Rick Roderick on Baudrillard

“The struggle in the future may be to maintain the real against the unreal or the hyperreal or irreal.”

Conversations I’ve been having/overhearing lately reminded me of this lecture by Rick “I’ve been in Compton” Roderick on Baudrillard that I highly recommend. The subject matter is revelatory and interesting, and Roderick discusses it competently, engagingly, and with just enough well-fitting humour (I love the way he talks about pie charts).

“This video is 8th in the 8-part video lecture series, The Self Under Siege: Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (1993).”

We can easily forget the nature of the world we now live in, like a fish forgets water, but this exposition on things like simulacra and hyperreality that characterise postmodernity is a great reminder of how utterly different is our experience of life and ways of thinking from all of human existence before us—even from recent history, from the world that some people still alive today can remember. Baudrillard’s first book was in 1968, this lecture is from 1993, and even back then Roderick notes the generational divide between modern and postmodern when he questions his son on why he’s getting emotional at a machine (Nintendo), and his son not understanding why that would be questioned. The distinction between computer and human has blurred.

These kinds of things can help us make sense of peoples’ behaviours in recent years (as Roderick says, “this is a practical issue!”)–implicitly placing much more trust on some faces on screens than on what they can perceive and think about for themselves. The immediate physical environments around them, observed directly by their senses, unmediated, the flesh and blood people all around them, all this is just real (boring, too complicated) and can’t compete with the hyperreality produced/manipulated with computer technology. And when people are nudged or forced into communicating primarily via computers (by literally encouraging social distance, banning in-person gatherings, formalising and scheduling and regulating interactions that are allowed so that spontaneous and natural/organic interactions don’t happen, heavily promoting virtual replacement of real events, and mandating face coverings in person so that faces are only fully seen virtually) these effects are greatly amplified.

Probably people are aware of this delamination between their inner world and the outer world on some level, but usually it’s only experienced as a dull, nagging sense of vertigo, an unpleasant disorientation that only results in another impulse to seek distraction. There is no longer any stable ground (shared fundamental metaphysical assumptions) from which to evaluate statements or experiences, and seeking such a ground independently is inherently difficult and necessarily involves more unpleasant uncertainties, and so in order to maintain a pleasant psychological state, and in order to just get on with day-to-day life and its demands, it’s most expedient to unthinkingly allow the official broadcasted values and models of reality (saturated as they are in all media, due to widespread censorship and content moderation, and monopolisation and interlinking of the institutions that own those media) to supplant one’s own.

Roderick speculates that in the future it may become a revolutionary act for a couple to decide to have real sex rather than a virtual technological simulation of it; this made me think of Demolition Man, and this lecture does predate that film by a few months. I wonder if there was some influence, or if this kind of concept was just in the air at the time.

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