Monday, September 16, 2013

111. Hyperidentity

According to Baudrillard the individual self has lost its identity in what he calls the ‘mental diaspora of networks’. Individual thought is no longer relevant and is replaced by a cacophony of voices and actions, reverberating in networks, amplified and distorted, with haphazard, unforeseeable outcomes that are intended and controlled by no one. Individual identity is replaced the hyper-identity (my term, not Baudrillards) of a network or group. People form collective identities they can neither oversee nor understand, any more than the microorganisms that constitute our body have an inkling of our personal identity. There is a potential for diversity, but often it dwindles, with people parroting each other, and seeking out similar opinions.

This may sound odd. Aren’t we, to the contrary, complaining about the selfish, self-obsessed, narcissist individual obsessed by the celebration of its own authentic, unique self? And wouldn’t it be a good thing if people oriented themselves more towards communities?

I will try to analyze. In part, what happens is related to the theme of hyperreality, discussed in the preceding item in this blog. If there is no shared, outside reality on which ideas are tested, then there is no basis for ideas to converge.

Three things seem to be going on. 

First, in virtual reality the self no longer interacts with what someone else (an author, an artist) has thought up, but with something that the reader himself configures with tools offered to him. In virtual reality one can construct a lover to make love with, resembling one’s favourite idol.

Second, often selves now construct themselves in the image of shared idols, taken from show business or sports, hoarding their tweets, becoming more like each other, cloning the celebrity. The variety of people dwindles in collective identities.

Third, in social networks, such as Facebook, others are selected for their similarity. People congregate and even lock themselves up in networks or groups of like-minded people

In all three cases, the other is no longer a genuine other, and as a result will scarcely help to free oneself from one’s prejudice. The self gets steamed up in itself, with self-created or similar others that duplicate rather than contrast the self. That is likely to destroy attention, tolerance, empathy and understanding of real others.

Within groups and social networks there is a reduction of what earlier in this blog (in item 57) I called cognitive distance, and since cognitive distance is a source of learning and discovery, people are now mimicking each other, in blissful agreement on a shared prejudice, and ridiculing others, in outside groups. Developing in environments of intellectual incest, minds become dumb. Sender and receiver become similar, in circulation of similarity, in what Baudrillard called circolocution.

In the development of cloned identities in sub-cultures, shared views become self-evident, forming the established language game, and outsiders are not just wrong but wrong-headed, deviant, out of line. 

Between groups, shared interests become difficult to negotiate. An overarching politics becomes virtually impossible. So, what were self-oriented selves now get assimilated and socialized into self-oriented hyperidentities. They achieve their sense of authenticity and worth by proxy from the group.