Rene — Jean Baudrillard — The mind of terrorism

Topic(s): Theory | Comments Off on Rene — Jean Baudrillard — The mind of terrorism

Jean Baudrillard — The mind of terrorism
We have Lad plenty of global events in recent years, from the death of Diana to the World Cup, a well as plenty of violent and real events, from wars to genocides. But a symbolic event global in reach–an event that is not only broadcast worldwide but that threatens globalization itself-had not yet occurred. For the length of the stagnant nineties, in the words of Argentine writer Macedonio Fernandez, “events were on strike.” Well, the strike is over. Events are back at work. With the attack on the World Trade Center, we have now witnessed the ultimate event, the mother of all events, an event so pure it contains within it all the events that never took place.
All the speeches and commentaries made since September 11 betray a gigantic post-traumatic abreaction both to the event itself and to the fascination that it exerts. The moral condemnation anti the sacred union against terrorism are directly proportional to the prodigious jubilation felt at having seen this global superpower destroyed, because it was this insufferable superpower that gave rise both to the violence now spreading throughout the world and to the terrorist imagination that (without our knowing it) dwells within us all.
That the entire world without exception had dreamed of this event, that nobody could help but dream the destruction of so powerful a hegemon-this fact is unacceptable to the moral conscience of the West, and yet it is a fact nonetheless, a fact that resists the emotional violence of all the rhetoric conspiring to erase it.
In the end, it was they who did it but we who wished it. If we do not take this fact into account, the vent loses all symbolic dimension; it becomes s a purely arbitrary act, the murderous phantasmagoria of a few fanatics that we need only repress. But we know well that such is not tie case. Without our profound complicity the event would not have reverberated so forcefully, and in their strategic symbolism the terrorists knew they could count on this unconfessable complicity.
It goes well beyond the hatred that the desoiate and the expioited-those who ended up on the wrong side of the new world order-feel toward the dominant global power. This malicious desire resides n the hearts of even those who’ve shared -.n the spoils. The allergy to absolute order, CO absolute power, is universal, and the two towers of the World Trade Center were, precisely because of their ideaticality, the perfect incarnation of this absolute order.
Countless disaster films have borne witness to these fantasies, and the universal appeal of the images shows just how close the fantasies always are to being acted out: the closer the entire system gets to perfection or to omnipotence, the stronger the urge to destroy it grows.
When the world has been so thoroughly monopolized, when power has been so formidably consolidated by the technocratic machine and the dogma of globalization, what means of turning the tables remains besides terrorism? In dealing all the cards to itself, the system forced the Other to change the rules of the game. And the new rules are ferocious, because the game is ferocious. Terrorism is the act that restores an irreducible singularity to the heart of a generalized system of exchange. All those singularities (species, individuals, cultures) that have been sacrificed to the interests of a global system of commerce avenge themselves by turning the tables with terrorism.
Terror against terror-this is no longer an ideological notion. We have gone well beyond ideology and politics, The energy that nourishes terror, no ideology, no cause, not even an Islamic one, can explain. The terrorists are not aiming simply 😮 transform the world. Like the heretics of previous times, they aim to radicalize the world through sacrifice, whereas the system aims to convert: it into money through force.
Terrorists, like viruses, are everywhere. There is no longer a boundary that can hem terrorism in; it is at the heart of the very culture it’s fighting with, and the visible fracture (and the hatred) that pits the exploited and underdeveloped nations of the world against the West masks the dominant system’s internal fractures. It is as if every means of domination secreted its own antidote. Against this almost automatic from of resistance to its power, the system can do nothing. Terrorism is the shock wave of this silent resistance.
It is a mistake, then, to characterize this as a clash of civilizations or of religions. It goes well beyond Islam aria’ America, on which one aright be tempted to concentrate in order to create the illusion of a confrontation resolvable by force. There is a fundamental antagonism at work. hut it transcends the phantom of Amerca (which is perhaps the epicenter though not the incarnation of globalization) as well as the phantom of Islam (which likewise is not the incarnation of terrorism). This is the clash of triumphant globalization at war with itself.
In this sense, it is accurate to speak of this as a world war-no: the third but the fourth-and the only one that is truly global, since what’s at stake is globalization itself. The first put an end to European supremacy and to the era of colonialism; the second put an end to Nazism; and the third to Communism. Each one brought us progressively closer to the single world order of today, which is now nearing its end, everywhere opposed, everywhere grappling with hostile forces. This is a war of fractal complexity, waged worldwide against rebellious singularities that, in the manner of antibodies, mount a resistance in every cell. These confrontations are so imperceptible that it is occasionally necessary to resuscitate the idea of war by staging spectacular scenes such as those in the Persian Gulf and now in Afghanistan. Bat World War IV happens elsewhere too. It haunts all expressions of world order, all forms of hegemonic domination-if Islam were dominating the world, terrorism would rise up against Islam. The globe itself is resistant to globalization.
