Volume 11, Number 2 (May, 2014)
Author: Dr. William Pawlett
It all depends on the ground we choose to fight on … most often … we choose to fight on ground where we are beaten before we begin (Baudrillard 2001: 119).
This paper examines Baudrillard’s assertion, made in later works including Impossible Exchange (2001), The Intelligence of Evil (2005) and Pyres of Autumn (2006), that individuals, society and indeed the global system, are internally and irreconcilably divided, that modernity is ‘at odds with itself’ (Baudrillard 2006: 1). In his view dissent, rejection and insurrection emerge from within, not from external challenges such as alternative ideologies or competing worldviews, but from within bodies, within borders, inside programmes. For Baudrillard much of the violence, hatred and discomfort visible around the globe can be understood as a latent but fundamental ‘silent insurrection’ against the global integrating system and its many pressures, demands and humiliations (2001: 106). This is an endogenic or intra-genic rejection, it emanates from within the system, from within individuals, even from within language, electronic systems and bodily cells, erupting as abreaction, metastasis and sudden reversal.1
For Baudrillard then, despite the many simulations of external threat and enmity – radical Islam currently being the best example – the most dangerous threat lies within: ‘society faces a far harder test than any external threat: that of its own absence, its loss of reality’ (2006: 1). The global order, conventionally labelled “capitalist”, is neutralising its values and structures, its ideologies disappear, its principles are sacrificed. Even the sense of “reality” produced by the abstract sign and by simulation models begin to disappear (2005: 67-73; 2009: 10-15). The goal is ‘integral reality’, a limitless operational project geared towards the total transcription of the world into virtuality: ‘everything is realised and technically materialised without reference to any principle or final purpose’ (2005: 18). Yet there is an internal war or “backlash” taking place between integralist violence which seeks ultimate control by eliminating all otherness, and duality. Duality, for Baudrillard, is “indestructible” and is manifest as the inevitable or destined re-emergence of otherness: of death, Evil, ambivalence, the ghosts of symbolic exchange, the accursed share within the system. The integrating system then suffers a ‘dissent working away at it from inside. It is the global violence immanent in the world-system itself which, from within, sets the purest form of symbolic challenge against it’ (2005: 22). This is a war or conflict that does not end, the outcome of which cannot be predicted or programmed. It is a war that is quite different from the disappearance of war into simulated non-events, such as occurred with the Gulf wars (Baudrillard 1995). Indeed, Baudrillard suggests, the deterrence of world wars, and of nuclear wars, does not result in peace, but in a viral proliferation of conflicts, a fractalisation of war and conflict into everyday, local, and ubiquitous terror (1993b: 27).
This paper will examine Baudrillard’s position on internal rejection through two closely related themes: complicity and duality. Complicity, and the closely related term collusion, are themselves dual in Baudrillard’s sense. That is, complicity or collusion express an internal division or ‘duality’ which is not a simple opposition of terms. As is so often the case, Baudrillard’s position builds on his much earlier studies: Requiem For the Media (orig. 1972, in Baudrillard 1981: 164-184) had already argued that the dominance of the abstract sign and of simulation models meant that any critique of the system made through the channels of semiotic abstraction were automatically re-absorbed into the system. Any meaningful challenge must invent its own, alternative medium – such as the silk-screen printings, hand-painted notices and graffiti of May 1968 – or it will lapse into an ineffectual complicity with the system it seeks to challenge (Baudrillard 1981: 176). In his later work, Baudrillard’s emphasis on duality and complicity is extended much further, taking on global, anthropological and even cosmological dimensions, and increasingly complicity and collusion are seen as dual, as encompassing both acceptance and a subtle defiance. This paper examines the dual nature of complicity and collusion. It considers the influence of La Boetie’s notorious Essay on Voluntary Servitude on Baudrillard, seeking to draw out what is distinctive in Baudrillard’s position. The second section turns to the notion of duality, examining Good and Evil and Baudrillard’s assertion that attempts to eliminate duality merely revive or re-active it.
