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News ::
About Globalization:
11 Jul 2002
A selected paragraph regarding resistance/critique, selected paragraphs regarding imperialism, and an essay about globalization.
From the book ‘SCREENED OUT’ written by Jean Baudrillard
Translated from the French by Chris Turner


‘… The uninterrupted production of positivity has a terrifying consequence: if negativity engenders crisis and critique, absolute positivity, for its part, engenders catastrophe, precisely through its incapacity to distil the crisis. Every structure, system or social body which ferrets out its negative, critical elements to expel them or exorcise them runs the risk of a catastrophe by total implosion and reversion, just as every biological body which hunts down and eliminates all its germs, bacillae and parasites – in short all its biological enemies – runs the risk of cancer or, in other words, of a positivity devouring its own cells. It runs the risk of being devoured by its own anti-bodies, which now have nothing to do…’

- - - - - - - - - - - -

‘… Imperialism has changed. What the west now wishes to foist on the whole world, in the guise of universality, is not its – completely unhinged – values, but its absence of values. Wherever some singularity, minority or specific idiom survives and persists; wherever there is some irreducible belief or passion; above all, where there is some antagonistic view of the world, we have to impose an in-different order upon it – an order as indifferent as we are to our own values. We generously distribute the right to difference, but secretly, and on this occasion unyieldingly, we are working to produce a bloodless, undifferentiated world.

This particular terrorism is not fundamentalist. Indeed, it is the terrorism of a culture without fundaments. It is the integrism of emptiness. What is at stake here is beyond political forms and events. We are no longer speaking of a political front or relation of forces, but of a transpolitical fault line, and that fault line today passes mainly through Islam. But it also runs through the heart of every so-called civilized, democratic country – and it certainly runs through every one of us.’

- - - - - - - - - - - -

THE GLOBAL AND THE UNIVERSAL

‘Globalization and universality do not go together. Indeed, they might be said to be mutually exclusive. Globalization is the globalization of technologies, the market, tourism and information. Universality is the universality of values, human rights, freedoms, culture and democracy. Globalization seems irreversible; the universal might be said, by contrast, to be disappearing. At least as constituted as a system of values at the level of Western modernity, which is something that has no equivalent in any other culture. Even a living, contemporary culture like the Japanese has no term for it. No word to refer to a system of values which regards itself as attuned to all cultures and their difference but which, paradoxically, does not conceive itself as relative, and aspires, in all ingenuousness, to be the ideal transcendence [depassement] of all the others. We do not imagine for a moment that the universal might merely be the particular style of thinking of the West, its specific product – an original one, admittedly, but in the end no more exportable than any home-grown product. And yet, this is how the Japanese see it, as a specific, Western feature; and, far from signing up to an abstract concept, they, by a strange twist, relativize our universal and incorporate into their singularity.

Every culture worthy of the name comes to grief in the universal. Every culture which universalizes itself loses its singularity and dies away. This is how it is with those we have destroyed by their enforced assimilation, but is also how it is with ours in its pretension to universality. The difference is that all the others died of their singularity, which is a fine death; whereas we are dying from the loss of all singularity, from the extermination of all our values, which is an ignoble death. We believe the fate of every value is to be elevated to universality, without gauging the mortal danger that promotion represents: far rather than an elevation, that process represents a reduction or, alternatively, an elevation to the degree zero of value. In Enlightenment times, universalization occurred at the top, by an upward progression. Today, it happens at the bottom, by a neutralization of values due to their proliferation and indefinite expansion. This is how it is with human rights, democracy, etc. Their expansion corresponds to their weakest definition, their maximum entropy. Degree Xerox of value. In fact, the universal perishes in globalization. Once it is turned into a reality, the dynamic of the universal as transcendence, as ideal goal, as utopia, ceases to exist as such. The globalization of trade puts an end to the universality of values. It is the triumph of * over universal thought.

What first becomes globalized is the market, the promiscuity of all exchanges and products, the perpetual flow of money. In cultural terms, it is the promiscuity of all signs and values or, in other words, pornography. For the worldwide broadcasting and parading of anything and everything over the networks is pornography. No need for sexual obscenity; this interactive copulation suffices. At the end of this process there is no longer any difference between the global and the universal. The universal itself is globalized: democracy and human rights circulate like any other global product – like oil or capital.

