The Society of Selfie

Reality is mass produced for and by us. We as subjects of achievement society are living in a world of signs that combine together to produce the real. With the digital revolution the real is obliterated by its own image or model. The simulation has become the real. Jean Baudrillard calls it hyperreality. Everything is summoned before the jurisdiction of signs to make it visible, legible, available and recordable. This new world has collapsed into our palms through the smart phone with which we capture the real and render it visible and shareable. We have become producers in the best sense of the word. The original sense of pro ducere… to render visible, to make appear and to cause to appear is happening on our smart phones like never before. We are producing the real and ourselves on the tip our fingers. This production of surplus real has its own side effects. The real is suffocated by its own accumulation. In our quest to perfect the real in the realm of the digital, we have ended up in transforming it into a hyporeal. Hypo meaning less real. The self that is producing itself and the real then have truly lost both the itself and the real. This is why we have stepped in the world of post-truth marked by fake news, propaganda, disinformation, propaganda and conspiracy.

The crisis of truth has brought about a crisis in democracy across the globe besides robbing the achievement self of achievement society of its interiority. This loss of the inner core is a welcome development for neo-liberal economy. It produces a drive for transcendence. The lacking self of the achievement society then sees itself in the objects sold by the market. Consuming those objects becomes a mode of being oneself. It is this self that is seeking transcendence sees its achievement in owning those objects. Everything then becomes an extension of the self. This drive for transcendence thus, fires the identity politics of our time. This is because we have become schizophrenics. We have lost the sense of our individual boundaries. We cannot separate ourselves from the world of signs that surrounds us. We cannot see ourselves as in a mirror. Everything mirrors us differently and we have come to enjoy it. We have come to inhabit the narcissistic self, the self of the selfie. The world of signs that surrounds us has truly become ‘me-dia’, a world revolving around ourselves. We are no longer spectators but actors in the spectacle of the world produced by us. We have entered the society of selfie.

The society of selfie is a society of denialism. Thus, for instance, the 2014 tweet of Princess Breanna’s selfie in the Auschwitz concentration camp illustrated the state of denialism. Her smiling face floods the image displacing the actual buildings and their historical reality out of scene. We can see a form of denialism that replaces the historical events and its reality with ourselves. If for Adorno to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric, what would be it for us after a selfie that pushes out reality and history from the scene. The self is feeding on semioticisation of objects, history and relations. It reorients and redefines all relations as relations of consumption. This is why the society of selfie is a society of relation with and between signs. We are socialized into this world of signs and, therefore, experience constraint freedom that sees the consumption and production of signs as achievements. We see this insertion of ourselves into the code of the sign system as freedom and progress. Cars, houses, woman etc., becomes the signs that we consume and make them expressions of our selves. The semiotic self-expression that seems to define and celebrate our individuality truly pictures our actual reduction of ourselves to semiotic communication and enslavement to its code. Thus, even our bodies may be devested of their symbolic meaning and be inserted into more smoother, elegant world produced by the semiotic labor of the market and the world of politics.

Somehow, we seem to have now come to live by Berkley’s principle, esse est principi which said, to be is to be perceived. Our individual selves as well our politics seems to now run on the likes, comments, retweets and reposts. What goes viral become real. Optics is everything. Such a production of self and its life needs to be continuously produced. Hence, it produces doubts and anxiety. This is why neurological disorders abound in our society. The performative, flexible, multiple self of the achievement society is fragile and is always on the verge of breakdown. Such a self is haunted by performance anxiety and performance exhaustion. Han has rightly said that that the achievement subjects of the society of achievement are not really subjects but are unending personal projects. Such a self that is on a self-production project accepts its own self-exploitation as progress and is on a path of self-destruction. This is why Han says pathologies that we are facing are not industrial risks and alienation but one of systemic depression, ADHD and burnout. But the paradox is that all the time this self -destroying self considers itself to be free.

When the self is raised to the highest superlative power, we have what we may call identitarianism. It is reign of the selfer than self or even the selfest self. In this reign of the selfest self, there is no room for otherness. Like Han , Baudrillard also teaches that otherness can exist only if it is reduced to difference that is regulated by semiotics. Such an otherness becomes a difference that is exchangeable or even disposable. Hence, when the otherness of the other is extracted and transformed into consumable difference, we prepare the ground for real consumption or extinction of the other through hate politics that we can find growing around us. Hence, to restore the self, we have the challenge to restore the other. The symbolic and ontological depth of the other that is depleted has to be restored. It only such a restoration of the otherness of the other / negativity (in the words of Han) that we can hope to restore the self-destructive self of the neoliberal economy.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao