I was skeptical about the relevance of Foucault, Lyotard and Derrida. Often cited and seldom read, they are dragged out of the Postmodern Hall of Fame and used by many to fashionably break us away from people past and present. But there is one French philosopher I’ve read all my life who is quite an outlier – Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007). As a philosopher, cultural theorist, and prophet, he has proven to be far more relevant. Following my last piece about the multiverse (s) …
How metaverse arise
Neo, in The matrix, carries a copy of Baudrillards Simulacra and simulations (1981) to point out that the film is based on simulations and annotated.
But the Matrix scene with its old-school computer discs in the book now seems pretty out of date. The multiverse (s) is / are a far more significant step towards the Baudrillian world of what he called hyperreality. As the face-to-face and print media moved in the direction of film and television, then online worlds, Baudrillard redefined the media in the sense of Simulcra or created units that are no longer just representations, but create realities in themselves, detached from reality. These are not just digital media, but unreal worlds. He is the philosopher of virtual reality, the man who imagined and defined the metaverse in its infancy and knew what was to come.
Instead of seeing the world in terms of the old binary opposites of appearance and reality, subject and object, oppressor and oppressed, he increasingly sees us in a world of Simulacra and simulations (1981) – Ads, TV news, and soap operas. With the Metaverse we literally move into these worlds, inhabit them and create new economic models and economies in them.
He outlines the way this will develop. Metaverses first reflect a reality, then they mask and pervert this reality and reinforce the absence of this reality in order to ultimately have no relation to reality. There is a brilliant passage in this book about Disneyland. You will never see this place in the same light after reading this review of the “embalmed and pacified” USA.
Amazingly, all of his works were written in the era of the broadcast media, before the Internet. Now that his simulacra are being implemented in computer games, social media, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and now metaverses, he is more topical than ever.
Metaverse and Meta-Narrative
He rejects what other postmodernists called meta-narratives, the Marxist and Freudian ideas of the free agent. But it differs in that it postulates an alternative and replaces it Consumer society (1970) with a more complex agent as consumer and consumption, not production, as a new place of economic activity. The economic sectors are now simulated environments in the real world, in malls, with their eternal spring and shopping. We even buy these simulated “experiences” in a seemingly physical world like Disneyland.
These new driving forces have made us not producers, but consumers with an enormous consumption capacity. Loans literally fuel this overconsumption by making the satisfaction of those desires easy and immediate. He goes in much further The mirror of production (1973) where the most important elements of Marxism are destroyed. He turns Marxism on its head and formulates it as a justification for the system that it allegedly wants to destroy. With his focus on work, production and value, he lacks distance to the system and works within the mechanics of production. This focuses on the independent economic operator and not on that of the consumer.
Baudrillard is also the philosopher of “consumerism” which, in his opinion, is now a refutation of “communism”. Rejecting the economic explanations of traditional Marxism, the real world today is a complex web of consumption, communication and goods. Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, tradable digital units in game worlds float beyond Marxist materialism. People are no longer economic actors with a production process, they are agents who consume and occupy hyperreal worlds. The fact that one of the largest, most valuable and most globally distributed companies has made this its brand and its goal confirms its view that physical production is no longer the essence of capitalism.
Metaverse and History
In The Gulf War did not exist (1991) shocked many by claiming that war, as re-realized by the media, had created a reality separate from the actual war. Its deeper meaning was that when events are postponed in this way, history itself crumbles through watering down. It moves us beyond an “event-based” culture to a non-historical state. Caught in the omnipresent spectacle, we forget the past.
Not only are such wars now being filmed, tweeted, and broadcast on YouTube, many are being turned into movies and computer games almost instantly. There have been dozens of films out there now, and I have known at least 18 computer games that are based entirely on, or contain, Gulf War events. Revolutions are no longer televised, they are gamified. With 9/11 we experienced this with even more intensity and scope, where the two perspectives of the event lead to the clash of two separate and global worldviews.
Baudrillard’s position on all of this was bold and honest. He thought this was almost inevitable. That we as a species drown ourselves in our own simulacras will suffocate and consume its all-consuming nature. His only reaction was Nietzschean – silence. Baudrillard is really (or unreally) the philosopher of the age of the multiverses.
Baudrillard, J., 1995. The Gulf War did not take place. Indiana University Press.
Baudrillard, J., 2019. Simulacra and Simulations (1981). In crime and the media. Routledge
Baudrillard, J., 2016. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Sage.
Baudrillard, J., 1975. The mirror of production (Vol. 17). St. Louis: Telos Press.
Baudrillard, J. and Singer, B., 1990. Seduction. New world perspectives.
Baudrillard, J., 2005. The Conspiracy of Art. new York