tln of Baudrillard's original article

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Friday, September 05, 2003 at 2:18PM :

In Reply to: Baudrillard and the looting of Baghdad posted by Sadie from ? ( on Friday, September 05, 2003 at 1:35PM :

The West's mission is to make the world's wealth of cultures
interchangeable, and to subordinate them within the global
order. Our culture, which is bereft of values, revenges
itself upon the values of other cultures.


IS globalisation inevitable? What fervour propels the
world to embrace such an abstract idea? And what force
drives us to make that idea a reality so unconditionally?

The universal used to be an idea. Yet when an idea is
actually realised globally, it commits suicide. With
humankind as the sole authority of note, occupying the
empty space left by a dead God, the human species now
rules unchallenged, though it no longer has any
overarching goal. Since humanity's enemies have all fled,
it must generate foes from within its own ranks, while
showing symptoms of inhumanity.

Hence the violence associated with globalisation, with a
system that wants to eliminate any manifestation of
negativity and singularity (including the ultimate
expression of singularity, death). This is the violence
of a society in which we are almost forbidden to engage
in conflict. This violence, in a way, marks an end to
violence itself, because it yearns for a world free from
any natural order that might govern the human body or
sexuality, life or death. It might be more accurate to
use the word virulence, rather than violence. This
violence has viral force: it spreads by contagion and
chain reactions. It gradually destroys our immunity and
ability to resist.

Globalisation's triumph is not certain yet, though. Faced
with its homogenising and destabilising effects, hostile
forces are arising everywhere. But anti-globalisation's
ever-sharper manifestations - including social and
political resistance - should be seen as more than just
outmoded forms of rejection. They are part of an
agonising revision that focuses on the achievements of
modernity and "progress", a process that rejects both the
globalised techno-structure and an ideology that wants to
make all cultures interchangeable.

Anti-globalisation actions may be violent, abnormal or
irrational, at least as judged by our enlightened
philosophy. They may be collective, bringing together
different ethnic, religious and linguistic groups, or
they may be individual, including maladjustment and
neurosis. It would be wrong to denounce
anti-globalisation forces as populist, antiquated or
terrorist. Every current event - including Islamic
hostility to the West - happens in opposition to the
abstraction that is the concept of universality. Islam is
now public enemy number one because it has shown the most
vehement opposition to Western values.

Who or what can thwart the global system? Surely not
anti-globalisation forces, whose only aim is to slow the
pace of deregulation; their political influence may be
considerable but their symbolic impact is nil. The
protestors' violence is merely another event within the
system that the system will absorb - while remaining in
control of the game.

Singularities [unique or unusual identities or
approaches] could be used to baffle the system. Being
neither positive nor negative, they do not represent
alternatives; they are wild cards outside the system.
They cannot be evaluated by value judgments or through
principles of political reality; they can correspond to
either the best or the worst. They are obstacles to
one-track thinking and dominant modes of thought,
although they are not the only kind of contrary approach.
They make up their own games and play by their own rules.

Singularities are not inherently violent. Some can be
subtle, unique characteristics of language, art, culture
or the human body. But violent singularities do exist,
and terrorism is one of them. Violence revenges all the
varied cultures that disappeared to prepare for the
investiture of a single global power. This is not really
a clash of civilisations. Instead, this anthropological
conflict pits a monolithic universal culture against all
manifestations of otherness, wherever they may be found.

Global power - as fundamentalist as any religious
orthodoxy - sees anything different or unorthodox as
heretical, and the heretics must be made to assume their
position within the global order or disappear completely.
The West's mission (we could call it the "former West"
since it lost its defining values long ago) is to reduce
a wealth of separate cultures into being interchangeable,
of equal weight, by any brutal means possible. A culture
that is bereft of values revenges itself on the values of
other cultures. Beyond politics and economics, the
primary aim of warfare (including the conflict in
Afghanistan) is to normalise savagery and beat
territories into alignment. Another objective is to
diminish any zone of resistance, to colonise and tame any
terrain, geographical or mental

Furious envy

The rise of the globalised system has been powered by the
furious envy of an indifferent, low-definition culture
faced with the reality of high-definition cultures. Envy
is what disenchanted systems that have lost their
intensity feel in the presence of high-intensity
cultures. It is the envy of deconsecrated societies when
confronted with sacrificial cultures and structures.

The global system assesses any resistance as potentially
terrorist, as in Afghanistan (1). When a territory bans
democratic liberties such as music, television or women's
faces, when nations take courses opposed to what we call
civilisation, the "free" world sees these events as
indefensible, regardless of what religious principles may
be at stake.

So to disavow modernity and its pretensions of
universality is not allowed. Some resistors reject the
belief that modernity is a force for good or represents
the natural ideal of our species; others question the
universality of our mores and values. Even when the
resistors are described as "fanatics", their contrariness
remains criminal, according to the received wisdom of the

This confrontation can only be understood by considering
symbolic obligations. To understand the hatred the rest
of the world feels towards the West, we must reverse our
perspectives. This is not the hatred felt by people from
whom we have taken everything and to whom we have given
nothing back. Rather, it is the hatred felt by those to
whom we have given everything and who can give nothing in
return. Their hatred stems from humiliation, not from
dispossession or exploitation. The attacks of 11
September were a response to this animus, with one kind
of humiliation begetting another.

The worst thing that can happen to global power is not
for it to be attacked or destroyed but for it to be
humiliated. Global power was humiliated on 11 September
because the terrorists inflicted an injury that could not
be inflicted on them in return. Reprisals are only
physical retaliations, whereas global power had suffered
a symbolic defeat. War can only respond to the
terrorists' physical aggression, not to the challenge
they represent. Their defiance can only be addressed by
vengefully humiliating the "others" (but surely not by
crushing them with bombs or by locking them up like dogs
in detention cells in Guantanamo Bay).

There is a fundamental rule that the basis for all
domination is a total lack of any counterflow to the
prevailing power. Bestowing a unilateral gift is a
powerful act. The "good" empire gives without any
possibility of a return of gifts. This is almost to
assume God's place or to take on the role of the master
who ensures his slaves' safety in exchange for their
labours. (Since work is not a symbolic compensation, the
only remaining options for the slaves are revolution and

But even God allowed humanity to give him the gift of
sacrifice. Within the traditional order it was always
possible to repay God, or nature, or another higher
authority, by sacrifice. This safeguarded the symbolic
equilibrium between human beings and everything else.
Today there is no one left to compensate, to whom we
might repay our symbolic debt. This is the curse of our
culture: although giving is not impossible, giving back
is impossible, because sacrifice has had its importance
and power taken away, and what remains is a caricature of
sacrifice (like contemporary ideas of victimisation).

So we find ourselves stuck with always being on the
receiving end, not from God or nature, but from technical
mechanisms that provide general exchange and
gratification. Almost everything is given to us. And we
are entitled to it all. We are like slaves, bondservants
whose lives have been spared but who are still bound by
an intractable debt. At some point, though, that
fundamental rule always applies and any positive transfer
will be met with a negative reaction.

This is a violent expression of repressed feeling about
lives in captivity, about sheltered existences, about, in
fact, having far too much existence. The return to a more
primitive condition may take the form of violence
(including terrorism) or the form of denials
characterised by powerlessness, self-hatred and remorse,
negative passions, which are a debased form of the
payback that it is impossible to make.
The thing we hate within ourselves, the obscure focus of
our resentment, is our surfeit of reality: our excessive
power and comfort, our sense of accomplishment. This is
the fate that Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor had prepared
for the tamed masses in The Brothers Karamazov ["to
vanquish freedom and to do so to make men happy"]. It is
exactly what the terrorists condemn in our culture. Hence
the endless coverage of - and fascination with -

Terrorism depends not only on the obvious despair of the
humiliated, but on the invisible despair of
globalisation's beneficiaries. It depends on our
subjugation to the technology integral to our lives, and
to the crushing effects of virtual reality. We are in
thrall to networks and programmes, and this dependence
defines our species, homo sapiens gone global. This
feeling of invisible despair - our own despair - is
irreversible because it is the result of the total
fulfilment of our desires.

If terrorism is really the result of a state of profusion
without any hope of payback or obligation to sacrifice,
of the forced resolution of conflicts, then eradicating
it as if it were an affliction imposed from the outside
could only be illusory. Terrorism, in its absurdity and
meaninglessness, is society's verdict on - and
condemnation of - itself.

* Philosopher and author of The Spirit of Terrorism and
Requiem for the Twin Towers (Verso, New York, 2002); The
Perfect Crime (Verso, 1996) and The Gulf War Did Not Take
Place (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1995). This
article also appears in Power Inferno, Galilie, Paris )
Iditions Galilie

(1) You could say serious natural disasters are a form of
terrorism since, although they are technically classified
as accidents (such as Chernobyl), they may resemble terrorism.
In India, the Bhopal poison gas tragedy
(technically an accident) could have been terrorism. Any
terrorist group could claim responsibility for an
aviation accident. Irrational events can be attributed to
anyone or anything, so that, at the limit, we could see
anything as criminal, even cold weather or an earthquake.
There is nothing new about this: in the aftermath of the
1923 Tokyo earthquake, thousands of Koreans were blamed
and killed. In a system as integrated as our own,
everything destabilises; everything seeks to undermine a
system that lays claim to infallibility. Given what we
are already undergoing because of the system's rational
grip, we may wonder if the worst catastrophe is the
infallibility of the system.

Translated by Luke Sandford ____________________________________________________

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED ) 1997-2002 Le Monde diplomatique

-- Sadie
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