Complicity implies a complexity of relations, and, specifically, the condition of being an accomplice to those in power. To be an accomplice is to assist in the committing of a crime. If the crime is murder, the term accomplice implies one who plans, reflects, calculates – but does not strike the lethal blow. The crime which is of particular interest to Baudrillard is, of course, the perfect crime: the elimination of otherness, of ambivalence, of duality, even of “reality” and of the abstract representational sign which enables a sense of “reality” (Baudrillard 1996). The global, integral, carnivalising and cannibalising system, which might loosely still be called capitalist, is at war against radical otherness or duality; yet, for Baudrillard, as duality lies at its heart, locked within its foundations, it is indestructible and emerges through attempts to eliminate it. If the system has been largely successful at eliminating external threats, it finds itself in an even worse situation: it is at war with itself.
Complicity is a particularly slippery term. In the 1980s Baudrillard’s thought, mistakenly assumed to be “Postmodernist”, was argued to be complicit with capitalism, largely because it questioned the ability of dominant strands of Marxism and feminism to significantly challenge the capitalist system (Callinicos 1989; Norris 1992). At the same time, Baudrillard was alleging that the work of supposedly radical theorists such as Deleuze and Guattari (1984 orig. 1972) and Lyotard (1993 orig. 1974) was, with their emphasis on desire as productive and liberatory force, complicit with the mechanisms of advanced consumer capitalism (Baudrillard 1987: 17-20). So which branch of contemporary theory is most complicit with capitalism? Liberals, humanists and environmentalists who see their clothes stolen by mainstream politicians? Marxists and Communists who by refusing to update their thinking provide a slow moving target for right-wing snipers? Post- Modernists and Post-Structuralists who attack Enlightenment thought but refuse to speak of the human subject and so have “thrown the baby out with the bath water”? Network and complexity theory which flattens all phenomena and experience to a position on a grid, producing a very complex simplification? The list could go on but it is a question that cannot be answered because all critical theories are complicit with the system they critique. They fight on a terrain already demarcated by their opponents, a terrain on which they are beaten before they begin, one where the most compelling argument can always be dismissed as doom-mongering or irresponsible intellectualism. This includes Baudrillard’s own critical thinking, as he readily acknowledges (Baudrillard 2009a: 39). Further, and even more damaging to the project of critique, in a hegemonic or integral order the system solicits critique and it criticises itself, so displacing and making redundant the laborious attempts at academic critique. The latter continue, even proliferate, but with decreasing impact.
So, what does Baudrillard mean by complicity with the global order? Baudrillard’s concern is primarily with complicity at the level of the form of the (capitalist) system, not at the level of belief, consent or allegiance to particular contents of capitalist life (consumer products, plurality of ‘lifestyles’, a degree of ‘tolerance’ etc.). Complicity is often seen, by critics of capitalism, as acceptance of consumerism and its myriad choices and lifestyles, but this is a reductive level of analysis from Baudrillard’s perspective. By complicity or collusion Baudrillard means, on the one hand, the very widespread willingness to surrender or give up beliefs, passions and “symbolic defences” (2010: 24), and on the other – as the dual form – an equally widespread ability to find a space of defiance through the play of complicity, collusion, hyperconformity and indifference (1983: 41-8). That is, while many of us (in the relatively affluent West) share in the profanating, denigrating and “carnivalising” of all values, embracing indifference, shrugging “whatever”, we do so with very little commitment to the system, rejoicing inwardly when it suffers reversals: we operate in a dual mode.
While such attitudes of indifference may seem to accept that there is no meaningful alternative to capitalism: an attitude that has been called ‘capitalist nihilism’ (Davis in Milbank and Zizek, 2009) and ‘capitalist realism’ (Fisher 2008), Baudrillard’s notions of “integral reality”, duality and complicity may have significant advantages over those approaches. Unlike thinkers who remain anchored to critical thinking defined by determinate negation, Baudrillard’s approach emphasises ambivalence, reversal and both personal and collective modes of rejection more subtle than those envisioned by the increasingly exhausted mechanisms of critique. The critique of consumer capitalism – the consumption of junk food, junk entertainment and junk information – is now integral to the system; the critique of finance capitalism – banker’s bonuses, corporate tax avoidance – is integral to the system, yet it fails to bring about meaningful or determinate social transformation. Indeed, such critiques may do no more than provide the system with a fleeting sense of “reality” – real issues, real problems to deal with – around which the system can reproduce its simulacra, perhaps to reassure us that “something is being done”, “measures are being put into place” etc. “Reality” cannot be dialectically negated by critical concepts when both ‘reality’ and the critical concept disappear together, their fates clearly tied to each other (Baudrillard 2009b: 10-12).
There is a sense then in which the production of critique is in complicity with the system, the unravel-able proliferation and excess of critical accounts of the system has the effect of protecting the system. Complicity consists in a sharing of the denigration of all values, all institutions, all ideas, all beliefs: so long as we believe in nothing – at least not passionately – then the system has us, at least superficially. For example, in recent decades we have seen the denigration of religious faiths – or their reduction to ‘cultural identity’ and ‘world heritage’ objects; the denigration of public services and welfare provision accompanied by their marketisation; the denigration of the poor, the young, immigrants and the unemployed. Yet this is not only the denigration of the powerless or disenfranchised, there is also the widespread denigration of those seen as powerful: politicians, corporations, celebrities. For Baudrillard, it is quite inadequate to focus only on the power of global neo-liberal policies such as marketisation in these processes of denigration. This is where Baudrillard’s position departs decisively from anti-globalists and from neo-Communists such as Negri, Zizek, and Badiou. Global power has deliberately sacrificed its values and ideologies, it presents no position, it takes no stand, it undermines even the illusion that “free markets” function and has made “capital” virtual; become orbital it is removed from a terrestrial, geo-political or subjective space. These are protective measures enabling power to become (almost) hegemonic (Baudrillard 2009a: 33-56; 2010: 35-40).
Baudrillard often emphasises the fragility and the vulnerability to reversal of the “powerful” and the distinction between powerful and powerless is radically questioned in his work. So what is this global power? Where is it? The answer, of course, is that it is everywhere and it is in everyone. We have not liberated ourselves from slavery, but, Baudrillard contends, internalised the masters: ‘[e]verthing changes with the emancipation of the slave and the internalisation of the master by the emancipated slave’ (2009a: 33). We tyrannise ourselves, for example by demanding that we maximise our opportunities, fulfil our potential. This is a deeper level of slavery – and complicity – than any previous historical system could inflict (Baudrillard 1975; 2009a: 33).
Yet duality always re-emerges, Baudrillard insists: indifference is dual, complicity is dual. Carnivalisation and cannibalisation are themselves dual: the global system absorbs all otherness in a ‘forced conversion to modernity’ (2010: 5), reproducing otherness within the carnival of marketable “difference”, yet cannibalisation emerges as a reversion and derailing of this process. The world adopts Western models: economic, cultural, religious – or it appears to. Hidden within this complicity with the West, there is, Baudrillard suggests, a deeper sense of derision and rejection. The allegiance to Western models is superficial; it is a form of mimicry or hyperconformity that involves a ritual-like exorcism of the hegemonic system. Further, such mimicry reveals the superficiality of Western cultural and economic models: this is not only a superficial acceptance, but an acceptance of superficiality. Western values are already parodic, and, in being accepted, they are subject to further parody as they circulate around the globe (2010: 4-11). The West has deregulated and devalued itself and demands that the rest of the world follows: “It is everything by which a human being retains some value in his own eyes that we (the West) are deliberately sacrificing … [o]ur truth is always to be sought in unveiling, de-sublimation, reductive analysis …[n]othing is true if it is not desacralised, objectivised, shorn of its aura, dragged on to the stage” (Baudrillard 2010: 23).
