CX: Breaking Baudrillard

I have previously recommended use of a hyperreality critique as a useful way to break down a barrage of horribly fabricated bullshit. Given how much of high school and suburban teenage life lends itself to being horribly fabricated bullshit, I can understand why a hyperreality K is popular among teenagers. And, to be fair, a judge may want to vote for that K simply so they can disregard horribly fabricated bullshit that other teenagers have introduced into the round — like “Nuke war will break out when the economy collapses because we don’t repeal a 15-year-old law that scoffs at trademarks on Cuban rum.” But even given that there’s a problem with the hyperreality critique that goes back to its source.

First issue: what is and is wrong with hyperreality? As far as I can tell on just a quick reading, when given something to treat as a fact — like the fiated plan in a policy debate round — the multiple speculative chains of events (models) that might flow from that fact and are also regarded as fact (but strangely weightless — like multiple extinction scenarios in a debate round) form a hyperreality where everything is predicted such that nothing is not foreseen and thus ostensibly controlled and yet almost none of it is ever true and the prevalence of noise over signal drowns out any meaning in what is true as well as the possibility of any emergent value in reality. Or, to simplify, when everything is thought of in advance then reality becomes deterministic with the future being a mere fact that neutralizes the value of the now with the loss of meaningful choice.

I think Baudrillard is what might happen if Nietzsche, Hegel, and Rousseau were mashed into the same brain and forced too watch too much television.

Second issue: why is it bad to use in debate? Because Baudrillard says that all of America is consumed by hyperreality, and this was 30 years ago before the Internet was popular. This actually gives the affirmative two responses: 1) No Alt (obviously) but also 2) the duration and comprehensiveness of hyperreality makes the policy debate exercise actually more-real in that it’s likely engaging in the same hyperreality as “actual” policymakers do. The unreality is introduced when a dead French nihilist is called upon to grumble meaninglessly (emergent meaning is eradicated within the hyperreality) about the whole process. And that means that 2a) the K should be disregarded as meaningless and weightless or — if the K is novel and surprising — 2b) then it’s proof that the claims of hyperreality are overblown and thus the K is non-credible.

Here’s Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation claiming that all of America is already hyperreal, so there’s no alt possible:

Disneyland exists in order to hide that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America that is Disneyland (a bit like prisons are there to hide that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, that is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyperreal order and the order of simulation… The imaginary of Disneyland is neither true nor false, it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate the fiction of the real in the opposite camp. Whence the debility of this imaginary, its infantile degeneration. This world wants to be childish in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the “real” world, and to conceal the fact that true childishness is everywhere — that it is that of the adults themselves who come here to act the child in order to foster illusions as to their real childishness.

Or we can explain what Baudrillard is whining about like this:

But Baudrillard goes on to say

I am a nihilist… I observe, I accept, I assume, I analyze the second revolution, that of the twentieth century, that of postmodernity, which is the immense process of the destruction of meaning, equal to the earlier destruction of appearances. He who strikes with meaning is killed by meaning… The dialectic stage, the critical stage is empty. There is no more stage. There is no therapy of meaning or therapy through meaning: therapy itself is part of the generalized process of indifferentiation… The stage of analysis has become uncertain, aleatory: theories float (in fact, nihilism is impossible, because it is still a desperate but determined theory, an imaginary of the end, a weltanschauung of catastrophe).

Yes, Baudrillard just double-turned himself and should be voted out of the round right there, but let’s go a bit further…

Analysis is itself perhaps the decisive element of the immense process of the freezing over of meaning. The surplus of meaning that theories bring, their competition at the level of meaning is completely secondary in relation to their coalition in the glacial and four-tiered operation of dissection and transparency. One must be conscious that, no matter how the analysis proceeds, it proceeds toward the freezing over of meaning, it assists in the precession of simulacra and of indifferent forms. The desert grows.

I recoil from the gross irresponsibility that this anti-analytical stance maintains. H Richard Niebuhr advocates for ongoing analysis within reality as a precondition of goodness and rightness in his book The Responsible Self:

[W]e may say that purposiveness seeks to answer the question: “What shall I do?” by raising as the previous question: “What is my goal, ideal, or telos?” Deontology tries to answer the moral query by asking, first of all: “What is the law and what is the first law of my life?” Responsibility, however, proceeds in every moment of decision and choice to inquire: “What is going on?” If we use value terms then the differences among the three approaches may be indicated by the terms the good, the right, and the fitting; for teleology is concerned always with the highest good to which it subordinates the right; consistent deontology is concerned with the right, no matter what may happen to our goods; but for the ethics of responsibility the fitting action, the one that fits into a total interaction as response and as anticipation of further response, is alone conducive to the good and alone is right.

But we don’t have to be good or right; the way meaning is killed in hyperreality is by it being anticipated and neutralized by preclusive structures of discipline — and this goes back to the line of discipline Foucault was looking at in Discipline and Punish, where a commander exerted some capriciousness over soldiers or workers until the actions of the soldiers or workers were functionally an extension of the commander’s will. Extensive analysis within hyperreality allows the order of the commander to change from “you will do this” to “I don’t care what you do so long as it’s this” to “I don’t care what you do because I’ve ensured that you can’t do anything I don’t want you to.” That’s how modern power has evolved and also how your iPad works and also why the judge should disregard the hyperreality K on the grounds that you prepped for it since the anticipation kills the meaning according to the K.

