Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

27: Jean Baudrillard part I:
Hyper-reality, 'Ambience' and an Affluent Society

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         According to Baudrillard, we live in a post modern society that has abandoned reality in its massive production and consumption of signs. We in the modern societies live in a hyper-reality – a condition in which our relation to reality has been replaced with a relation to signs (we value the sign more than the object) and some of those signs are simulacra (signs that represent nothing). Our criterion of 'the real' is determined by whether it can be reproduced.
         All modern people live in a world of hyper-reality (in which all we see is the products of mass culture) and no one seems to want or to try to get past the image (the sign) into the reality.
         Baudrillard's first goal was to account for the development and the results of a mass consumption culture. For him consumption, not production, was the basis of the modern social order. We judge people not so much on what they do but more so on what they consume. For us in the postmodern world beauty is skin deep and we prefer it that way.
         Baudrillard used a french word, 'Ambience', to describe a form of repression where society is controlled by its inclusion in the spectacle of consumption. Every time that we consider what others will think of us when we buy something we are being repressed. Our true selves are not being considered. Ambience is deeper than peer pressure. It may have started as peer pressure but it has been internalized and we impose it on ourselves and reinforce it on others.
         An Affluent Society is one in which people are surrounded by objects instead of people. Or in other words, people have become objects for us. People have become dehumanized, objectified tools. Very rarely do we want to know a person deeper than to find out how much of a beneficial tool they can be for us. How you would feel if some one decided to tell you the whole the truth after you ask: “Hi, how are you?” What we really want is a sign that they are OK; the reality, the truth, is not what we want. All relationships are like this in an affluent society.
         Modern and postmodern society produces inauthentic relations between members. This seems to be the price we pay for having wealth and comfort: we have to objectify and utilize the world around us. If there is a solution Baudrillard believes that only lived and experienced existence can provide a solution.
         1) Everywhere there are simulated things: surfaces designed to look like wood or leather; designer things are more precious because of a label; gardens and parks are designed to be like nature but better; we do not eat pig, rather we eat pork, ham or bacon; We insert red dye to make beef look fresh. Is there any part of our lives that is really real?
         2) The 'real' for the postmodern world is what can be reproduced: songs, movies, ideas, products, feelings etc. Is there anything that cannot be reproduced?
         3) A simulation artificially prevents or restricts access to the real thing by replacing it (by making it better, more desirable, less dangerous, more beautiful etc.) often with the further justification of preserving the real original thing. Thus making both, the real and the simulation, artificial in that the real is inaccessible. Baudrillard gives the example of the prehistoric paintings in the Lascaux caves. No one is allowed to see the original because it is damaging to see them. So they built a simulated cave next to the original which people can go and see. Do you agree or disagree that simulations make both the simulation and the original artificial?
         4) Performing well on a test is a sign that the student gave more correct signs to the teacher rather than that the student knows the material better. Do you agree or disagree?
         5) Do you prefer to really get to know someone 'warts and all' or are you more comfortable not knowing anyone deeply?
         6) In many primitive hunter-gatherer societies people have no privacy. Privacy is a non-entity for them; everything is public. As societies become more complex levels of privacy develop. With privacy comes mystery and surprise. Do you want to have someone know everything about you or do you value your privacy too much to let anyone in deeply?
         7) Would the world be better or worse with more or less privacy; with more or less intimacy; with more or less objectification of people?
         8) Baudrillard believes that only lived and experienced existence can provide a solution to the objectification of people. What do you understand by this? Do you agree or disagree?
         9) Would you be better off by objectifying people more or less? What are the potential pitfalls?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren