the rationality that the enlightenment simulation tries to universalise, or made bearable/meaningful/reciprocal through symbolic exchange. And, in many cases, ‘if we come face to face with a world that is incomprehensible and problematic, it may be clear what we have to do: we should make such a world even more incomprehensible, even more mysterious’ (Baudrillard, 2000). Perhaps addictions, including drugs and alcohol, allow many to achieve this end. Not by achieving a ‘secondary state distinct from a natural state… But by constituting a chemical prosthesis, a mental surgery of performance, a plastic surgery of perception’. (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:48-50]).
b) Is addiction a form of resistance and defiance?
It appears to me that there is something about ‘our’ contemporary ‘culture of addiction’ than the medical, psychological, rational choice model, or the notion of ‘reflexivity’ cannot explain. These ‘paradigms’ faithfully uphold the ‘the enlightenment dream’. However, using Baudrillard’s terms, it seems possible that an ‘explosion in addiction’ might be a (temporary) space where ‘remains’ from the ‘symbolic universe’ are invading the rational ‘reality principle’. As the ‘mass’ seeks out some of the warmth that haunts our disenchanted reality principle, our contemporary ‘culture of addiction’ could be a ‘reaction where the organism seeks to preserve its symbolic integrity’ (Ibid.:74). And evidence that ‘symbolic exchange’ continues to ‘haunt’ simulation’ (Pawlett, 2007:71). Addiction could be confirmation of Baudrillard’s claim that ‘remains’ of previous ‘orders’ ensure that, although (in the fourth order) the ‘crime’ of violently separating the sign from the signifier, and the individual from the social, ‘barring’ symbolic exchange, and imposing a fully ‘coded’ ‘universal’ is an on-going process, the ‘crime’ can never be a ‘Perfect Crime’ (Baudrillard, 1996).
In this fractured ‘reality’, in the uncertainty that follows the ‘implosion and explosion’ of meaning, and in ‘life’ after the collapse of the Saussurean bar, the ‘silent majorities’ are never entirely convinced by ‘reason’ and its ‘truth claims’. At their terminals, bombarded with information, they test the system by pushing the ‘separation’ and ‘crime’ to its limits. According to Baudrillard, ‘There is a law of diminishing returns at work: the harder the system tries to persuade us that we live in reality, by multiplying signs of reality, the less we are convinced that these signs refer to anything real’ (Pawlett, 2007:87). So whilst the ‘political elite’ purposefully maintain a ‘simulation’ of ‘the masses’ as unified social ‘subjects’, for Baudrillard, ‘the elite’ treat people as ‘objects’. And (as in the case of genetics and its specialists) like the objects of scientific study, when solicited by the political elite (through consultations/elections/questionnaires) the public can stay silent. Then politicians, like scientists, embark on ever more ‘imaginative investigation/scientific investigation. They look to change their methodology, rather than questions, and dare not consider the possible futility of their work. Or, like the object of scientific study, the public can respond, but only by ‘staring back’ and conforming to the ‘simulated’ environment in which the experimentation takes place, thereby reinforcing the ‘simulacrum’.
Alternatively, alongside long standing destabilising resistances to political solicitation, such as silence and withdrawal, in the contemporary era, the masses might also choose to ‘accept everything and redirect everything en bloc into the spectacular, without requiring any other code, without requiring any meaning, ultimately without resistance, but making everything slide into an indeterminate sphere’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:43-44]). The Mass ‘know there is no liberation, and that the system is only abolished by pushing it into hyperlogic’ (Ibid.:46). So they are forced into a never equivalent, ‘ever escalating, response’ (Ibid.:70). With this in mind, if, as Baudrillard theorised, the Mass, or the ‘silent majorities’ resist/test through ‘hyperconformity’ (Ibid.:41), then by consuming ‘addiction’ so readily, perhaps ‘They are merely playing as they have been taught to play, speculating on the Bourse of statistics and images’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:41]). So, could addiction, in its ‘cultural form’, be a ‘parody and a paradox…A destructive hypersimulation, a destructive Hyperconformity’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:47])? It seems that an ‘explosive’ uptake/consumption and display of diverse ‘addictive’ and ‘compulsive’ behaviours, and consumption of addictive ‘identities’, could be a response to the promise of warmth ‘offered’ by addiction, and an ensuing (hyper)conformity to this ‘performance’; but a consumption and performance that far exceeds any ‘rational’ understanding. In contemporary society, perhaps addiction has become the ‘site’ of a mass parody of conformity. One that is spreading, like a virus, into ubiquitous addiction, spiralling rates, and fractured examples, of ‘addictive’ behaviour, and a discourse liberated from all traditional references.
Within the ‘binaries’ that support ‘second and third order rational paradigms’, those which have thus far sequestered the field of ‘addiction’, the ‘signs’ of addiction always form the negative terms in each opposition. They are ‘pathologies of choice’, signifiers of insanity, pockets of deviance, rebellion, difference, and so on. However, perhaps contemporary ‘addiction’ deserves a reversal. If ‘addiction and compulsive’ behaviour – and discourse – exemplifies Baudrillard’s theory of hyperconformity, then it is not a ‘rebellious choice’ or a ‘bad choice’, not an ‘aberration’ or a ‘pathology’, but an absolute adherence to a particular pre-coded, anticipated and pre-signified behaviour, at the expense of all others, ‘without requiring any other code, without requiring any meaning, ultimately without resistance, but making everything slide into an indeterminate sphere’ (Baudrillard, 1978 [1983:43-44]). An addiction, it appears, need not signify ‘other’. It can denote a hyperconformity to ‘the same’.
Individually, being clean and hygienic denotes compliance to ‘signs/models’ of sociability, femininity and pride. A hyper-focus on this ‘code’ – extreme cleaning – although it appears to be a hyperconformity to ‘the same’ – has become signified ‘other’ – negatively – as an addiction and compulsion (Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD). A similar process has been applied to slimming, where, in terms of individual ‘reflexivity’, keeping slim denotes compliance to ‘signs/models’ of youth, beauty, pride and others. However, extreme, or hyper- slimming, although it is an extension of the ‘same’, is ‘transformed [emphasis added]’ (Giddens, 1999) to ‘other’, it becomes a pathological and compulsive eating disorder; as does hyper-consumption of food in ‘a society of plenty’, where eating heartily is expected, and compliant. Also, with alcohol consumption, drinking alcohol (and getting drunk) signifies compliance to certain ‘signs’ or ‘models’: youth, fun, pleasure or perhaps indulgence. But, when an over compliance to these models becomes manifest in extreme, hyper, or ‘binge’ drinking, it induces a switch to the negative denotations of ‘alcoholism’, ‘dependency’ and ‘harm’. It seems that even sexual activity has been sequestered by the binary discourse of pathology. Appropriately promiscuous behaviour signifies compliance to social norms associated with the ‘liberated Western self’, but excess switches denotation to a sickness, addiction or compulsion. Arguably, this could also be the case with ‘traditional addictions’. Using illegal(ized) drugs might simply (hyper)comply to the ‘signs/models’ of rebellion and escapism associated with the ingestion of a ‘legal fix’: perhaps coffee, tobacco or alcohol. And with the use of pharmaceutical drugs (just to get through the day) on the increase, should we be surprised if more people pursue the benefits of a (fractured) fix? So ‘addiction’, which has consistently denoted a pathological ‘other’, could conceivably be multiple, fractured and fragmented, sometimes absolute and ‘played to the death’, though often superficial and performative, pursuits of ‘the same’, in an already well established ‘game of signs’.
When the multiple physical, and ‘metaphysical’, addictions that are becoming prevalent and perhaps ubiquitous in contemporary society are analysed ‘en mass’, I am convinced that we are witnessing a form of hyperconformity. A parody of the system, and a ‘performance’ where we can all delight in being part of the system, and its ‘secret pathology’, a symbolic space where we can revel ‘in the viruses… the viruses [that] are part and parcel of the hyperlogical consistency of our systems’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:39]).
IV. The Oligopoly of Traditional Paradigms
How has society traditionally responded to the phenomenon of ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’, and why? How does this influence the response to ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ in its present ‘cultural form’? ‘Everything that is symbolically exchanged constitutes a mortal danger for the dominant order’ (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:188]). Therefore the system has to respond in order to shut down/hide/bar the symbolic threat from addiction. As we have seen, throughout modernity, as a field of academic interest, ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ have been firmly located within traditional paradigms such as medicine, psychology and sociology. In terms of treatment, exemplified by how we have dealt with issues arising from addictions to alcohol and controlled drugs, the same ‘paradigms’ have taken centre stage. However, our situation is historically specific. There was a time when discursive practices related to excessive consumption of ‘mind altering substances’ were very different. ‘Throughout English history alcoholism only existed as being drunk and rowdy. Drunkenness was regarded as one of the main threats to public order. But in the early years of the twentieth century being drunk became transformed into a pathology, and that pathology was alcoholism’ (Giddens, 1999). Furthermore, ‘Most of the drugs that are now illegal in Western countries were not all illegal in the nineteenth century. Some of them were widely consumed by artists and poets, and were used for medicinal purposes. They became illegal in the early years of the twentieth century and that gave rise to one sense which the term drug has for us’ (Ibid).
