Insomnia | Essays

The Easiest Solutions

By Jean Baudrillard / Translated by Chris Turner

This essay was originally published as part of Jean Baudrillard's "Le Pacte de lucidité ou l'intelligence du Mal" (2004), translated into English in 2005 as "The Intelligence of Evil or The Lucidity Pact".

The hypothesis of objective reality exerts such a hold on our minds only because it is by far the easiest solution.

Lichtenberg: "That a false hypothesis is sometimes preferable to an exact one is proven in the doctrine of human freedom. Man is, without a doubt, unfree. But it takes profound philosophical study for a man not to be led astray by such an insight. Barely one in a thousand has the necessary time and patience for such study, and of these hundreds, barely one has the necessary intelligence. This is why freedom is the most convenient conception and will, in the future, remain the most common, so much do appearances favour it."

The exact hypothesis is that man is born unfree, that the world is born untrue, non-objective, non-rational. But this radical hypothesis is definitively beyond proof, unverifiable and, in a sense, unbearable. Hence the success of the opposite hypothesis, of the easiest hypothesis.
   Subjective illusion: that of freedom.
   Objective illusion: that of reality.
   Just as belief in freedom is merely the illusion of being the cause of one's own acts, so the belief in objective reality is the illusion of finding an original cause for phenomena and hence of inserting the world into the order of truth and reason.

Despairing of confronting otherness, seduction, the dual relation and destiny, we invent the easiest solution: freedom. First, the ideal concept of a subject wrestling with his own freedom. Then, de facto liberation, unconditional liberation -- the highest stage of freedom.
   We pass from the right to freedom to the categorical imperative of liberation.
   But to this stage, too, there is the same violent abreaction: we rid ourselves of freedom in every way possible, even going so far as to invent new servitudes.

Despairing of confronting uncertainty and radical illusion, we invent the easiest solution: reality.
   First, objective reality, then Integral Reality -- the highest stage of reality.
   To this highest stage there corresponds the equally radical disavowal of that same reality. Violent abreaction to Integral Reality -- negative counter-transference.

Despairing of an aim, salvation or an ideal, we invent for ourselves the easiest solution: happiness.
   Here again we begin with utopia -- the ideal of happiness -- and end in achieved happiness, the highest stage of happiness. The same abreaction to integral happiness as to integral reality or freedom: these are all unbearable.
   In the end, it is the opposite form of misfortune, the victim ideology, that triumphs.

Being incapable of accepting thought (the idea that the world thinks us, the intelligence of evil), we invent the easiest solution, the technical solution: Artificial Intelligence.
   The highest stage of intelligence: integral knowledge.
   This time the rejection will arise perhaps from a resistance on the part of things themselves to their digital transparency or from a failure of the system in the form of a major accident.

Against all the sovereign hypotheses are ranged the easiest solutions.
   And all the easiest solutions lead to catastrophe.

Against the hypothesis of uncertainty: the illusion of truth and reality.
   Against the hypothesis of destiny: the illusion of freedom.
   Against the hypothesis of evil [Mal]: the illusion of misfortune [malheur].
   Against the hypothesis of thought, the illusion of Artificial Intelligence.
   Against the hypothesis of the event: the illusion of information.
   Against the hypothesis of becoming: the illusion of change.

Every easy solution, pushed to its extreme -- Integral Reality, integral freedom, integral happiness, integral information (the highest stage of intelligence, the highest stage of reality, the highest stage of freedom, the highest stage of happiness) -- finds a response in a violent abreaction: disavowal of reality, disavowal of freedom, disavowal of happiness, viruses and dysfunctions, spectrality of real time, mental resistance; all the forms of secret repulsion in respect of this ideal normalization of existence.
   Which proves that there still exists everywhere, in each of us, resisting the universal beatification, an intelligence of evil.

Do You Want to be Free?

Freedom? A dream!
   Everyone aspires to it, or at least gives the impression of aspiring fervently to it.
   If it is an illusion, it has become a vital illusion.
   In morality, mores and mentalities, this movement, which seems to well up from the depths of history, is towards irrevocable emancipation.
   And if some aspects may seem excessive or contradictory, we still experience the dizzying thrill of this emancipation.
   Better: the whole of our system turns this liberation into a duty, a moral obligation -- to the point where it is difficult to distinguish this liberation compulsion from a "natural" aspiration towards, a "natural" demand for, freedom.