Western desacrilisation amounts to a powerful challenge to the rest of the world, a potlatch: desacralise in return or perish! But who has the power? Who is the victor? There isn’t one, according to Baudrillard. Of the global order, Baudrillard writes: ‘We are its hostages – victims and accomplices at one and the same time – immersed in the same global monopoly of the networks. A monopoly which, moreover – and this is the supreme ruse of hegemony – no one holds any longer’ (2010: 40). There is no Master, no sovereign because all the structures and dictates of power have been internalised, this is the complicity we all share with global order, yet it is a dual complicity: an over-eager acceptance goes hand-in-hand with a deep and growing rejection.
Baudrillard’s discussions of power, servitude and complicity make frequent reference to Estienne La Boetie’s essay on voluntary servitude, completed around 1554. The fundamental political question for La Boetie is: ‘how can it happen that a vast number of individuals, of towns, cities and nations can allow one man to tyrannise them, a man who has no power except the power they themselves give him, who could do them no harm were they not willing to suffer harm’ (La Boetie 1988: 38). It seems people do not want to be free, do not want to wield power or determine their own fates: ‘it is the people who enslave themselves’ (La Boetie 1988: 41). People in general are the accomplices of the powerful and the tyrannical, some profit directly through wealth, property, favour – ‘the little tyrants beneath the principal one’ (1988: 64), but many do not, why do they not rebel? Baudrillard takes up La Boetie’s emphasis on servitude being enforced and maintained from within, rather than from without. Yet, there are also major divergences. La Boetie deplores the “common people” for accepting the narcotising pleasures of drinking, gambling and sexual promiscuity, while Baudrillard rejects such elitism and celebrates the masses abilities to strategically defy those who would manipulate them through perverse but lethally effective practices such as silence, radical indifference, hyperconformity – dual modes of complicity and rejection (Baudrillard 1983: 1-61). Though La Boetie’s essay prefigures the development of the concept of hegemony, he never doubts that voluntary servitude is unnatural, a product of malign custom that is in contradiction with the true nature of human beings which is to enjoy a God-given freedom. Baudrillard, by contrast, examines voluntary servitude as a strategy of the refusal of power, a refusal of the snares of self and identity, as strategy of freedom from the tyranny of the will and the fiction of self-determination (Baudrillard 2001: 51-7). For Baudrillard the “declination” or refusal of will disarms those who seek to exert power through influencing or guiding peoples’ choices and feelings towards particular ends. It also allows for a symbolic space, a space of vital distance or removal, a space in which to act, or even act-out (of) a character (Baudrillard 2001: 72-3). This is a space where radical otherness may be encountered, a sense of shared destiny which is a manifestation of the dual form at the level of individual existence (Baudrillard 2001: 79).
It could certainly be argued that modern subjects are confronted by a far more subtle and pervasive system of control than were the subjects discussed in La Boetie’s analysis. In theorising the nature of modern controls Baudrillard develops suggestive themes from La Boetie’s work. Speaking of slavery in the Assyrian empire, where, apparently, kings would not appear in public, La Boetie argues, ‘the fact that they did not know who their master was, and hardly knew whether they had one at all, made them all the more willing to be slaves’ (1988: 60). Whatever its historical provenance, this strategy of power is, it seems, generalised in modernity; particularly after the shift away from Fordist mass production it has become increasingly hard to detect who the masters actually are. While workers are persecuted by middle managers, supervisors, team leaders, project co-ordinators who are the masters of this universe? Who are the true beneficiaries? Rather than trying to identify a global neo-liberal elite, as do many proponents of anti-capitalist theory, Baudrillard suggests that the situation we confront is so grave because “we” (those in the West in relatively privileged positions) have usurped the position of masters; we have become the slave masters of ourselves, tyrannising every detail of our own lives: trying to work harder, trying for promotion or simply trying to avoid redundancy. We are all the accomplices of a trans-capitalist, trans-economic exploitation. We are all tyrants: a billion tiny tyrants servicing a system of elimination. But this is not to say that Baudrillard ignores power differentials altogether: ‘it is, indeed, those who submit themselves most mercilessly to their own decisions who fill the greater part of the authoritarian ranks, alleging sacrifice on their parts to impose even greater sacrifices on others’ (2001: 60-1). We all impose such violence on ourselves and on others as part of our daily routines, hence Baudrillard’s injunction to refuse power: ‘Power itself must be abolished – and not solely because of a refusal to be dominated, which is at the heart of all traditional struggles – but also, just as violently, in the refusal to dominate’ (2009a: 47).