The period during which these ‘behaviours’ became ‘pathologies’, and were sequestered by ‘medicine and ‘psychology’, reflect Baudrillard’s history of social change, and the particular ‘reality principles’ he associated with each of the ‘orders of simulacra’. The institutions and practices that serve the structures of modernity have operated in such a way as to construct, reinforce, and maintain, ‘binaries’ characteristic of ‘reality’ in the ‘second and third orders’. In particular they have reinforced the ‘principle’ opposition that characterised those times, which was the life/death binary (Baudrillard, 1976 [1993:173]). When drink and drug ‘addiction’ became the territory of clinics, counsellors, doctors and hospitals, in combination, these structures were able to preserve the life(s) of ‘addicts’ or to hide the sicknesses and deaths of those that ‘slip through the net’. That same system also ‘bars’ symbolic/‘suicidal’ (i.e. non-performance) behaviour, and ‘violently’ reinforces ‘reality’, by (re)constructing ‘drunken excess’ in terms of familiar binaries: healthy/unhealthy, medical/psychological, user/non-user, sane/insane etc. In this way ‘warm’ addicts and their ‘dangerous’ exchanges (sometimes played to the death) are reincorporated into the ‘code’ through the ‘violent’ intervention of the system. Furthermore: by hiding its own ‘waste’ and reabsorbing its ‘remainder’, the system allows for the unstoppable expansion (and simultaneous death) of the social, (hyper) signification and ‘play’ – ‘A process of indefinite reproduction of the code’ (Baudrillard, 1972 [1981:158]).
In contemporary society, it appears, in most individual cases, ‘addiction’ is not harmful or ‘dangerous. It is a ‘parody’ of non-performance that is more likely to be encouraged than ‘barred’ by the capitalist system; such as addictions to cleaning, chocolate, films, shopping etc. However, where the symbolic threat of addiction becomes a threat to the social order, in terms of its ‘suicidal’ (tangible non-performance) acts and consequences, such as when an ‘addiction’ to food leads to obesity, bulimia, or its opposite anorexia, or when drug and alcohol use lead to a damaging addiction, or when an ‘addiction’ to sex, shopping or people, results in divorce or broken families, societal responses still operate in the ‘second and third orders’. The ‘social’ seems to expand, and its institutions ‘step in’ to (re)absorb its own waste. Obesity is dealt with through hospital/medical attention, admission, and surgical intervention. Drug addiction and eating disorders become the territory of clinics and counsellors, as does OCD, sex addiction, addiction to shopping, and ‘addiction’ to people. There is a one-stop clinic for everything, where ‘addiction’ problems can be sorted out through rational processes. So the system, in the name of the individual, progress and truth, effectively simulates ‘nurture’, through protection, understanding and cure, whilst simultaneously protecting itself from ‘mortal danger’. But, in order to protect the ‘dominant order’ from ‘mortal danger’, perhaps it hides a symbolic ‘truth’ behind addiction, by ‘violently’ breaking the ‘symbolic pact’ and (always imperfectly) imposing ‘the rational’?
V. Reconsidering Addiction As An Abreaction Not An Aberration
If we accept that, in this ‘social order’, ‘signs’ and ‘signifiers’ are part of an infinite ‘galaxy’ of potential reproducibility and reference, it is worth considering whether traditional paradigms can maintain their ‘oligopoly’ in the field of ‘addiction’. A Baudrillardian perspective suggests that, in today’s climate, it is not acceptable, sufficient or sustainable to remain entirely focussed on medical, psychological or sociological pathologies. Addiction might be symptomatic of excess. Addiction could be an ‘extreme phenomenon’ that, in its contemporary form, is an example of how ‘The dangers threatening the human species are thus less risks of default……than risks of excess’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:103]). If it is, then understanding of the ‘hyperreality of addiction’ is not to be found by focussing on ‘rational systems’ or ‘reflexive institutions’, or by examining lucid, ‘reflexive’ individuals. Not if these ‘events’ are a ‘spectacular expression of that system’ (Ibid.:67), and not ‘spectacular’ pathologies of isolated individual choices. So, perhaps we require a new perspective ‘other’ to the ‘sanitary’ research projects of modernity.
In order to understand and explain ‘extreme phenomenon’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b]), Jean Baudrillard appropriates and utilises a term more familiar to psychoanalysis. He refers to them as ‘abreaction(s)’ (Baudrillard, 2005:35). In psychoanalysis, an abreaction is ‘the release of a repression’. It involves a revival of a traumatic experience, in controlled conditions. It is considered to be a cathartic experience that allows an individual to reveal, understand, and ‘move on’ from ‘that’ oppressive and repressive experience. In Baudrillard’s work, a hint of the original meaning of an ‘abreaction’ as a cathartic experience remains. However, the idea is extended in order to explain a ‘mass’ response to abstract social phenomenon, not an ‘individual’ release from more personal lived experiences. Baudrillard’s work on abreactions is probably best exemplified by examining his analysis of (fundamentalist) terrorism. Baudrillard claims that terrorism, in its contemporary form, is a cathartic release from globalisation. It is a symptom of the expanding imposition of the constraints of ‘rationality’, and the intensifying disenchantment of modern life.
As we have seen, a fundamental element of Baudrillard’s work has been his challenge to the rationality of an unfaltering faith in ‘the rational’. He points out how, in the West, ‘enlightenment thought’ dominates our philosophical landscape and forms the very basis of our ‘reality principle’. It is now so powerful that it has become almost inconceivable that any ‘other’ could have existed, or has the right to exist. Western society operates in the ‘mirror of production’ (Baudrillard, 1973 ), which, in turn, operates in the ‘mirror of rationality’. However, Baudrillard has pointed out that other practices, such as ‘symbolic exchange’ (Baudrillard, 1976 ), were prevalent in the West, and are still practiced elsewhere. It is only consequent to centuries of ‘violence’ that the Western ‘reality principle’ now denies or obscures it. Globalisation signifies an expansion of the West’s ‘reality principle’. Baudrillard has suggested that globalisation has been crushing the universal. ‘We’ are forcing the ‘other’ into our ‘game’, in which ‘we want is to put the rest of the world on the same level of masquerade and parody that we are on, to put the rest of the world into simulation, so all the world becomes total artifice and then we are all-powerful’ (Baudrillard in Solomon, 2005).
A brief consideration of how, in order to be accepted by the West, China has been pressured to ‘play the global game’, and, has consequently projected a ‘shiny’ artifice during the 2008 Olympics, exemplifies Baudrillard’s point. ‘The Beijing that visitors and television viewers see during the Olympics isn’t my Beijing. It’s unnaturally sanitized and stiffly coiffed, with much of its frenetic grittiness and earthy charm falling victim to zealous organizers who want to host a flawless event’….‘In Olympics Beijing, half the cars have been taken off the roads, and many migrant workers and students have been sent home to reduce pollution and congestion. Much of the city seems eerily quiet, much like the feeling you get driving around an American town on Christmas morning [emphasis added]’ (Chang, 2008). This case serves as an example of how the simulacrum is becoming globally imposed. And ‘once the universal has been crushed by the power of the global…there remains only a ‘face-off between virtual omnipotence and those fiercely opposed to it’ (Baudrillard, 2005, 129).
From this perspective, fundamentalist terrorism is ‘game to the death’ that operates outside the simulacrum. It is a form of cathartic and ‘symbolic-exchange’ which operates through a reversal. The ideologies that support terrorism ground progress in a glorification of, and a journey towards, ‘times gone by’. This endangers Western ‘reality’ and its notion of progression, framed in terms of ‘moving forwards’. So Baudrillard’s theories move away from citing religion as the cause of terrorism, by claiming that terrorism has been caused by globalisation mobilising the ‘imaginary’ (Baudrillard, 2005:130). The system has created fundamentalist terrorism as a violent ‘abreaction’ (Baudrillard, 2005:35). ‘It was the system itself which created the objective conditions for this brutal retaliation. By seizing all the cards for itself it forced the Other to change its rules’ (Baudrillard, 2002:9). Theorising terrorism as an ‘abreaction’ also allows Baudrillard to ask new and radical questions. If terrorism is a cathartic release from oppression, then what consequences and potentialities is it saving ‘us’ from? What is terrorism doing for us? How does it benefit the West and its enemies? What does it teach us about the ‘other’? What does it teach us about us?
So, from a Baudrillardian perspective, it seems reasonable to reflect upon ‘our’ culture of addiction as an ‘abreaction’: a product of our sensitivity to a ‘life provided for us’ (Baudrillard, 2005:35). Similar to terrorism, Aids and cancer, which are reflections of ‘excesses – on the political [sexual] and genetic levels…and the consequent collapse of – the codes of the political, sexual and genetic realms.’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:36]), addiction could be a ‘political’ waste product of a ‘totalitarian reality’, where the ‘universal’ is being imposed on the (still active) remains from previous ‘orders’. Addiction could, like AIDS and cancer, be ‘a viral abreaction’ (Ibid.:72) and the ‘price we are paying for our own system: an attempt to cure its banal virulence by recourse to a fatal form (Ibid.:67). As we have seen, one possible explanation for an ‘explosion’ in ‘addiction’ is as a response to the imposition of rational thought and the disenchantment of the world. It is a cathartic performance that expresses the ‘human element in human beings’. It is cathartic to shout ‘I am not a robot!’ It shows how if the ‘imaginary’ (Baudrillard, 2005:130) and the ‘human spirit’ are mobilised, they can breach the rational ‘reality principle’.
In the light of a Baudrillardian analysis, what should be done about addiction in its present form? If ‘addiction’ has become a viral abreaction, then it, like terrorism, AIDS and cancer is a ‘third order pathology’ which is ‘inaccessible to the pharmacopoeia of an earlier period’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:63-65]). A comprehensive understanding, or cure, for ‘mass addiction’ via its sequestration by ‘rational’ medical and social sciences with their ‘sanitary’ ambitions is in doubt. A form of ‘symbolic exchange’ appears to ‘haunt’ the contemporary order. In the ‘realm’ of addiction, this is possibly becoming manifest as an ‘abreaction’. And, it is ‘useless to appeal to some supposed rationality of the system against that system’s outgrowths’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:67]). As we have seen, in his assessment of ‘Extreme phenomenon’, Baudrillard produces another characteristic act of theoretical reversal. He suggests that we should not be asking ‘what should we do (about ‘Extreme phenomenon’)?’ We should instead be considering, ‘what is cancer a resistance to’, ‘what is aids a resistance to, what even worse eventuality [are they] saving us from?’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:66]).
So perhaps this approach should be applied to a study of ‘addiction’. In terms of illegitimate(ed) addictions, such as those to illicit to drugs like crack and heroin, perhaps we should not only be asking ‘sanitary’ questions focussing on prevention and cure: such as ‘what harm do drugs do individuals and society’? Or ‘how can we prevent drug use?’ Or even ‘what options can we present to a ‘reflexive’ population, in order to encourage them to take up more favourable choices?’ Instead we might also ask: ‘how do drugs benefit individuals and society?’ Or ‘what do drugs do for us?’ In one of only a few direct reference to drugs, Baudrillard asks, Drugs…‘All melodramatics aside, what exactly do they protect us from, from what even worse scourge do the offer us an avenue of escape? (Could it be the brutalising effects of rationality, normative socialization and universal conditioning?)’ (Ibid.:66-70). Perhaps drugs are ‘EVIL’, but evil as ‘equivalent’ to ‘the fundamental rule of reversibility’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:65]). Could the same be said of legitimate(d) addictions to ‘licit’ drugs, such as benzodiazepines (Valium), alcohol and nicotine? Far from causing waste, and causing a system to ‘run out’ of energy, it is even quite probable that drug addiction, and all the compulsive behaviours that parody drug addiction, ‘contribute to the level of vitality and crudely metabolic vigour of the city’ (Ibid.:103).
