“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 to the order of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology) but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.”
― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
Once upon a time there was the Real, the people began shaping lookalike images to reflect the Real, they began worshiping the lookalike images, they then begun distrusting the images, the images cease to represent and have no predecessor, and then there is pure simulation, images with no relationship to the Real. Baudrillard is despised by some, as most postmodernists are, and they are detested because they are brutally honest about what our civilization has become. Let’s not shoot the messenger. Let us be honest and confront our fate.
We increasingly live in a daily existence which is filled with modified foods, electronic screens, flashing images, sound byte advertisements, constant 24/7 streaming of news through every media outlet, and increasing meld with social media. The third element has risen up and has devoured us, we were too oblivious to notice. Perhaps this is good, perhaps not. There is the Self and the ‘Out there’. The Self is daily existence of coworkers, family, traffic, customers. The ‘Out there’ is what it has always been, that other country, those powerful government officials, that war over yonder. We only know it through images or being told. It is not here, it is there. For the longest this was it, and now there is the third element. The simulacrum we increasingly live in. It is not Self, it is not ‘Out there’, it is the simulated self. The ‘online identity’ that has taken on its own being in Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, banking, blogging. We increasingly live within the simulated self, the simulacrum, until eventually I speculate every detail of daily existence will be so engineered and designed that there will indeed cease to be a noticeable distinction between the manufactured and the non. Some may argue we are already there.
In a science fiction thought experiment, since we have essentially uploaded our whole personalities and appearance onto the third element, stored online separate from the Self, one could almost download that identity into a surrogate clone or android. This sounds fanciful, but it is true, our whole identity is uploaded onto the third element to such an extent it could practically exist autonomously. Increasingly we live in an individual cell, an egg or sphere catered to our desires and interests. We are connected to other cells through this third element, losing our Self within the third element and likewise losing the concept of ‘Out there’. Slowly society has produced the spectacle of images, slowly its relationship to representing the Real has rotted, leaving only the stream of images, and in this stream of images, pure simulation without original copy, this is the third element in which we increasingly arrive.
Taking the above to be true or possibly true, one must ponder where this will lead humanity. From our earliest ancestry to today, humans have primarily adapted to the environment as it was. It was human versus environment, and human ‘ran in place’ to adapt and perpetuate itself. Over time humans learned to master their environment, a small leap here and a big leap there. We are reaching a point in which we are engineering our own environment, and ourselves as human will continue to adapt to the environment. The environment is no longer nature in her own, rather designed environment. Myself and anyone reading this will be long dead and gone before we ever know the consequences of this. It obviously takes a supremely long time for such adaptation to occur in a species, nonetheless, designed environments are only growing and refining. Humans live in the world, design images to reflect the Real, the designed images divorce from the Real and thus becoming the third element in itself, and humans will be the product of this third element over a long period.
Modernism signified the ‘death of God’, or rather, ‘death of the metanarrative’. The religious metanarrative of old is slowly being replaced by the secular humanism of now. Decentralization is the dynamic that has thrown humanity into confusion. The rise of relativism, subjectivism, cultural relativism, nihilism, and those whom still cling to humanist and religious ideologies. The cruise ship has sank and each to their own life raft. The whole has been atomized, tiny individual cells, each with their own metanarrative or interpretation. This is not an argument for subjectivism, it is a statement about the fragmentation of late modern society. Interpretation colliding with other interpretations, each contending to be the truth. Even if an objective truth exists, society only acknowledges an interpretation as the truth if it is the presiding sovereign. The constant stream of images, sensations, escapes, screens, drugs, plugged into the third element, there will come a time when the truth will not matter or will not exist. This is an outrageous statement I know. If we can attempt to comprehend the steady fragmentation and dissolution into this third element of existence, the idea of truth loses relevance.
Another thought experiment to consider, if a person can be plugged into a virtual reality, as in, sensory input, thought, emotions is absolutely identical to the fleshly, does it matter if one is plugged into this simulation or not? Is the simulated reality not as relevant as the other? Numerous science fictions have pondered this, from Total Recall to Surrogate to The Matrix. Perhaps we do reach a Brave New World scenario in which we are perpetually plugged into the third element, unaware of the Self and Out there, forever living in the simulated third element that fulfills hedonistic desires and ultimate freedom. It has already begun, inch by inch we invest our being into the designed and connected.
The excitement found in chaos, in fragmentation, in decentralization, is the never ending opportunities presented. Stasis is nonexistent. The world is a dynamic pulsating network which increasingly transcends government and corporation. The concrete notions of truth from the past have continued to dissolve, and eventually to a point in which ‘everything is or can be true’. One should ride the waves, ride the chaos of it, enjoy the beats and transformations, enjoy the pleasures of the flesh and mind.
Natasha Maria Phoenix is currently a university student majoring in political science and philosophy. She is a cinephile, occultist, and aspiring writer with specific interest in pessimism, antihumanism, and horror fiction. She enjoys long romantic walks through the abyss. Her blog can be found here.