Now, it is clear that, where all forms of servitude are concerned, everyone wants to throw them off; where all forms of constraint are concerned -- physical constraints or constraints of law -- everyone wishes to be free of them. This is such a vital reaction that there is barely, in the end, any need of an idea of freedom to express it.
   Things become problematic when the prospect arises for the subject of being answerable solely for him/herself in an undifferentiated universe. For this symbolic disobligation is accompanied by a general deregulation. And it is in this universe of free electrons -- free to become anything whatever in a system of generalized exchange -- that we see growing, simultaneously, a contrary impulse, a resistance to this availability of everyone and everything that is every bit as deep as the desire for freedom. A passion for rules of whatever kind that is equal to the passion for deregulation.

In the anthropological depths of the species, the demand for rules is as fundamental as the demand to be free of them.
   No one can say which is the more basic.
   What we can see, after a long period of ascendancy for the process of liberation, is the resurrection of all those movements that are more and more steadfastly resistant to boundless emancipation and total immunity.
   A desire for rules that has nothing to do with submission to the law. It might even be said to run directly counter to it, since, whereas the law is abstract and universal, the rule, for its part, is a two-way obligation. And it is neither of the order of law, nor of duty, nor of moral and psychological law.

Regarded everywhere as an absolute advance of the human race, and with the seal set on it by human rights, liberation starts out from the idea of a natural predestination to be free: being "liberated" absolves the human being of an original evil, restores a happy purpose and a natural vocation to him. It is our salvation, the true baptismal sacrament of modern, democratic man.
   Now, this is a utopia.
   This impulse to resolve the ambivalence of good and evil and jump over one's shadow into absolute positivity is a utopia.
   The ambivalence is definitive, and the things liberated are liberated in total ambivalence.
   You cannot liberate good without liberating evil. Sometimes evil even quicker than good, as part of the same movement.
   At any rate, what we have here is the deregulation of both.

Liberation opens up a limitless growth and acceleration.
   It is once this critical threshold has been crossed (this phase transition, much as in the physical world) that things begin to float -- time, money, sex, production -- in a vertiginous raising of the stakes, such as we are experiencing today, which brings an uncontrollable eruption of all autonomies, all differences, in a movement that is at once uncertain, fluctuating and exponential.
   At this point freedom is already far behind, overtaken and outdistanced by liberation.
   What is forming before us is a freedom of circulation of each autonomized human particle under the banner of total information and integration. Each one realizing itself fully in the technical extension of all its possibilities: all stakeholders and partners in a general interaction. Only the God of the Market will recognize his own, and the "Invisible Hand" is now the weightless ascendancy of software and networks in the name of Universal Free Exchange -- the highest stage of deregulation.
   A logical, fateful consequence of a dynamic that seems to be at work from the origin of historical societies -- the dynamic of a progressive, universal deregulation of all human relations.
   From feudalism to capital and beyond, what we see is, above all, an immense advance in the freedom of exchange, in the free circulation of goods, flows, persons and capital.
   The movement is irreversible, not in terms of human progress but in terms of the market, of the progressive advance of an inescapable globalization.
   This is the last stage liberalism passes through in its unremitting advance towards generalized exchange, a process which capital, with its conflicts, contradictions, violent history -- simply with its "history" -- is ultimately just the prehistory.

However, we see resistance to this second "revolution" springing up on all sides -- forms of resistance even more intense than those aroused by the advent of the Enlightenment: all these movements of re-involution (the opposite of revolution), whether religious, sectarian or corporatist, new fundamentalisms or new feudalisms, which simply seem to be trying to rid themselves everywhere of this unconditional freedom and find new forms of oversight, protection and vassalage, to counter an unbearable disaffiliation with an archaic fidelity.
   To counter deregulation with a new set of rules.

It may even be that the only refuge from the global, from a total exposure to the laws of the market, will once again be the condition of wage-earner, the "social" with its institutional protection.
   In other words, a defence of the good old "alienated" condition, though protected by its very alienation, as it were, from overexposure to the laws of flows and networks alone. With this "voluntary" alienation possibly extending as far as an even more archaic regression to any kind of protective transcendence that offers preservation from this scattering about the networks, this dispersion and dissemination into the void.