It is possible to push a Baudrillardian approach to ‘extreme phenomenon’ further, by re-visiting legitimate(d) addictions, and considering how they can be constructed as ‘abreactions’. Perhaps, in order to do so, we need to look no further than current ‘economic instability’ in contemporary Western society. It appears to me that that a mass ‘legitimate compulsion’ or ‘addiction’ to shopping has contributed to the ‘vigour of [our] city’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:103]) and to its simultaneous implosion. Hyper-shopping allows for the unstoppable expansion (and simultaneous death) of the social, (hyper) signification and ‘play’; ‘a process of indefinite reproduction of the code’ (Baudrillard, 1972 [1981:158]). Individually, consuming and parodying the ‘signs’ of a shopaholic, provides a temporary ‘warm space to exist’. It is also a ‘denotation’ of ‘warmth’ to be ‘signified’, to others. It might, however, cause many individual (hidden) concerns regarding debt and credit. In its mass ‘cultural form’ – positively – ‘our’ ‘consumerism’ supports ‘our’ economy, and a ‘parody of warmth’ speaks something about ‘us’ and the world ‘we’ live in, and what we hold dear. It could also have ‘that’ cathartic release that a Baudrillardian analysis suggests we need. However: alternatively – mass consumerism, and a ‘mass parody of warmth’, might have become ‘viral’ – an overt ‘extreme event’ – an ‘abreaction’. A mass parody of ‘addiction’ to shopping might have brought about the 2008 credit crunch. Has ‘hyper-shopping’, a compulsive ‘over-consumption’ of the ‘signs’ that consumerism promotes, over-fed the system in a ‘game to the death’? Was ‘the crunch’ caused by a ‘hyperconformity’ to ‘shopping’, and the promises of the consumer society, followed by a ‘compulsive-need’ to shop (for credit) by governments, banks and people? Could ‘hyperconformity’ – ‘a mass parody’ of an addiction to shopping – have ‘spread like a virus’ and manifest as ‘the credit crunch’. Shopping: an ‘extreme phenomenon’ which broke through the veneer, and brought the system to its ‘critical-mass’, and (barred) implosion?
The current (2008) ‘collapse’ in the UK housing market could also be evidence of ‘hyper-shopping’ – a legitimate addiction – manifesting as an ‘abreaction’. In recent years there has been frenzied activity in the UK housing market. Until recently, house-prices have been steadily rising, and access to mortgages been forthcoming. However, in line with Baudrillard’s genealogy, ‘value’ within the market has become fractured. Value lies not in bricks and mortar, but in metaphysical concepts, such success and status. Furthermore, not being on the housing ladder, signifies, (‘in the mirror of production’) waste, lack of ambition and foolishnesses. A mass ‘hyperconformity’ to consume and display the positive ‘self’ and ‘signification’ that comes with property ownership, and not be that negative non-owning ‘other’, could have induced that spiralling market. One characterised by ever extended credit, sub-prime lending, and even ‘125 per cent mortgages [which] were a relatively new loan on the UK mortgage market before the credit crunch of late 2007, and similar to 100 percent mortgages, are fairly self-explanatory’ (www.mortgages.co.uk, 2008).
It seems that many individuals are willing to own a negative percentage of something physical, in order to ‘own’ and denote a positive collection of metaphysical signs. A mass (viral) compulsion, to display the metaphysical ‘signs’ of success, might have encouraged insupportable debt, brought the system to ‘critical-mass’, and its implosion. Though it is interesting to consider whether, in terms of revitalising and invigorating the city, this ‘collapse’ could be a performance – a simulation of a once vital economy. This ‘collapse’ may be an opportunity for growth. In an age of indeterminate ‘signs’, the city, and the simulacrum that comprises that credit and housing markets, may just start again, and grow stronger, moving in unforeseen directions and in unanticipated ways. Perhaps, like the stock market, ‘when it [the housing market] does crash, [it] causes no substantial disequilibrium’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:27]). In fact in might re-energise and re-vitalise a simulation.
An alternative vision of a ‘Baudrillardian future’ is one of a totally addicted society. Would ‘addiction’ lose its symbolic power and ‘prophylactic effect’, if, through ‘the media’ and technology, it became ubiquitous and entirely ‘encoded’. This is arguably becoming the case with fundamentalist terrorism. It is only through Western media that the profile of fundamentalist terrorism has reached a global audience. So, perhaps a paradox has emerged where Al-Qaeda is immersed within, and dependent upon, the Western simulacrum it challenges. Al-Qaeda and Bin-Laden frequently utilise Western media outlets and its latest technology. Judging by his appearance, Bin Laden appears to demonstrate health and vitality through the conspicuous consumption of ‘signs’ (dyed hair and beard). With ‘broadcast’ and ‘form’, now fundamental to the terrorist movement, perhaps the ‘medium is the message’ (McLuhan in Kellner, 2000). Thereby the West might be winning its war on terrorism, not through its own direct and positive action, but by the ‘other’s’ immersion in the digital simulacrum. Could this be the case for ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’? Once everything, and every behaviour pattern has been ‘encoded’, and ‘brought within’ the simulacrum, does ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ remain a form of (hyper) resistance? Is ‘mass addiction’ still an abreaction once it is ‘encoded’, digitalised, and ‘mediated’? With a ‘de-socialised-mass’ sitting at their terminals, waiting for their thinking to be done for them, could the West win its war on ‘addiction’ by immersion into the digital simulacrum. Addiction might, like terrorism, become less of an ‘abreaction’, and more of an anticipated – pre-coded – expectation – precession of simulacra.
