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Eros Rising

From out of the desert it came: a virtual world named Sin. For two millennia, the world was enthralled by the priesthoods of this demonizing world. But a new day has dawned with the reemergence of Eros, the Pagan God of Love. An eyeblink ago, when the Baby Boomers were young, the Age of Aquarius announced the dawn of this new day. But it had a little setback, as the church and its patriarchs struck back. Eros Rising is here to help freedom lovers everywhere reclaim their human rights.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Virtual Worlds: Death of Baudrillard III

Post-Modern philosophers are near unanimous about one thing: modern society has become a “virtual” culture. Which is to say: it is manufactured, artificial, and arbitrary. Anthropologists still entertain us with visions of a genuine human past, in which “real needs” motivated our ancestors’ every action. But now we are so over our “noble savage” history that we might as well be considered a “virtual species,” running almost totally on the hot air of ideas. But the ideas are being written for us by armies of lawyers in order to legitimate the virtual worlds conveniently crafted by our bosses for their own enrichment. While they were asleep at the wheel, however, the People built their own Virtual World: the Internet. To a large degree, it’s a world without “matter.” The hardware, of course, is very “real,” and you can see it in the great server farms whose main function is to convert “real” energy into the interlocking networks of “unreal” ideas that constitute Cyberspace. But the real substance of Cyberspace is the algorithm, which is pure disembodied information, capable of creating multitudes of virtual non-material worlds. Though the real significance of this latest Information Revolution remains hidden beyond the horizon of our understanding, we are filled with wonder over its possible implications. Perhaps…just perhaps, it is in the nature of our species to create and occupy virtual worlds? Perhaps it is our Virtual Destiny?

If that is the case, then Baudrillard has hit his grave spinning, for he was among the first to glimpse the emergence of our Virtual World. What he saw freaked him out. He was too early on the scene, and thought he was witnessing a crime against human nature. Lacking a vocabulary for this new reality, he coined his own: He called it the Simulacrum, which normally just means a “representation,” but in his usage takes on scary dimensions. His views on the emergent Simulacra paint a grim dystopia, brilliantly depicted in the movie The Matrix. The skin crawls, on reading those views. But, again: he was too early to the show to enjoy a fulsome view of this new world. What he saw instead were its foreshadows--and it is in the nature of foreshadows to be ominous and frightening. All of us who were young adults back in the 70s, when Baudrillard was imagining this “Brave New World,” should be able to remember the fear and loathing that colored our views of the future. Young philosophers of that time can be excused for looking into the glass and trembling. So intimidated was Baudrillard by the coming of a Virtual future that he spied Simulacra everywhere, and always through a prism of resigned despair (a specialty of French intellectuals). This would explain why, before his death, he called the events of 9/1l the ultimate Simulacrum. The airline bombings of the twin towers, in other words, were not the “real” result of “real” problems, but a manufactured event, in which both the terrorists and the U.S. government were playing parts in a staged drama.

Now that Baudrillard has entered the pantheon of dead philosophers we can begin to discern his place in it. Those with early vision often (perhaps always) get things wrong. The idea that human beings might, in any way, return to their “natural” roots has become absurd. Love it or hate it, we are a species driven by our ideas, and our minds are virtual reality machines. Yes, we create our own worlds. And perhaps we will end up being too creative for our own good. The real danger we face, however, continues to be old-time Patriarchy (see my earlier postings). Our “fathers,” by creating God in their own image, have sought to keep all human creativity under their thumb. Even now, corporate lawyers are circling in Cyberspace like great birds of prey, intent on making it just another Capitalist infrastructure. But as the Internet has already proven, popular creativity is a force that far outshines the plutocratic or corporate kind. Now it is our sacred duty to keep this new and democratic force--the Internet--in our own free hands.


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