Insomnia | Essays


By Jean Baudrillard / Translated by Chris Turner

This essay was originally published in the Paris newspaper "Libération" on October 2, 1995. It then appeared in book form as part of Baudrillard's collection of essays "Ecran total" (2000), translated into English in 2002 as "Screened Out".

Hate: instead of deploring the resurgence of an atavistic violence, we should see that it is our modernity itself, our hypermodernity which produces this type of violence, and these special effects. Indeed, terrorism is part of this too. Traditional violence is much more enthusiastic and sacrificial. Ours is a simulated violence in the sense that it wells up, not so much from passion and instinct, but from the screen. It is, in a sense, potentially present in the screen and the media, which pretend to record it and broadcast it, but which in reality precede it and prompt it. As everywhere else, the media here precede this violence, as they do terrorist acts. This is what makes it a specifically modern form; and this too is why it is impossible to assign real (political, sociological or psychological) causes to it. One senses that all explanations of that type are deficient. Similarly, it makes little sense to berate the media for propagating violence by showing it or telling violent stories. For the screen, a virtual surface, protects us rather well, whatever is said about it, from the real contents of the image. Because of the way the screen breaks the cycle, violence in films and TV does not lead on to behavioural violence. It is the violence of the medium itself which leaves us defenceless -- the violence of the virtual and its non-spectacular proliferation. What is to be feared is not the psychological spread of violence, but its technological extension -- the extension of a transparent violence, the kind which leads to the disembodiment of all reality and referentiality: the degree Xerox of violence.

It is because our society no longer allows space for real violence, historical or class violence, that it generates a virtual, reactive violence. A phantom violence as it were, the way we speak of a phantom pregnancy, a violence which, like that phantom condition, gives birth to nothing whatever, neither founds nor generates anything whatever. "Hate" is like this. One might regard it as an archaic impulse, but, paradoxically, because it is disconnected from its object and its ends, it is contemporaneous with the hyperreality of the great metropolises. We may distinguish a basic form of violence, the violence of aggression, oppression, rape, domination, humiliation and spoliation -- the unilateral violence of the strongest. And this might find a reply in a contradictory violence -- historical violence, critical violence, the violence of the negative. Ruptural, transgressive violence (to which we may add the violence of analysis, the violence of interpretation). These are forms of determinate violence, with an origin and an end, and their causes and effects can be identified. They correspond to a transcendence, whether it be the transcendence of power, history or meaning.

Against this there stands opposed a properly contemporary form of violence. More subtle than the violence of aggression: a violence of deterrence, pacification, neutralization, control -- a violence of quiet extermination, a genetic, communicational violence -- the violence of the consensus and conviviality which tends to abolish -- through drugs, disease prevention, psychical and media regulation -- the very roots of evil and hence of all radicality. The violence of a system which roots out any form of negativity and singularity (including the ultimate form of singularity -- death itself). The violence of a society in which negativity is virtually prohibited, conflict is prohibited, death is prohibited. A violence which, in a way, puts an end to violence itself. A violence which can be met by no equal and opposite violence. Only hate.

Born of indifference -- particularly the indifference radiated by the media -- hate is a cool, discontinuous form, which can switch instantly to any object. It is not heated and it lacks conviction; it is consumed in the process of its acting-out -- and often in its image and the immediate repercussions -- as can be seen from the current outbursts of delinquency on the big city estates. If traditional violence reflected the level of oppression and conflict, hate reflects the level of consensus and conviviality. Our eclectic culture is the culture of the mingling of opposites, the co-existence of all differences within a great cultural melting pot. But let us not have any illusions about this: it is precisely this multiculturalism, this tolerance, this synergy, which stir up the temptation of a general abreaction, a gut rejection. Synergy produces allergy. Over-protection leads to a loss of defences and immunity: the redundant anti-bodies turn around against the organism itself. Hate is of this order: like many modern diseases, it has something of self-aggression and autoimmune pathology about it. We are not yet ready to cope with the condition of artificial immunity which our big cities provide for us. We are like a species whose natural predators have been removed -- doomed either very quickly to disappear or to destroy itself. In a sense, we use hate to protect ourselves from this lack of the other, the enemy or opposition -- with hate mobilizing a kind of artificial, objectless oppositionality. In this way, hate is a kind of "fatal strategy" against the pacification of existence. In its very ambiguity, it is a desperate protest against the indifference of our world and doubtless, for that reason, a much more intense mode of relation than consensus or conviviality.

The contemporary transition from violence to hate is characteristic of the shift from an object passion to an objectless passion. A pure and undifferentiated violence, a violence of a third type, as it were, contemporaneous with the exponential violence of the terrorist and with all the viral, epidemic forms of contagion and chain reaction. Hate is more unreal, more elusive in its manifestations than straight violence. You can see this clearly in racism and delinquency. This is why it is so difficult to counter it, either by prevention or police crackdowns. You cannot de-motivate it, since it has no explicit motivation. You can't demobilize it, since it has no clear mobilizing factor. And it is none too easy to punish it, since most of the time it takes itself as the target: it is, pre-eminently, a passion at odds with itself.

We seem doomed to reproduce the Same in an endless identification, in a universal culture of identity, and this gives rise to an enormous resentment: self-hatred. Not hatred of the other, as a superficial interpretation of racism would have it, but the loss of the other and resentment of that loss. The usual condition is that hate is a hatred of the other -- hence the illusion one is opposing it by preaching tolerance and respect for difference -- but in fact hate (racism, etc.) is not so much a rejection of the other as a fanatical desire for otherness. It seeks despairingly to compensate for the loss of the other by the exorcizing of an artificial other, which may, as a result, be anyone whatever. In a lobotomized world, where conflicts are immediately contained, it seeks to resuscitate otherness -- if only to destroy it. It seeks to escape that fateful identification, that autistic confinement to which the very movement of our culture condemns us. This is a culture of Ressentiment, then, but one in which, behind the resentment of the other, one cannot but sense a resentment of self, of the dictatorship of the self and the selfsame, which may extend as far as self-destruction.

So we must see "hate", in all its ambiguity, as a crepuscular passion -- simultaneously symptom and operator of this sudden loss of the social, of otherness, of conflict and, lastly, of the system itself, threatened with gravitational collapse. A symptom of the end or the failure of modernity -- if not the end of history, for paradoxically there has never been any end of history, since there has never been a resolution of all the problems it has posed. There is, rather, a passing beyond the end, without anything having been resolved. And in the current "hate", there is precisely a resentment of everything that has not taken place. And, with this, the urgent desire to hurry things on so as to be done with the system, to bring something else into being, to conjure up the other, the event from elsewhere. In this cool fanaticism, one can glimpse a millenarian form of provocation.

We've all "got hate". It is more than we could manage not to. We are all ambiguously nostalgic for the end of the world, that is to say, wanting to give it an end, some end-goal, at any price -- if only through resentment and total rejection of the world as it is.