Yet, even on the theme of systemic violence and elimination, Baudrillard differs sharply from neo-communist theory, while retaining a position of defiance. Systemic eliminationism should not be conceived in individual or subjective terms, despite good points made in recent studies of work and education under neo-liberalism, such as Cederström and Fleming’s Dead Man Working (2012). At a formal level, neo-liberal eliminationism does not merely eliminate jobs and also lives (for example in the recent textile factory fires in Bangladesh), it eliminates meaning, symbolic space and thought. And it eliminates not by termination but by “ex-termination”. That is, by transcribing the world into integral reality, the system produces a single, meaning-depleted, virtual space which encourages participation, engagement and campaigning, on condition that these are produced as part and parcel of an integrated void where “[t]he real no longer has any force as sign, and signs no longer have any force of meaning” (Baudrillard 2001: 4). Most of the developed world has been conferred the right to blog and to tweet as they please and they are indebted to the system in a way which far exceeds the paying of a small tribute or rent to Microsoft or Apple (Zizek 2010: 233). The symbolic debt imposed by the modern world and its technologies is of a metaphysical or cosmological order. Through it we take leave of this world Baudrillard suggests, we become extra-terrestrials. We will recognise no Other, no singularity, no debt to anyone because we attempt to cancel everything out in an integral, technological system that has no outsides because it was, in a sense, created from the outside.
In making this argument, Baudrillard takes up Hannah Arendt’s striking suggestion that modern science and technology, from Galileo’s invention of the telescope to the launch of the first space satellite in 1957, enacts a “fateful repudiation” of the Earth and of the terrestrial human condition. Human beings, Arendt argues, seek to eliminate their rootedness to Earth and their relationship to all other species on Earth (an ambition which also drives the science of genetics). There is for Arendt: “… a rebellion against human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking), which he wishes to exchange, as it were, for something he has made himself” (Arendt 1958: 2-3).
Economic alienation, as theorised by Marx, is an echo of a far more fundamental “world alienation” Arendt suggests. Baudrillard’s reading of Arendt’s work is surprisingly faithful, though he pushes a little further. What Arendt calls the invention of an ‘Archimedean point outside the world’, when Galileo’s telescope hardened philosophical speculations that the Earth might not be the centre of the universe into demonstrable scientific fact, is, for Baudrillard, the moment the “real world” began to exist: ‘the moment when human beings, while setting about analysing and transforming the world, take their leave of it, while at the same time lending it force of reality … the real world begins, paradoxically, to disappear at the very same time as it begins to exist’ (Baudrillard 2009b: 11). Human beings do not, cannot, live in the “real world”, they live elsewhere in a space of symbolic belonging, and the “real world” can only be posited on condition that human beings are removed from it, removed to a vantage point from where they can observe it. Hence the process of measuring, representation and conceptualisation produces a ‘real world’ subject to scientific knowledge and, at the same time, hastens the progressive disappearance of the real world. Concepts “capture” things only as things begin to disappear into concepts: ‘the real vanishes into the concept’ (Baudrillard 2009b: 12) and human being, as products of nature, are progressively eliminated from the “real” they have fashioned. Further, Baudrillard suggests, human beings are complicit in this process, they are unique in inventing a “mode of disappearance”. The alienating effects of modern science and technology are not only to be deplored, they can also be seen as a freeing of human intelligence to engage in useless, sovereign and radical thought (Baudrillard 2001: 119-121).