So, as a final thought, it appears to me that ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ might have taken a ‘viral’ form. As a ‘cultural form’, it could have developed into an ‘abreaction’, with the same character as cancer, AIDS or terrorism. Whether legitimate or illegitimate(ed), addiction appears to be a response to ‘the social order’. What began as an encoded ‘release of pressure’ from the stifling effects of coldness and disenchantment is now a game that outplays the logic of simulation. Therefore, perhaps in order to effectively theorise ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’, ‘we’ should be following the Baudrillardian approach to other ‘extreme phenomenon’. In terms of ‘addiction’, in its contemporary ‘cultural form’, we might consider ‘Why has this form of cathartic ‘abreaction’ become a necessary feature of our ‘self-identities’ and the contemporary ‘reality principle’? What does it add to our city? ‘What kind of disastrous individual and social potentialities does this ‘form’ of addiction save us from?’ ‘How does ‘addiction’ serve to release the pressures of modern life, facilitate a maintainable lifestyle, and enduring social order?’ Perhaps even ‘how can we encourage more people to consume a ‘therapeutic addiction’ in order to better deal with life in the modern age?’
This theoretical analysis of ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ began with an observation and a hypothesis, which, I suggested, reflects recent changes to experiences of ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’. The theme of this work then became a Baudrillardian analysis of ‘addiction’. An outline of Baudrillard’s social genealogy allowed the ‘history of addiction’ to be placed into a theoretical framework. It also facilitated an examination of dominant paradigms in respect to their contemporary relevance. I have developed the contention that, from a Baudrillardian perspective, medicine, psychology and sociology are ill-equipped to explain a diversifying and increasingly ubiquitous culture of ‘addiction’. These paradigms, I have argued, were particularly relevant to the fixed references and enduring ‘models’ that characterised the ‘second and third orders of simulacra’. However, my contention is that the ‘orbiting’ and fractured nature of contemporary addiction is evidence of a new ‘fourth order of simulacra’, where uncertainty is the rule. So, although I have tried to reinforce the idea that academic ‘remains’ of previous orders maintain considerable influence, my assertion has been that a reanalysis of ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ might be revealing.
I have attempted to demonstrate how Baudrillard uses ‘reversal’ in order to challenge ‘inertia’ and originate new perspectives. The preceding ‘exploratory’ analysis of ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ relies upon these reversals. In particular, a reversal of the political and social sciences’ model of the warm ‘reflexive’ social, resulting in its substitution with an image of a cold and disenchanted social world. Following Baudrillard’s precedent, I have considered whether reversing the familiar terms associated with ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ could instigate new and original questions, and directions, within this ‘field of enquiry’. Whereas traditional paradigms focus on the ‘evils’ of addiction, I have asked how addiction might benefit ‘us’. In response to this question, drawing inspiration from Nietzsche, and from William Merrin (1999), I have asked whether consuming the ‘signs’ of addiction could have become a ‘warm space’ in a cold social environment.
As we have seen, according to Baudrillard’s genealogy, through the successive ‘orders’, we, as a culture, have disassociated ourselves from ‘symbolic reference’. Now we live in a world where all ‘signs’ and ‘references’ to meaning (although metaphysical) have to appear to be rational in order to be accepted, or they are dismissed into a subordinate secondary realm. However, by overriding dialectic principles, Baudrillard maintains the continued existence and influence of ‘symbolic-exchange’. Despite a dominant and disenchanted ‘rational reality principle’, he asserts, ‘the organism [still] seeks to preserve its symbolic integrity’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:74]). So, within a ‘rational’ world, we seek out ‘symbolic spaces’, which although often temporary, perhaps only surviving until the social expands to absorb this ‘waste’, are crucial to enlivening the ‘imaginary, and maintaining the ‘human spirit’. These spaces, Baudrillard argues, allow ‘us’ to momentarily escape the repressive horrors of simulation.
