CULTURE

A bizarre cause celebre: Seeing the ogre bleed

It’s that obnoxious clique again. Those who sneer at US hegemony have been looking hard to see the ogre bleed. The collapse of the Twin Towers in New York, the twin symbols of capitalism in the heart of the neoliberal economy, finally seemed like a delicious irony. America-bashers were in good voice. Reading Jean Baudrillard’s «The Spirit of Terrorism» (Kritiki, 2002) can be frustrating. When it is not obscure, his essay can be perverse and malicious. «Moral condemnation and the holy alliance against terrorism are equal to the prodigious jubilation at seeing this global superpower being destroyed, or better, seeing it more or less destroy itself, in a beautiful suicide,» the French philosopher comments gleefully. It’s the typical hubris-nemesis story; with a touch of schadenfreude. The all-greedy monster has invited destruction upon itself. «They did it, but we wanted it,» Baudrillard says. «And we had all dreamed of this event because it is impossible not to dream of the destruction of any power that grows so hegemonic.» If anyone really did dream of this, they were certainly having a nightmare. Unlike Baudrillard, it seems. The monopolistic power of the US, the author says, awakens an irresistible urge to destroy it. He describes this desire in almost metaphysical terms. «It goes way beyond the hatred for the dominant world power by the dispossessed and the exploited, those who have ended up on the wrong side of the world order. This malignant desire is in the very heart of those who share its benefits. The allergy to all definitive order, to all definitive power is fortunately universal, and the two towers of the World Trade Center, the perfect twins, perfectly embodied this definitive order.» Baudrillard seems to take Marx’s famous metaphor as a truism: the system creates its own grave-diggers. For Baudrillard, «it is logical and inexorable that the rise of power to the heights of power exacerbates the will to destroy it.» Power, in this sense, «is complicity in its own destruction.» This is not a clash of civilizations or religions, the writer claims; and it is a clash which goes far beyond Islam and America – where the conflict is usually located. Rather, this is a more fundamental antagonism: a triumphant globalization fighting with itself. According to the writer, this is a World War, indeed the fourth and only truly World War, for what is at stake here is globalization itself. The First World War ended European dominance and colonialism, while the second eliminated Nazism. The third, that is the Cold War, ended Communism. These were all classic wars which, each time, pushed things toward a unique world order. But the fourth World War is different, Baudrillard says, for it is a war against this very world order. And we have declared it against ourselves. Even worse, we have to fight this war on unknown turf as we no longer control the rules of the game. «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.» They hate us more than they love their life. According to our value system, Baudrillard says in one of his few useful insights, they’re cheating. «Bringing your own death into play is not in the rules. But they don’t care, and the new rules of the game are no longer ours.» In many cases Baudrillard, the author of «America,» «The System of Objects,» «Impossible Exchange,» «Screened Out» and «The Perfect Crime,» leaves the reader disturbed; in others puzzled. It is not clear, for example, what he means when he asserts that contrary to Enlightenment thinking, good and evil always rise simultaneously, at the same moment. The two, in his mind, are irreducible and inextricable from each other. What Baudrillard is saying thereby is that any act promoting good will yield as much evil hence striking a perfect equilibrium between the two! This, of course, only leads to inaction and despair, for there is nothing one can do to bring about change in the world, whether for the better or for the worse. Baudrillard’s theory is absurd. Even worse, it’s nihilistic. Not surprisingly, staring at the post-September 11 landscape, Baudrillard sees «no solution to this extreme situation.»