Revolution as Meaningless Simulation



Power floats like money, like language, like theory. Criticism and negativity alone still secrete a phantom of the reality of power. If they become weak for some reason or another, power has no other recourse but to artificially revive and hallucinate them… The deterioration of power is irresistibly pursued: it is not so much the “revolutionary forces” that accelerate this process (often it is quite the opposite), it is the system itself that deploys against its own structures this violence that annuls all substance and all finality. One must not resist this process by trying to confront the system and destroy it, because the system that is dying from being dispossessed of its death expects nothing but that from us: that we give the system back its death, that we revive it through the negative. End of revolutionary praxis, end of the dialectic. (24)

Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation is an experience, to say the least. I don’t think I’ve read a book that has so radically challenged my perspective since Richard Rorty’s Contingency, irony, and solidarity. In short, it is a semiotic work concerning the applicability of (and even the possibility of) meaning in the postmodern world of electronic mass media. It centers around the two concepts eponymously referred to in the title. Simulacra, in brief, is a copy (of a model/image/abstraction) that has no original. Simulation, similarly, is the generation of these copies/models without origin or reality. The result of this product and process, respectively, is the creation of what Baudrillard terms, hyperreality; and it is in this space, he contends, that our social “realities” takes place. I think I’ll write a shorthand primer concerning these concepts since they’re difficult to explain and understand without greater explication. Here, I am concerned with the application of these concepts to political revolution and the implications that seem to follow.

From the quote above, it seems Baudrillard is saying that revolution has become a part of the system which the revolution seeks to dismantle. Furthermore, that the system itself fosters this revolution in order to justify itself to those whom are subject to it (almost like the false flag operations of the Italian government post-World War II), to reinvigorate it, and establish itself more firmly. In this way, the revolution is meaningless – worse: it is an illusion, or as Baudrillard is wont to describe it: a simulation of revolution. Even if the revolution is successful in achieving its end, the political-ideological/linguistic/communications framework that makes the system (and the revolution) possible still exists intact, and ultimately subsumes the revolution into the “original” system. This reminds me of the Arab Spring movement in Egypt in which a dictator is overthrown only to be replaced by a new dictator, and now it seems as if this event is repeating itself once again.

Baudrillard goes into greater detail about how this similar situation plays out in Western, especially American, society – and it is truly disturbing. For the details I would recommend the book; although, I think I will cover some more of these topics in later posts. For now, I focus on revolution.

If the illusion of revolution was not disheartening enough, Baudrillard says that now, in this hyperreality of which we are all a part, there is no longer the possibility of revolution. The hyperreality subsumes all into meaninglessness, without true referents – only the images and appearances of things. And the hyperreal would subsume any antithesis to the hyperreal. Thus, resistance truly is futile. Even death is rendered meaningless and thus ineffective. The dialectic is over.

Was Fukiyama wrong – did he miss it entirely? Is it not liberal democratic ideals and societies that will “conquer” the world, bringing to historical conclusion the dialectical opposition between capitalism and communism; but instead, a (now-global) mass communications superstructure – disseminating ideals and ideas that are misconstrued, misunderstood, and dispossessed of meaning – that spreads like a psychic cancer, ultimately imprisoning us all in the hyperreal? Are we truly lost in the desert of the real?