Summary of Baudrillard’s “The Violence of the Global”
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Jean Baudrillard’s essay, “The Violence of the Global” is a very expansive view on the effects of thought patterns, dogmatisms, and to a lesser extent, arrogance on a worldwide scale. Baudrillard separates three distinct tiers of moral and values. Those tiers are singularities, universalized, and globalized. Baudrillard identifies the spreading of ideologies, morals and values as globalization. In his essay, Baudrillard cryptically defines it as “…the globalization of technologies, the market, tourism, and information”. Rather inane to define a term using that very term, but this is an excessively encompassing definition anyway. A much simpler way to view it is as though the earth were shrinking literally (Porter). Everything that human beings are able to share with one another is now being shared faster and more anonymously than ever. And most dangerous probably among these things that one could share are ideologies of hatred and bigotry. But the ability to spread those ideologies at the speed of an electrical pulse through a cable is horrifying.
This rapid transfer causes the universalization of morals and values. This I believe is entirely true, however I do not believe an absolute universalization could feasibly occur. People are far too incompatible to share identical morals and values. I believe Baurdrillard’s main point is that it’s best to define ones morals and values for oneself, rather than accept those you see around you as good traits of character. The frequency and rapidity of the ideologies conveyed to us, consciously or subconsciously; inevitably will influence our own ideologies if even to the most minute extent. But it’s when ethical development of character is reduced to predetermined approvals and disapprovals, that globalization is officially underway.
It’s this globalization that Baudrillard purports as the cause of the defeat of the singularity. That it is to say that through this massive infusion of ideologies, thoughts independent thereof, cease to exist. Clearly an exaggeration I feel to proclaim that all cherished free thought has perished. I don’t feel he means to be an alarmist, but rather indicates it as a point of caution. Baudrillard points out that this deafening of singularity and independent thoughts carries with it repercussions.
Baudrillard points out terrorism as the most prominent repercussion of this globalization. Terrorism is described much like a lashing out of the singularity. They are despondent attempts to humiliate the so-called “single-track thinking of the West” by the singularities being oppressed. Baudrillard does make clear the distinction however, that terrorism is the most violent and atrocious of means by which independent thought can be proclaimed. “The Violence of the Global” does not accurately portray Baudrillard’s feelings on terrorism; prior to researching I felt as though Baudrillard was sympathetic to angry, ignorant violence such as terrorism. In 2002, in an interview with Der Speigel, a popular German magazine Baudrillard said this regarding his view on terrorism:
“I do not praise murderous attacks — that would be idiotic. Terrorism is not a contemporary form of revolution against oppression and capitalism. No ideology, no struggle for an objective, not even Islamic fundamentalism, can explain it. …I have glorified nothing, accused nobody, justified nothing. One should not confuse the messenger with his message. I have endeavored to analyze the process through which the unbounded expansion of globalization creates the conditions for its own destruction ” (Kellner).
This article clarified many things about Baudrillard for me and offered me great insight into the reason why Baudrillard made some of the claims that he did. Baudrillard no longer appears as just another ‘holier-than-thou’ western civilization basher after this article, but rather someone who feels they recognize a serious problem and is able to address it properly. Many of the objects pressed forth as fact however, seemed nothing more than chronically inaccurate stereotypes of the “hedonistic” way of the westerners. Specifically, on page 97 where he says “The mission of the West (or, rather, of the former West, since for a long time now it has had no values of its own) is to subject the many different cultures, by any means available, to the unforgiving law of equivalence”.
And then proceeds to further insinuate that “the West” is a culture that has lost all its values. Fair enough perhaps if he speaks of some of the elitists of corporate America, putting profits before people on a regular basis. Many of them perhaps are without well-aligned values. I must though consider myself part of this Western culture he speaks of, and I clearly do not view myself as entirely void of morals and values. Even more so, in the daily practice of my life, I encourage people not to believe all the things they’re told.
Hell, occasionally I’ll encourage disbelief in the most obvious and complete of truths just to keep myself amused. Therefore, I must take some offense to his hastily observed stereotype.
This has been quite clearly only but a superficial overview of the ideas and concepts contained within Jean Baudrillard’s “The Violence of the Global”. I found myself at times struggling to tie together all the ideas from this essay. I found much of his ordering to be extremely impulsive and at times frighteningly fast-paced. The essay is teetering on the brink of poor authorship, salvaged only by the veil of style. This is why it’s necessary to first establish a panoramic grasp of the slow and intricate process of globalization. Such a grasp will allow one to better understand some of the more complex facets of globalization (i.e. the extensive economic movements towards globalized currency) and the many different terms under which Baudrillard refers to the universal, and universalizing of values. Then, probably the most relevant subject of terrorism: its numerous causes, and potential solutions to it. Also, Potential ways to disarm globalization and to minimize the universalization of morality are examined.
The Universal Value
Universalized values are values which someone has not developed on their own and by means of their own intellect, but rather they are values which have been merely adopted from an outside source, or slightly manipulated so that they are applicable to our own circumstances. As Baudrillard points out on page 88, this appears on the surface to be a fairly harmless, if not beneficial standing for a value to be universalized. After all, if everyone had the same universalized values, no one would be in conflict about various important issues. The problem is in the interpretation and application (Baudrillard calls this representation) of those respective values. Let’s say hypothetically that it’s an absolute, universalized value that murdering someone is wrong.
