Layers of simulation opened the door for the disinformation plague and none is safe

Feb 16, 2024
The multitude of realities, invisible to many, underlies the environment where people open themselves to embrace deceptive fabrications of the truth. Have we turned into a mass of psychopaths as the aftermath of our unfulfilled desires?
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Few philosophical theories have stirred as much contemplation and debate as Jean Baudrillard's concept of simulacra and simulation. His seminal work, "Simulation and Simulacra," proposes a radical worldview where reality, as we understand it, is progressively supplanted by its representations, leading us into a state of hyperreality. His proposition is not hard to see. People are becoming more and more alienated, a situation that echoes the Marxist theory of alienation, where individuals are cornered by materialistic conditions. Marx and Baudrillard, however, were not close to a moment where reality is on the verge of almost physically splitting. This fragmentation is the other side of the discontent that humanity is experiencing.
Baudrillard's theory is rooted in the progression of simulacra through three distinct orders: imitation, production, and simulation. In the first order, representations serve as mere imitations of reality, offering a clear distinction between the real and the artificial. The advent of the industrial revolution ushers in the second order, blurring the lines between the copy and the original, though a fundamental reality is still believed to exist. However, it is the third order, simulation, that marks a significant departure from the previous stages. Here, the simulation does not merely mimic the real but becomes indistinguishable from it, with no original or reality to replicate, leading to a state of hyperreality where the distinction between reality and representation collapses.
Attempts to create a hyperreality to overcome the hostilities of contemporary civilization end up deploying layers of meaning over each other, creating a world that is more real than real, devoid of any connection to an original reality. The proliferation of these symbols and signs has profound implications for our understanding of truth, reality, and authenticity, challenging the very foundation of these concepts in the postmodern world.
The world we live in is in a state of disarray because there is no longer a single connector across society, but different segments that live in vastly different conditions, even when they are in the same physical place. Imagine a top tech CEO and a homeless person in front of the Rockefeller Center in NY, and you will visualize how these different realities coexist only up to a point. The CEO will be able to perceive the GDP growth of an Asian country, while the homeless person can do little more than think about where his next meal will come from. This example is extreme, but it happens on various scales as we speak and with virtually all individuals in the world. The loss of genuine community life was the starting point of a problem that makes us all feel alienated in some way.
To make matters worse, social media has added another layer of disassociation, as suggested by Baudrillard, by enabling people to reconstruct their personas online. These constructions extend far beyond the simulation stage, as they have no connection with anything, not even the simulation. At this point, these online personas are only connected to an image that each individual aspires to be. All their prejudices and projections are directed towards this image, with "others" merely serving as a receptacle for guilt for all our maladies. This isn't just about extremists from the left or right, but also about people you know, work with, flirt with, hang out with, and so on. If Baudrillard were still alive, he might call this "the simulation of the simulation", a stage that isn't even connected to the original simulation that was devoid of reality. In practical terms, society now consists of ghosts interacting with themselves, where psychopathy is the norm. This is because individuals can't empathize with their own feelings, let alone those of others, due to the numerous layers of separation between all subjects. The "others" only exist if I am directly affected. Otherwise, they are merely ethereal stories happening somewhere else.
However, technology enabled this insanity, it is not much different from other moments in history where reality was so miserable that people embraced irrationality as it was the only alternative promising something better. All the sacrifices asked as payment - think of Jews, Palestinians, Uighurs, Armenians or Muslims - seemed fair, because any price is acceptable when the situation is desperate. Technology adds pressure to the problem because its reach and reaction times make it impossible for anyone to control, even elites or authoritarian regimes. It’s too fast, too pervasive.
We must not philosophize the subject to the point of admitting that there is more than one reality. Historical materialism still determines the physical conditions that affect society, willingly or not. The apparent insanity taking over all around cannot be justified, but it is explainable. The hard part is imagining a way in which the fragmented chunks of society will agree to return from this "simulation of the simulation" for the greater good. Individuals only think about others when misery unites them in a sea of pain and desperation, and we have not yet arrived there. But we are close.

© Cassiano Gobbet 2023 - 2024