The disappearance of the human being from nature, and then from “reality” has dual, irreconcilable consequences. We lead double lives, or we have a life but also mere sur-vival; a destiny but also a biological, functional, performative existence. The latter terms appear to be dominant, and to denigrate all else as meaningless or whimsical. Yet, Baudrillard suggests, life itself, with its destiny, radical otherness, singularity and duality is actually the more potent. Performative existence, or integral servitude, can be diverted, annulled, suspended or even sacrificed in sudden, radically escalated events: from 9/11 to cases such as that of Jean-Claude Romans who massacred his family, eliminating his simulated sense of self and all those who, apparently, believed in his simulation (Baudrillard 2001: 67-70). According to Baudrillard: “[as] we break the symbolic pact and the cycle of metamorphoses, two kinds of violence ensue: a violence of liberation, and an opposite violence in reaction against the excess of freedom, safety, protection and integration, and hence against the loss of any dimension of fate, of destiny – a violence directed against the emergence of the Ego, the Self, the Subject or the Individual, which takes its toll in the form of self-hatred and repentance” (2001: 46). Two forms of violence emerging from the same source: the breaking of symbolic obligation and the expulsion of otherness, the foundation upon which modern society is based (1993a: 1-5; 131-135).
There is a kind of progressive break with the world, the terminal phase of which might be said to be that in which the Other has disappeared, and in which one can now feed only on oneself (with a relish mingled with horror and disgust) (Baudrillard 2010: 42).
The notion of duality and the “duel” is fundamental to Baudrillard’s thought and can be seen running through all of his major terms, processes and relations. In Passwords Baudrillard defines reversibility as ‘the applied form’ of duality (2003: 81). Baudrillard’s analysis of duality and its conflict with ‘integrism’ spans the largest, anthropological, global and structural levels through to the micro-level of everyday life, and smaller still into the world of viruses (Baudrillard 1993b: 161-3). For example, symbolic exchange consists in a dual and reversible process of gift and counter-gift which work against or in defiance of the abstract, unified and hierarchic process of commodity exchange. The notion of seduction consists in the dual and reversible relations that take place between masculine and feminine not in the biological opposition of male and female. Fatal strategies are closely related to symbolic exchanges in that they consist in the sudden ironic reversions and failures of the system of power, which falters precisely because it is unable to respond to the rule of symbolic exchange (1990b; Baudrillard & Noailles 2007: 78). In Baudrillard’s later terminology ‘the hell of the same’ is always haunted by radical otherness (1993b: 113-123); there is always ‘the other side’ of the perfect crime, ‘the nothing’ or singularity that ‘runs beneath’ the something (2001: 6-9).
Duality, in Baudrillard’s sense (seemingly inspired by the religion of Manichaeism – see Smith (2004) and Pawlett (2014)) challenges as reductive all thought based on determinate conceptual oppositions: good/evil, real/unreal, masculine/feminine, both dialectical and empirical. Duality posits something else, something unknown, unmanageable and beyond understanding in terms of oppositions. This something, or “nothing”, forms the duality along with, and in antagonism to, the great series of oppositions which are taken to constitute the totality of life. In other words, what is generally taken to be real, material, objective and universal is strictly limited. From the perspective of duality, the vast sum of identities and differences, the immense plurality of the world, is still homogeneous at the level of signs. Duality, in Baudrillard’s sense, does not contend that the world is divided into two opposed principles, nor that there are two fundamental perspectives on the world. Rather, it posits two worlds: one world of order, value, meaning, and another world in which these concepts have little or no purchase (2004: 37).
The system of oppositions are contrasted with what Baudrillard calls radical otherness or singularity: life beyond performative existence, beyond Will and subjectivity, where the otherness of self meets the otherness of others: “What defines otherness is not that the two terms are not identifiable, but that they are not opposable. Otherness is of the order of the incomparable … not exchangeable in terms of general equivalence; not negotiable, yet circulating in the mode of complicity and the dual relation, both in seduction and in war” (Baudrillard 1996: 122).
Duality does not refer to a position or resource outside of the system, something that might negate the system, or alternatively be assimilated by it. Rather duality is “the reversibility internal to the irreversible movement of the real” (2005: 21). Reversibility is not the movement from one conceptual term to the other, but the reversion of complementary oppositions such that the ‘reality’ they jointly produce is annulled, suspended or shattered (1993a: 133).
Good and Evil are perhaps Baudrillard’s most developed example of duality. Good and Evil as symbolic forms are irreconcilable yet inseparable, they alternate or ‘duel’, neither can vanquish nor eliminate the other. The unending, cyclical duel of Good and Evil is dramatised in the great myths and tragedies. Heroes and heroines do not lay the foundations for social order, they experience or embody the metamorphosis, collusion or reversibility of Good and Evil (2001: 54). Good and Evil, considered as dual or symbolic relations are eternal and destined to emerge from each other. The dynamic, alternating energy of duality defies structure, value, power and hierarchy. However, morality seeks to separate or “distil” Good and Evil, working to produce the conceptual opposition good/evil, literally barring their symbolic exchange, denying their duality. Modernity, or Post-modernity, is even less tolerant of Good and Evil as symbolic forms, and works to replace both the symbolic and moral dimensions of Good and Evil with the reductive, individualised and psychologised notions of happiness/wellbeing in opposition to misfortune/ victimhood (2005: 139-158). “Evil” reduced to misfortune is understood as something accidental, something that can and should have been secured, controlled and finally eliminated, for example by a culture of insurance, surveillance, risk assessment and “future-proofing”. Reduced to a quantifiable scale happiness should always increase, and misfortune decrease. The cultural demand now is that we show all the signs of happiness at all times, and, for Baudrillard, the simulacra of happiness and wellbeing sustain the system and flourish precisely in order to obscure the symbolic dimension of Evil, which is nevertheless ineradicable.
This is not a historicist position, Good and Evil as symbolic forms are not eliminated, they are diverted, disjointed, severed, smothered yet they remain, and indeed take their revenge on happiness/misfortune. Good has been progressively disarticulated from Evil, the goal being its universalisation, yet, Baudrillard insists, Evil reappears or “transpires” through the hegemony of this enervated sense of Good, often generated by very measures employed to eliminate it: “by denying the very existence of Evil (all the forms of radical, heterogeneous, irreconcilable otherness) … Good has, in a way, given Evil its freedom. In seeking to be absolute Good, it has freed Evil from all dependency and given it back its autonomous power, which is no longer simply the power of the negative but the power to change the rules of the game” (Baudrillard 2010: 55-6).
Where Good attempts to eliminate Evil, Evil will reappear in the measures taken by Good. Misfortune and happiness, as binary oppositions, feed and complement each other, indeed Baudrillard notes that misfortune and victimhood become increasingly attractive to all as ‘a kind of escape route from the terroristic happiness plot’ (Baudrillard 2005: 145). To give some examples, it is through the misfortune/happiness binary that violent and tragic events are produced as instances of types of events such as “human rights violations” or “crimes against humanity”. Not allowed to be singular events of tragedy, the awarding or conferral of the title “crime against humanity” produces an event to be deplored by the media, not one to be thought about, but one to be consumed quickly. A violent event cannot, under this way of thinking, be worse than a crime against humanity, there is nothing worse. Further, for Baudrillard, the current political fashion for apologies, for ‘the rectification of the past in terms of our humanitarian awareness’ (2005: 150) is an extension of colonial rule and global liberal capitalist hegemony because it declares – Ok, we are sorry, get on with your mourning and then you can join the new economic order that we have defined: ‘we make imbeciles of the victims themselves, by confining them to their condition of victim, and by the compassion we show them we engage in a kind of false advertising for them’ (Baudrillard 2005: 153). It might well be that those who are genuinely deprived and powerless simply do not have the time or energy to promote themselves as victims, however it might also be, as Baudrillard suggests, that the powerless sense or implicitly understand the snares, humiliations and loss of symbolic defences that await them if they try to play by the rules imposed upon them by liberal humanitarian discourse (Baudrillard 1983: 48-61).