I have suggested that in a ‘media age’, our ‘media stars’ have exemplified both disenchantment and re-enchantment. They characterise an ‘era without aura’ (Benjamin, 2006:21). However, they also demonstrate to the public, how, by consuming the ‘signs’ of addiction, they might counteract disenchantment, induce popularity, achieve career longevity, and project a warm and favourable (pseudo) identity. So, in response to Baudrillard’s assessment of the ‘paradoxical relations’ formed by the compounding of ‘social orders’, and as a reaction to his faith in the continuing and unstoppable defiance of ‘rationality’, I have asked whether it is possible that ‘the mass(es)’ is responding – in parody – to ‘mediated models’ of warmth. ‘Addiction’ could have emerged as an arena of ‘symbolic resistance’; a form of resistance that facilitates (for individuals) a temporary release from Baudrillard’s putative horrors, including the oppressive effects of rational thought and an associated ‘reality principle’. This, I have proposed, is a possible entry point for investigating contemporary ‘consumption’ of diverse signs, behaviours and discourse of addiction. However, the irony is that this ‘arena’ is itself derived from the ‘encoded environment’ of everyday existence. An attack on the ‘logic of simulation’ which operates through the compulsive performance of acts, gestures and relationships created and provided by the ‘mediated spectacle of simulation’. So, whereas ‘symbolic’ religious or clan exchanges, such as ‘potlatch’ (Baudrillard, 2003:17), are warm and ‘dangerous’, because they reverse ‘cold logic’ and are played out ‘to the death’, even a ‘symbolic’ consumption of pre-coded, ‘mediated signs’ of addiction remains ‘cold and safe’ as long as it remains within the boundaries of an albeit fractured ‘logic’ of the social.
My hypothesis refers to individual, social, and cultural, experiences of addiction. Accordingly, I have also attempted to theorise an increasingly ubiquitous form of ‘addiction’ that exceeds rational expectation, defies ‘cold logic’, and exemplifies Baudrillard’s theory of hyperconformity. I have asked whether ‘hyperconformity’ to ‘signs of warmth’, and the expectations that have become attached to their ‘signified’, have taken on a disruptive ‘viral form’: a form that, like the response to the death of Princess Diana, resists a rational explanation. Has ‘addiction’ developed into a ‘condition’ that has broken through ‘mediated spectacle’, and outplays the logic of simulation? As Baudrillard clearly states, it is ‘useless to appeal to some supposed rationality of the system against that system’s outgrowths’ (Baudrillard, 1990 [1993b:67]). So, I have proposed that ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’, in its present fractured ubiquitous condition, could be akin to the ‘extreme phenomenon’ cited by Baudrillard (Ibid.) The Transparency of Evil. I have considered ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ as an ‘abreaction’: a cathartic expression of ‘humanity’ in an ‘inhuman’ world. A symbolic (though prophylactic) breach of a ‘reality principle’ founded upon simulated and reproduced images, cold terminals, and mediated communication. And, from this perspective I have presented new questions and possible directions. Such as ‘what does ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’ do for us collectively? What does addiction (legitimate or otherwise) do to add to, and invigorate, our city? And, ‘what are the possible consequences of an absolute simulacrum’. What might a world look like without ‘cathartic releases’ such as addiction, should all our avenues of escape become encoded?
Jean Baudrillard’s written work appears nihilistic, an appearance and approach that that he disseminated through interviews and public appearances. However, though ‘reversal’, and by taking a sometimes controversial approach, Baudrillard has developed an effective philosophical method. Throughout his life, publications from ‘The Mirror of Production’ (1973 ) to ‘Forget Foucault’ (1977 ), consistently, and powerfully, challenged philosophies and philosophers that universalised ‘the rational’. He developed ‘radical’ analyses of the economy, society, and culture. He regularly produced thought-provoking examinations of contemporary major ‘events’. I believe that at the heart of Baudrillard’s work is a desire to challenge the aggressive expansion of rational thought, by ‘violently’ reintroducing the expelled ‘symbolic other’. Far from being fatalistic and nihilistic, it seems to me that Baudrillard’s theories might open up new horizons of thought, and new possibilities for action. Not just in terms of understanding the nature of ‘addiction and compulsive behaviour’, but also for developing ‘far-reaching’ analyses of other ‘extreme phenomenon’ that intrude on the social order.
About the Author
Victor Gazis completed this M. A. Thesis at Birmingham University under the direction of Dr. Ross Abbinnett. He also wishes to express his gratitude to Dr. William Pawlett (Wolverhampton University) for introducing him to the work of Baudrillard.
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