Given all this, we may ask ourselves whether the universal has not already succumbed to its own critical mass, and if it has ever had anything but lip-service paid to it, or been honoured anywhere but in official moralities. At any rate, for us the mirror of the universal is shattered (we can, in fact, see in this something like the mirror-stage of humanity). But perhaps this is fortunate, for, in the fragments of this broken mirror, all the singularities re-emerge. The ones we thought threatened survive, the ones we thought disappeared revive. The case of Japan is, once again, quite remarkable in this connection. Japan has achieved its (technical, economic and financial) globalization better than any other country, but is has done so (the succession of bourgeois ideologies and forms of political economy) and without losing any of its singularity, despite what is said. We may even suppose that is has had such global, technical success, directly combining the singular (the power of ritual) with the global (virtual power).

The increasingly intense resistances to globalization – social and political resistances, which may seem like an archaic rejection of modernity at all costs – have to be seen as harbouring an original defiant reaction to the sway of the universal. Something which goes beyond the economic and the political. A kind of painful revisionism in respect of the established positions of modernity, in respect of the idea of progress and history – a kind of rejection not only of the famous global technostructure, but of the mental structure of the identification of all cultures and all continents in the concept of the universal. This resurgence – or even insurrection – of singularity may assume violent, anomalous, irrational aspects from the viewpoint of ‘enlightened’ thought – it may take ethnic, religious or linguistic forms, but also, at the individual level, may find expression in character disorders or neuroses. But it would be a basic error (the very error one sees emerging in the moral orchestration of the politically correct discourse common to all the powers-that-be and to many intellectuals) to condemn all these upsurges out of hand as populist, archaic or even terroristic. Everything which constitutes an event today is done against the universal, against that abstract universality (and this includes the frantic antagonism of Islam to Western values: it is because it is the most vehement protest against this Western globalization that Islam today is public enemy number one). If we will not understand this, then we will be caught up in an endless and pointless wrangle between universal thought assured of its power and good conscience and an even greater number of implacable singularities. Even in our societies which are acculturated to the universal, one can see that none of what has been sacrificed to this concept has really disappeared. It has simply gone underground. And what is now running backwards is a whole self-styled progressive history, a whole evolutionism crystallized on its end-point – an end-point which has, in fact, been lost sight of in the meantime. That utopia has fallen apart today and its deep-level dislocation is advancing even more quickly that its consolidation by force.

We have before us a complex three-term arrangement: there is globalization of exchanges, the universality of values and the singularity of forms (languages, cultures, individuals and characters, but also chance, accident, etc. – all that the universal, in keeping with its law, impugns as an exception or anomaly). Now, as universal values lose some of their authority and legitimacy, the situation changes and becomes more radical. So long as they could assert themselves as mediating values, they were (more or less well) able to integrate the singularities as differences, in a universal culture of difference. However, as triumphant globalization sweeps away all differences and all values, ushering in a perfectly in-different (un)culture, they can no longer do this. And once the universal has disappeared, all that remains is the all powerful global technostructure standing over against the singularities which have reverted to the wild state and been thrown back on their own devices.

The universal has had its historical chance. But today, confronted with a new world order to which there is no alternative, with an irrevocable globalization on the one hand and the wayward drift of tooth-and-nail revolt of singularities on the other, the concepts of liberty, democracy and human rights cut a very pale figure indeed, being merely the phantoms of a vanished universal. And it is hard to imagine the universal rising from its ashes or to believe that things can be sorted out by the mere play of politics – this latter being caught up in the same deregulation and having barely any more substance to it than intellectual or moral power.

Matters are not, however, finally settled, even if it is now all up with universal values. In the void left by the universal, the stakes have risen, and globalization isn’t certain to be the winner. In the face of its homogenizing, solvent power, we can see heterogeneous forces springing up all over, forces which are not only different, but antagonistic and irreducible.’

18 March 1996

*[Translator’s footnote: ‘ has in recent years become one of the watchwords of French political discussion. It implies a single-track thinking of the kind once referred to in Britain by the acronym TINA (‘There is no alternative’). The editor of has defined it as ‘the translation into ideological terms … of the interests of a set of economic forces, in particular those of international capital’ (Ignacio Ramonet, ‘Le pensee unique’, , no. 490, January 1995).’





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