This is the violence of the good, the “Empire” or, in a particularly memorable phrase, the ‘axis of good’ (Baudrillard 2010: 88 & 111). If Evil has no essence, neither does Good. They are relational; each is internal to the other, a charge that is carried by the other. Good and Evil as symbolic forms are not reducible to individual acts or choices, but they emerge in the ambivalence and reversibility of order and system, and in events or exchanges between people caught up in the cycle.
Baudrillard’s metaphysical, or perhaps anti-metaphysical, speculations are very suggestive and his work moves from a high level of abstraction to more concrete examples and illustrations with surprising ease. However, there are some problematic assertions. Why must duality always re-emerge? What makes it indestructible? And if reality, simulation and integral reality are faltering, deeply vulnerable and never fully hegemonic why doesn’t duality, in the form of symbolic counter-gift, seduction, radical otherness, illusion, ‘immanent reversion’ (Baudrillard & Noailles 2007: 61) or ‘blowback’ (2005: 185) finally shatter them? Could it be said that Baudrillard has “faith” in duality? This is, in a sense, quite different from religious faith because it does not privilege the human, it posits no transcendence and because there is no sense in which duality can be relied upon (1993b:40). In his conversations with Noailles, Baudrillard is clear that duality should not be understood as in any sense originary, that it is immanent to the world of reality, simulation and integral reality. In this discussion Baudrillard speaks of reality producing the conditions in which illusion thrives, irreversibility producing the conditions in which reversibility thrives, Good producing the conditions in which Evil thrives (2007: 58-63). But it is not a case of “equal and opposite” reversibility (Evil producing Good, illusion producing reality, ambivalence producing equivalence) because Western modernity has shattered any prospect of equilibrium. In investing all its energies in generating a real, in securing the real against all predators Western modernity is caught in a process of ‘degradation … an apparently irreversible process … shot through with, and undercut from within by, duality and reversibility’ (Baudrillard & Noailles 2007: 58-9).
IV. Concluding comments
The fundamental problem faced by modern societies, Baudrillard suggests, is not one posed by external bodies, ideologies, or institutions such as terrorist groups, nor is it one of fragmentation. Rather it is a systemic “depressurisation”, a loss of “the reality principle”, a fracturing from inside the integral system that signals the indestructible form of duality. In a sense, we could say that the dual form of complicity has within itself the means to defy integral reality.
This paper has examined the “internal turn” in Baudrillard’s later work and it is a theme which merits further analysis. Complicity and collusion, themselves dual –consisting in both playing along within the system and also creating symbolic space or distance from it – are just two of Baudrillard’s terms which can be seen within the ‘double spiral’ of his thinking (1988: 79; Baudrillard in Gane (Ed.) 1993: 202).
Society is at war with itself because society is dual: ‘Social being is determined also against the social – a society is determined also against its own value system’ (Baudrillard 2010: 73). Yet war, or violence, is also dual. There is the violence of control and elimination, and the violence or war against elimination; the violence of the integral drive and the violence of the dual drive (2005: 21). This duality of violence is also internal: ‘The Apocalypse is present, in homeopathic doses, in each one of us’ (2010: 89).
About the Author
William Pawlett is a Senior Lecturer in Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at The University of Wolverhampton, UK. His first book was Jean Baudrillard: Against Banality (Routledge 2007), followed by Violence, Society and Radical Theory (Ashgate 2013) and Georges Bataille: The Sacred and Society (Routledge) is due to appear later this year. His main research interests are social theory and continental philosophy.
I’m grateful for the helpful comments and suggestions I received after presenting a shorter version of this paper at the Baudrillard and War Colloquium in Stockholm in October 2013. Thanks in particular to Ryan Artrip, Tom Lundborg and Dan Öberg.
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1 – The notion of intra-genic violence and rejection is examined in detail in Pawlett (2013).