But not according to Camus who — in The Rebel — observes the myth of Prometheus, shackled and punished for all eternity as he calls out “No misfortune can fall upon me that I have not myself already foreseen.” The Promethean myth affirms the value of foresight to secure the intended meaning of an action even when, especially when an act of sacrifice is required. It is only when your intent is precluded by somebody else’s superior analysis and control that its meaning is lost. Perversely, this is exactly what I love to see in a debate round and why a hyperreality K should be ultimately quite good for whoever it gets used against.

On a tangent, going back to Baudrillard and Foucault and how wrong Baudrillard was, Baudrillard claimed that the Panopticon lost its power with the arrival of reality TV. Only he was wrong because he was staring at the wrong model: the mere viewers of televisions have no power to pass meaningful judgment over what they saw on television (as doctors do over patients or wardens over prisoners). No, the power was in the hands of the producers who, through the disciplined response of their audience, had the power to put the shows out there and judge the reaction of their audience; the movie Network should have shown Baudrillard that. His error is obvious: power doesn’t flow from the many against the few — that’s mere force, usually chaotic. Power is focused and directed, always flowing from the few (those that command) to the many (those that obey).


Previously I mentioned that Baudrilliard sounded kind of like Nietzsche, but what would Niezsche say about that? Well, in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche explains that

there may even be puritanical fanatics of conscience, who prefer to put their last trust in a sure nothing, rather than in an uncertain something. But that is Nihilism, and the sign of a despairing, mortally wearied soul, notwithstanding the courageous bearing such a virtue may display. It seems, however, to be otherwise with stronger and livelier thinkers who are still eager for life.

And in Thus Spake Zarathrustra he goes on to say

To many men life is a failure; a poison-worm gnaweth at their heart. Then let them see to it that their dying is all the more a success.

But there’s a chapter in Thus Spake Zarathrustra that may better show the connection between Baudrillard and Nietzsche, so I’m going to include almost the whole thing here. It ends with one of the greatest things Nietzsche ever wrote.

Thus slowly wandering through many peoples and diverse cities, did Zarathustra return by round-about roads to his mountains and his cave. And behold, thereby came he unawares also to the gate of the GREAT CITY. Here, however, a foaming fool, with extended hands, sprang forward to him and stood in his way. It was the same fool whom the people called “the ape of Zarathustra:” for he had learned from him something of the expression and modulation of language, and perhaps liked also to borrow from the store of his wisdom. And the fool talked thus to Zarathustra:

“O Zarathustra, here is the great city: here hast thou nothing to seek and everything to lose. Why wouldst thou wade through this mire? Have pity upon thy foot! Spit rather on the gate of the city, and—turn back! Here is the hell for anchorites’ thoughts: here are great thoughts seethed alive and boiled small. Here do all great sentiments decay: here may only rattle-boned sensations rattle! … Seest thou not the souls hanging like limp dirty rags?—And they make newspapers also out of these rags! Hearest thou not how spirit hath here become a verbal game? Loathsome verbal swill doth it vomit forth!—And they make newspapers also out of this verbal swill. They hound one another, and know not whither! They inflame one another, and know not why! They tinkle with their pinchbeck, they jingle with their gold. They are cold, and seek warmth from distilled waters: they are inflamed, and seek coolness from frozen spirits; they are all sick and sore through public opinion. … But the moon still revolveth around all that is earthly: so revolveth also the prince around what is earthliest of all—that, however, is the gold of the shopman. The God of the Hosts of war is not the God of the golden bar; the prince proposeth, but the shopman—disposeth! By all that is luminous and strong and good in thee, O Zarathustra! Spit on this city of shopmen and return back! Here floweth all blood putridly and tepidly and frothily through all veins: spit on the great city, which is the great slum where all the scum frotheth together! … Spit on the great city and turn back!”

Here, however, did Zarathustra interrupt the foaming fool, and shut his mouth.

“Stop this at once!” called out Zarathustra, “long have your speech and species disgusted me! Why did you live so long by the swamp, turning into a toad? Aren’t your own veins flowing with tainted, frothy swamp-blood when you have learned to croak and revile like this? Why didn’t you go into the forest? Or why didn’t you till the ground? Is the sea not full of green islands? I despise thy contempt; and when you warned me — why didn’t you warn yourself? … your foolish prattle injures ME, even when you are right! And even if Zarathustra’s word WERE a hundred times justified, you would ever—DO wrong with my word!” Thus spake Zarathustra.

Then did he look on the great city and sighed, and was long silent. At last he spake thus:

“I loathe also this great city, and not only this fool. Here and there— there is nothing to better, nothing to worsen. Woe to this great city!—And I would that I already saw the pillar of fire in which it will be consumed! For such pillars of fire must precede the great noontide. But this hath its time and its own fate.— This precept, however, give I unto thee, in parting, thou fool: Where one can no longer love, there should one—PASS BY!

Thus spake Zarathustra, and passed by the fool and the great city.

But to sum up the answers to a hyperreality K: If we take it seriously, there’s no alt to it so it can’t weigh for either side unless we’re unprepared for it in which case it’s unexpected and thus shown to be false by its novelty or we are prepared for it and risk nothing by conceding its factual status thus depriving it of meaning with either of those scenarios turning it, as a rhetorical artifact, back on the other team and while all advantages and disadvantages in the round may be weightless, our opponents are cognitively dragged down by the K they now wear around their neck; ergo vote for us since only our reasoning can still stand up straight.