Only now do we realize we shall never be done with this paradox of freedom. For this irreversible movement of emancipation can be seen either as progress on the part of the species (it is, at any rate, this emancipation that ensures the superiority of the human species over all others) or, in a quite opposite way, as an anthropological catastrophe, an unbinding, a dizzying deregulation, whose ultimate goal we cannot grasp but which seems to be developing towards an unforeseeable extreme that may either be the highest stage of universal intelligence or of total entropy.

We pass the buck on freedom in every possible way.
   In a continual transference, we devolve our own desires, our own lives, our own wills, to any other agency whatever.
   If the people puts itself in the hands of the political class, it does so more to be rid of power than out of any desire for representation. We may interpret this as a sign of passivity and irresponsibility, but why not venture a subtler hypothesis: namely, that this passing of the buck proceeds from an unwittingly lucid intuition of an absence of desire and will of their own -- in short, a secret awareness of the illusoriness of freedom?

"Voluntary servitude"?
   The notion is double illusory, since it encapsulates in itself the double mystification of the two concepts of freedom and will. And the idea of a will, understood as autonomous determination of the individual being, is no less false when it turns round against freedom.
   The illusion does not necessarily lie where one thinks it does, and if a few only (Lichtenberg) are able to know that they are "unfree" and to accept that destiny, the great bulk of the others ultimately have fewer illusions about their free will than those who created the concept.

This does not stop "voluntary servitude" having its rules and strategies.
   It is by the absence of a desire of one's own that the other's will to dominate is thwarted: these are the ruses of seduction.
   It is by transferring the responsibility of power on to the other that a form of equal deterrent power is exercised: these are the ruses of the accursed share.

Having said this, the present form of servitude is no longer the -- voluntary or involuntary -- form of the absence of freedom. It is, rather, that of an excess of freedom in which man, liberated at any price, no longer knows what he is free from, nor why he is free, nor what identity to commit himself to; in which, having all that is around him available for his use, he no longer knows how to make use of himself.
   In this sense, the immersion in screens, networks and the technologies of Virtual Reality, with its immense possibilities, has spelled a great stride forward for liberation and has, at the same time, put an end to the question of freedom.
   This resiling, in digital manipulation, from care of the self and responsibility -- from that portion of freedom and subjectivity to which we lay claim so noisily and which we seek by all possible means to be rid of -- is today the easiest solution. To the point where it is the essential task of government forcibly to redistribute responsibility, enjoining everyone to take responsibility for themselves "freely and fully".
   The political authorities themselves strive constantly to assume an air of responsibility while passing the buck in every possible way (it is, in fact, better to be guilty than responsible, as guilt can always be imputed to some obscure force, whereas, with responsibility, the onus is on you).

Fortunately, there are other, more poetic ways of ridding oneself of freedom -- that of gaming, for example, where what is at stake is not a freedom subject to the law, but a sovereignty subject to rules. A more subtle and paradoxical freedom which consists in a rigorous observance, an enchanted form of voluntary servitude that is, as it were, the miraculous combination of master and slave: in gaming no one is free, everyone is both the master and the slave of the game.

Do You Want to be Anyone Else?

Individuality is a recent phenomenon. It is only over the last two centuries that the populations of the civilized countries have demanded the democratic privilege of being individuals. Before that they were what they were: slaves, peasants, artisans, men or women, fathers or children -- not "individuals" or "fully fledged subjects".
   Only with our modern civilization did we find ourselves forcibly inducted into this individual existence.
   Of course, we fight to retain this "inalienable" right, and we are naturally driven to win it and defend it at all costs. We demand this freedom, this autonomy, as a fundamental human right and, at the same time, we are crippled by the responsibility that ends up making us detest ourselves as such.
   This is what resounds in the complaint of Job. God asks too much: "What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thy heart upon him? And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment? How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?"

This leaves us subject to a contradictory twofold requirement: to seek an identity by all possible means -- by hounding the identities of others or by exploring the networks -- and to slough off identity in every possible way, as though it were a burden or a disguise.
   It is as though liberty and individuality, from having been a "natural" state in which one may act freely, had become artificial states, a kind of moral imperative, whose implacable decree makes us hostages to our identities and our own wills.
   This is a very particular case of Stockholm Syndrome, since we are here both the terrorist and the hostage. Now, the hostage is by definition the unexchangeable, accursed object you cannot be rid of because you don't know what to do with it.
   The situation is the same for the subject: as hostage to himself, he doesn't know how to exchange himself or be rid of himself.