The conscience of someone wishing to murder can simply insert non-existent caveats and clauses until they feel that even such a value as the one mentioned above, supports they’re action in some contorted way. For instance, while true it is wrong to murder someone, such a value does not account for my complete circumstances. Therefore, I as a person must conform, not my lifestyle to the value, but the value to my lifestyle. In doing so, I say “While it’s still wrong to murder someone, if that someone intends to harm me or a loved one, murder is an acceptable defense”. So here we can see that the transition from universalized to globalized is a huge leap indeed. Baudrillard does speak highly of an earlier time for the universal value system. This was a time before the iron-grip of globalization caused the universal value’s meaning to dissipate. But this pre-globalized universal was one comprised simply of many singularities, millions of independent ideas fused together over-time.
This brings us to our next important factor of the universal which is its predecessor, the singular. The singular means not only an independent idea or value, but also the singular represents disunity from the universal and the global. These singularities play a huge part in the process of globalization. Baudrillard asserts that these singularities are the key to ceasing globalization. For it’s not until the global state of mind succumbs to that of the singular that absolute freedom of thought can be achieved. This concept caught me off guard a bit, and I’m still rather uncertain how exactly it is that singularities are the answer to globalization.
This is probably the most important factor Baudrillard neglected to give closure on. He never exactly makes it clear how developing morals and values and ideas for ones self brings an end to global terrorism. Perhaps it is only that globalized and singularized ideas are in such contradiction, that in the practice of life, one is capable of negating the other. In his essay, Baudrillard gives numerous examples of singularities. He refers mostly to creative activities which allow one to express their ideas to others. Another, very well known singularity he mentions is terrorism.
In the majority of his essay Jean refers to the singularities as apparently noble concepts. Because of this, I neglected to account for the evil independent ideas and values. Therefore, I was quite taken aback when terrorism was first identified as a singularity. I had thought only of the positives means by which one could disrupt the flow of globalization but terrorism is absolutely one (horribly retarded) method of defeating globalization. It’s the last ditch effort of a disappearing singularity begging to be recognized. PLEASE! Acknowledge my viewpoints and respect them or die. But I cannot fathom how this differs from globalized values. Is it not the objective of the terrorist to inflict harm upon others who do not see things the same way, if only for just that reason?
There are many interesting points regarding terrorism in this essay. The most interesting is the spawning of terrorism. Throughout the beginning, baudrillard refers to terrorism as the violence of the global. Ultimately, the obliteration of the singular so that the global shall reign has left mankind alone. Without his own developed sense of good and evil, mankind loses sight of an enemy. But nothing can exist without opposition from something. Therefore, as Baudrillard says “It generates one from within”. This new found enemy within opposes the singular, which threatens its existence, and praises the global which fuels it. Essentially, terrorism is the result of a society which has globalized its values to the point of bastardizing. Values which have become so saturated, they’ve abandoned all substance for the sake of transferability.
Baudrillard explicitly offers no real solution to this problem of terrorism, but from the causes he proposes, one can infer the respective effects. Then, with those effects one can discern a better way to achieve the effects. If terrorists hate the west because of the things they believe it represents (decadence, greed, comfort) then we need only manipulate those representations. Well, or we could attempt to build up some other nation as the decadent, greedy ones but that may prove . . . challenging. Regardless, the latter wouldn’t really solve terror, but rather just divert it. I still cannot help but feel that perhaps terrorism is somewhat analogous to a situation many of us can relate to: Person X and Person Y feel absolutely equal in all castes.
However, Person Z comes along and deems Person Y to be superior, at least in some manner to Person X. Person Z entrusts Person Y with his fortune while leaving Person X with merely enough resources to survive. Eventually, after observing the wealth of Person Y, Person X becomes dissatisfied with whatever resources bestowed on him. Person X then, out of jealousy, declares that Person Y, simply because they have more than they need (despite most of it being the fruit of anothers labor), is both greedy and decadent. After establishing these views upon these pretenses, Person X deems themselves decimator of all that is greedy by any means necessary and simply slays Person Y. Such I feel is the struggle related to terrorism.
Globalization, as I mentioned previously, refers to the shrinking of the earth (metaphysically). And although Baudrillard focuses mostly on the globalization of values and ideals, one cannot deny that it also refers to equally as influential factors such as political vision, economics, and resource distribution. A more widely accepted idea of globalization is that of a one-world government. This one-world government is a concept which Baudrillard does not refer to specifically, but obviously implies through his concept of globalization. Inevitably, this one-world government is the culmination of complete globalization. It’s the unwavering power, symbolic of the destruction of the singular. Such a government seeks only to further empower itself by whatever means.
Thus, wrongful concepts, values and morals are dispersed throughout the globe which perpetuates any type of clandestine schedule held by that government. Easily the most influential aspect which could be controlled by such a government would be money. How, where and by whom it is spent could mean a world of difference. We already see such control being exercised when we examine The Institute of International Bankers (Institute). Such an institute has the capacity to bring any small government to its knees. A useful ability no doubt should this institute every encounter such a government which opposed it.
Even though the manipulation of cash flow has a tremendous effect on the behaviors and even morality of a citizenry, controlling the moral flow bears much more egregious results. Defining the lines between good and evil to ones own self-interest, a globalized government can become almost godlike. On page 90, Baudrillard summarized globalization rather aptly, saying “The concentric gives way not to the decentred, but to the eccentric. And discrimination and exclusion are not accidental consequences; they are part of the very logic of globalization”.
The Institute of International Bankers Page. The Institute of International Bankers. 3 May 2005
Kellner, Douglas. Baudrillard, Globalization, and Terrorism. UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. 3 May 2005
Porter, Keith. Globalization and Terrorism. Global Envision. 2 May 2005