Terrorism is immoral. The occurrence at the World Trade Center, this symbolic act of defiance, is immoral, but it was in response to globalization, which is itself immoral. We are therefore immoral ourselves, so if we hope to understand anything we will need to get beyond Good and Evil. The crucial point lies in precisely the opposite direction from the Enlightenment philosophy of Good and Evil. We naively believe in the progress of Good, that its ascendance in all domains (science, technology, democracy, human rights) corresponds to the defeat of Evil. No one seems to have understood that Good and Evil increase in power at the same time -and in the same way. The triumph of one does not result in the obliteration of the ether; to the contrary. We tend to regard Evil, metaphysically, as an accidental smudge, but this axiom is illusory. Good does not reduce Evil, or vice versa; they are at once irreducible, the one and the other, and inextricably linked. In the end, Good cannot vanquish Evil except by denying to be Good, since, in monopolizing global power, it entails a backfire of proportional. violence.
In the traditional universe, there remained a balance of Good and Evil, a dialectical relationship that ,guaranteed, for better or worse, the tension and equilibrium of the moral universe. This balance was lost as soon as there was a total extrapolation of Good-the hegemony of the positive over every form of negativity. From that moment, the equilibrium was broken, and Evil returned to an invisible autonomy, increasing exponentially.
Relatively speaking, this is a bit like what happened to the political order after Communism disappeared and neoliberal forces triumphed worldwide. It was then that a phantom enemy arose, percolating throughout the planet, rising up through all the cracks in power. Islam. But Islam. is merely the crystallized form of this antagonism. The antagonism is everywhere, and it is in each of us. Hence, terror against terror. But it is asymmetrical terror, and :t is this asymmetry that leaves the absolute global power disarmed. It can do nothing but strike at its own rationale for the balance of power, without being able to compete on the playing field of symbolic defiance and of death, having deleted that playing field from its own culture.
Until now, this integrating power had succeeded in absorbing and reabsorbing every attack, every negativity, and in doing so created a thoroughly hopeless situation (not only for the wretched o’ the earth but also for the privileged and well-to-do in their radical comfort). But the terrorists have started using their own deaths offensively and effectively, based on a strategic intuition, a sense of their adversary’s immense fragility, of the system’s quasi-perfection, of the explosion that would erupt at the slightest spark. They succeeded in turning their deaths into an ultimate weapon against a system devoted to the ideal of zero losses. Any system of zero losses is a zero-sum game. And all methods of deterrence and destruction can do nothing against an enemy who has already turned his death into a counteroffensive weapon. (” Who cares about the American bombing! Our men are as eager to die as the Americans are eager to live!”) Thus the imbalance of more than 3,000 deaths inflicted in one fell swoop against a system of zero losses. Here, everything depends upon death, not only upon the brutal irruption of death live and in real time but upon the irruption of a death much more than real: a symbolic and sacrificial death-which is to say, the absolute, ultimate, unappealable event.
Such is the mind of terrorism.
Never attack the system in terms of the balance of power. The balance of power is an imaginary (revolutionary) construct imposed by the system itself, a construct that exists in order to force those who attack it to fight on the battlefield of reality, the system’s own terrain. Instead, move the struggle into the symbolic sphere, where defiance, reversion, and one-upmanship are the rule-so that the only way to respond to death is with an equivalent or even greater death. Defy the system with a gift to which it cannot reply except with its own death and its own downfall.
The tactic of the the model terrorist is to provoke an excess o reality and to make the system collapse under its own weight; the terrorist hypothesis is that the system itself will commit suicide in response to multiple fatal suicide attacks, because neither the system nor power is free from symbolic obligations. In this vertiginous cycle of exchanging death, the death of a terrorist is an infinitesimal point, but one that provokes an enormous aspiration, a gaping void, a gigantic convection. All around this minute point, the entire system, the system of reality and power, fortifies itself, vaccinates itself, gathers itself together, and crumbles into ruin out of its own overefficiency.
It is, however, a mistake to see the terrorists’ actions as merely destructive; this is hardly an impersonal elimination of the Other. This is about having personal relationship, the relationship of duelists, with the enemy power. It was the enemy power that humiliated you, so it’s the enemy power that must be humiliated. And not simply exterminated. You have to make the enemy lose face. And you’ll never achieve that through brute force, by merely eliminating the Other. The Other must be targeted and murdered under extremely dangerous circumstance:,. Accusations to the contrary notwithstanding, the terrorists’ act is, therefore, the exact opposite of an act of cowardice, as well as the exact opposite of what the Americans did in the Gulf War (and of what they are doing all over again in Afghanistan): invisible target, operational liquidation.
Everything changes as soon as the terrorists begin to combine every modern means available with the highly symbolic weapon of their own deaths. This combination infinitely multiplies their destructive capability, and it is this multiplication of factors (which seem to us so irreconcilable) that gives the terrorists such superiority The strategy of zero losses, on the other hand, of the clean, high-tech war, misses this transfiguration of real power by symbolic power entirely.