Being unable to conceive that identity never existed and that it is merely something we play-act, we fuel this subjective illusion to the point of exhaustion. We wear ourselves out feeding this ghost of a representation of ourselves.
   We are overwhelmed by this pretension, this obstinate determination to carry around an identity which it is impossible to exchange (it can be exchanged only for the parallel illusion of an objective reality, in the same metaphysical cycle into which we are locked).

All the grand narratives of our individual consciousness -- of freedom, will, identity and responsibility -- merely add a useless, even contradictory, over-determination to our actions as they "occur". To the effect that we are the cause of them, that they are the doing of our will, that our decisions are the product of our free will, etc.
   But our actions do not need this: we can decide and act without there being any need to involve the will and the idea of the will. There is no need to involve the idea of free will to make choices in one's life. Above all, there is no need to involve the idea of subject and its identity in order to exist (it is better, in any case, to involve that of alterity).
   There are all useless, like the belief that is superadded to the existence of God (if he exists, he doesn't need it). And so we believe in a free, willed determination of our actions and it gives them a meaning, at the same time as it gives meaning to us -- the sense of being the authors of those actions. But this is all a reconstruction, like the reconstruction of the dream narrative.
   "A person's actions ... are commonly continuations of his own inner constitution ... the way the magnet bestows form and order on iron filings" (Lichtenberg).

This is the problem Luke Rhinehart sets himself in his novel The Dice Man: how are we to slough off this freedom, this ego which is captive to its free will? The solution he finds is that of chance.
   Among all the possibilities for shattering the mirror of identity, for freeing beings from the terrorism of the ego, there is the option of surrendering oneself to chance, to the dice, for all one's actions and decisions. No free will any longer, no responsible subject, but merely the play of a random dispersal, an artificial diaspora of the ego.
   At bottom, the ego is itself a form of superego: it is the ego we must rid ourselves of, above all.
   We must live without reference to a model of identity or a general equivalent.

But the trap with these plural identities, these multiple existences, this devolution on to "intelligent machines" -- dice machines as well as the machines of the network -- is that once the general equivalent has disappeared, all the new possibilities are equivalent to one another and hence cancel each other out in a general indifference. Equivalence is still there, but it is no longer the equivalence of an agency at the top (the ego); it is the equivalence of all the little egos "liberated" by its disappearance. The erosion of destinies occurs by the very excess of possibilities -- as the erosion of knowledge occurs by the very excess of information or sexual erosion by the removal of prohibitions, etc.
   When, under the banner of identity, existence is so individualized, so atomized ("atomon" is the literal equivalent of individual) that its exchange is impossible, the multiplication of existences leads only to a simulacrum of alterity.
   To be able to exchange itself for anything or anyone is merely an extreme, desperate form of impossible exchange.
   Multiplying identities never produces anything more than all the illusory strategies for decentralizing power: it is pure illusion, pure stratagem.

A fine metaphor of this fractal, proliferating identity is the storyline of the film Being John Malkovich (by Spike Jonze) or, more precisely, the moment when Malkovich, by means of a virtual apparatus, goes back into his own skin -- until then it was the others who wanted to become Malkovich, this time it is Malkovich who wants to re-enter himself, to become himself at one remove, a meta-Malkovich as it were. It is at this point that he diffracts into countless metastases: by a kind of fantastic image feedback, everyone around him becomes Malkovich. He becomes the universal projection of himself. This is the paroxystic form of identity (here treated with humour).
   So it is that everywhere redoubled identity ends in a pure extrapolation of itself. It becomes a special effect which, with the coming of electronic and genetic manipulation, veers towards cloning pure and simple.
   It is in the entire machinery of the Virtual and the mental diaspora of the networks today that the fate of Homo fractalis is played out: the definitive abdication of his identity and freedom, of his ego and his superego.

In these games of free will and identity, one novel variant is that of the double life.
   This is what happens with Romand, who, in order to escape the banality of everyday, provincial life, invents a parallel life for himself and, covering his tracks (to the point where he wipes out his whole family to hide the traces of his "real" existence), becomes, in his own life, his own stand-in or shadow.
   It is by doubling and not in any sense by recourse to dissimulation that Romand imparts a fatal twist to his life. To transfigure insignificance and banality, all that is needed is to turn them into a parallel universe. There is no simulation in all this. All the psychological and sociological explanations of this duplicity and all the categories -- lying, cowardice, egoism -- to which it is assigned are mere fabrications.
   It is not even a question of schizophrenia. The phantom existence into which Romand settles has no meaning, but his home life, his "normal" life, has no greater meaning. And so, as it were, he substitutes for the insignificance of his real life the even greater insignificance of his double-life -- transfiguring it in this way by an original form of counter-transference.
   And it is this that gave him his energy, the force of inertia that saw him able to bear this clandestine life so long. For, greatly deficient as it may have been, and deadly boring at times, there were extraordinary benefits to be had from it.
   There was the possibility of becoming someone else, of existing incognito somewhere else. Of seeing without being seen, of preserving a secret side to oneself, even -- indeed, most importantly -- preserving it from one's nearest and dearest.
   If Romand was able to survive in this (not even heroic) clandestine state, it was by dint of this secrecy, by dint of something the others had not even an inkling of -- real "insider trading". This was the price paid for the privilege of playing a game whose rules he alone laid down.
   There is the mystery of the invisibility that gave him the strength to spend hours in car parks. The remarkable enjoyment of that monotony that did not even have the charm of solitude.
   But there is another mystery: namely, that the others should come, in time, to connive in the illusion. For, unless we assume his wife, parents and children remained silent out of resignation, then their lack of awareness, their ignorance, become as inexplicable as his lingering in the car parks and cafeterias. Except when we see all this as a dual operation, not something got up by a single individual.
   Lying, illusion and simulation are always operations in which there is complicity.
   The mystified party is always a participant. This is true, indeed, of any relationship: there is no active or passive; there is no individual, there is only the dual.
   One cannot therefore test anyone's individual truthfulness or sincerity.
   One can no more explain the silence of those around him than Romand's own silence. The deeper he gets into his stratagem, the deeper the others retreat into their absence of curiosity. It is genuinely a conspiracy.
   There is no hidden truth. This is what gives the impostor his power. If there were a hidden truth, he could be unmasked, or he could unmask himself.
   But we can clearly see throughout the whole story that he cannot, since the imposture is shared. To the point where the fact of wiping out his entire family in the end can, paradoxically, be regarded as a variant of suicide.
   For the crime to be perfect, there must be no witnesses for the prosecution, but there must also be no defence witnesses, none who attempt at all costs to explain his act and to unravel this singular conspiracy. To find a moral or social reason is always to betray the secret; but Romand's crime is not so much the murder of his nearest and dearest as the thwarting of any moral or social justification.

In Elia Kazan's film The Arrangement, Eddie becomes sick of his own persona in the family and in his work. He therefore resolves to "suicide" this official Eddie, this conformist version, to find out what his buried double is like, that double of which this "real" Eddie is merely the empty outer shell. Gradually, then, he strips out all the elements of his conventional life: his job, his wife, his status, his sexuality, and even his father, of whom he rids himself in the end, and the house, which he burns down. Once all the marks of identity are swept away, all the terms of the ordered "arrangement", what is left? Nothing. He returns to a meaningless conformism, into which he settles like his own shadow -- or like a man who has lost his shadow.
   The dream of identity ends in indifference.

What can be read between the lines of these stories is that chance and destiny are not to be found elsewhere, in some imaginary decree.
   Chance is already present in the unpredictability of ordinary life. There is nothing more unpredictable than any moment of daily life.
   All one needs to do is to acknowledge immediately the non-existence of this individual structure, and to recognize that the ego exists in the showing-through [transparition] of the world and all its most insignificant possibilities.
   It is no use wondering where freedom or identity lies and what is to be done with them. Human beings are the coming-to-pass of what they are and what they do.
   Therein lies the movement of becoming, and what they wanted to be is not an issue; their ideals or free will are not an issue: these are merely retrospective justifications.

At bottom, says Barthes, we are faced with an alternative: either we suppose a real that is entirely permeable to history (to meaning, to the idea, to interpretation, to decision) and we ideologize or, by contrast, we suppose a real that is ultimately impenetrable and irreducible and in that case we poetize.

This would, at any rate, explain the coexistence in everyone of the best and the worst or, in "criminals" of an absolutely normal behaviour and an unintelligible violence which is itself a thing divided, as though alien to itself, as we see in so much crime reporting. "He was so gentle, so kind..."
   All this is inexplicable in terms of identity and individual will.
   This simultaneity of contradictory behaviours merely reflects the entanglement of reality and its disavowal that is our collective horizon today.