We no longer have a clue what a symbolic calculation is, the sort of calculation common in poker or potlatch: minimum stakes, maximum results. ‘This is exactly what the terrorists achieved in the attack on Manhattan, which provides a good illustration of -chaos theory: an initial shock provoking unforeseeable consequences. Gigantic deployments of Americans, on the other hand, achieve nothing but derisory effects-a hurricane, as it were, resulting in the flapping of a butterfly’s wings.
Cause, proof, truth, compensation, ends and means-ultimately.. this all amounts to a typically Western way of thinking. We even evaluate death in terms of interest rates, in terms of price-quality ratios-a poor man’s calculation. We no longer even have the courage to pay a good price.
Among the system’s own weapons that they succeeded in turning against it, the terrorists exploited the real time of images, their instantaneous worldwide distribution. The role of the image is highly ambiguous. Ever, as the image exalts the event, it takes it hostage. It multiplies the event into infinity, and at the same time it diverts our attention from the event and neutralizes it. This is what is always forgotten when we speak of the “danger” of the media. The image consumes the event by absorbing it and offering it up to the consumer. To be sure, it lends the event an unedited impact to a point:, but it remains an image-event nonetheless.
What is left., then, of the real event if the imaginary, the fictional, the virtual intrudes everywhere into reality? The collapse of the World Trade (.enter towers is unimaginable, but this in and of itself does not make an event real. An increase in violence is not enough to open up reality. Because reality is a starting point, a first principle, and it’s this principle that has been last. Reality and fiction are inextricable, and Fascination with the attack is above all fascination with the image.
In this case, therefore, reality gives the image an element of terror, an extra thrill. Not only is it terrifying, it is also real. Or, rather, it is not the violence of reality that comes first, giving the image an extra frisson; the image comes first and adds a frisson to -reality. A kind of fiction-plus, fiction that goes beyond fiction. Something like what Ballard (after Borges) had in mind when. he spoke of reinventing reality as the ultimate and most formidable fiction.
This terrorist violence is thus not a rekindling of the fire of reality, or of history. This terrorist violence is not “real” at all. It’s worse, in a sense: it’s symbolic. Violence in and of itself can be perfectly banal and inoffensive. Only symbolic violence generates singularity. And this singular event, this Manhattan disaster film, consummately combines the two elements of mass Fascination in the twentieth century: the whit. magic of cinema and the black magic of terrorism.
In the aftermath of the attack we seek to give it whatever meaning we can, to make whatever interpretation. But there is no meaning, and the radical nature of the spectacle, its brutality, is the only thing about it that is original and irreducible. The spectacle of terrorism forces upon u:; the terrorism of the spectacle. And against this immoral fascination (even if it elicits universal moral condemnation) the political order can do nothing. It is our very own theater of cruelty, the only one we have left-extraordinary because it represents both the high point of the spectacular and the high point of defiance.
Any killing can be forgiven, so long as it has a meaning, so long as it can be interpreted as historical violence-such is the moral axiom of good violence. Any violence can be forgiven, as long as it isn’t transmitted by the media. (“Terrorism would be nothing without the media.”) But this is all just an illusion. There is no such thing as a good use of the media. The media are part of the event, they’re part of the terror; in one way or another they play along.
The act of repression follows the same unpredictable spiral as the act of terrorism: no one knows where it will end or what repercussions will ensue. At the level of images and information, it is impossible to distinguish between the spectacular and the symbolic, impossible to distinguish between crime and repression. And it is this uncontrollable outburst of reversibility that is the veritable victory of terrorism, a victory that can be seen in the ramificatic as and subterranean aftershocks of the event–not only in the recession (economic, political, psychological) of the entire system but also in the recession of the entire value system, tie entire ideology of liberty, the freedom of movement, etc., that had been the pride of the West and its justification for exerting control over the rest of world.
We have reached the point that the idea of liberty, an idea relatively recent and new, is already in the process of fading from our consciences and our standards of morality, the point that neoliberal globalization is in the process of assuming the form of its opposite: that of a global police state, of a terror of security. Deregulation has ended in maximum security, in a level of restriction and constraint equivalent to that found in fundamentalist societies.
A downturn in production, consumption, speculation, growth-all indications suggest that the global system is making a strategic retreat, a wrenching revision of its values. This retreat is apparently in reaction to the impact of terrorism, bat in truth it is for secret reasons of its own regulation born of absolute disorder but which it imposes upon itself, internalizing in a certain sense its own defeat.
There is no solution to this extreme situation-certainly not war, which offers nothing but déjà vu, the same deluge of military force, the same absence of reliable information, the same pointless bludgeoning, the same stirring but deceitful speeches, the same poisoning. In short, it is the Gulf War all over again, a nonevent, an event that does not truly take place.
It is not intended to take place. It has an altogether different purpose; to replace a truly formidable event, unique and unforeseen, with a pseudo-event that is as repetitive as it is familiar. In the terrorist attack the event eclipsed all of our interpretive models, whereas in this mindlessly military and technological war we see the opposite: the interpretive model eclipsing the event. Witness, thus, the artificial stakes, the non. place. War as a continuation of the absence of politics by other means.