Is History Receding?

I have been reading Baudrillard for some time now, as a part of a broader interest in contemporary philosophy. This passage, below, in particular made an impression on me. I am going to try to explain why in this post.

The great event of this period, the great trauma, is this decline of strong referentials, these death pangs of the real and the rational that open onto an age of simulation. Whereas so many generations, and particularly the last, lived in the march of history, in the euphoric or catastrophic expectation of revolution – today one has the impression that history has retracted, leaving behind it an indifferent nebula; traversed by currents, but emptied of references. It is into this void that the phantasms of a past history recede, the panoply of events, ideologies, retro fashions – no longer so much because believe in them or still place some hope in them, but simply to resurrect the period when at least there was history, at least there was violence (albeit fascist), when at least life and death was at stake.

– Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard 1983 (p.43)

At the start of this year the pandemic announced itself to the world, and governments over the world started to take measures to protect their people, although their inertia and incompetence(?) made them too slow in many cases. And for the first time in my life it felt like we, collectively, as a social entity were experiencing something new. We were experiencing something real, not the usual simulations of the real to borrow the language of Baudrillard. Baudrillard thinks of the cold war as the last period of history were the world was still living through history, but I believe that this pandemic has brought a flash of history to contemporary society.

Maybe this is why I, and many others with me, felt that the pandemic was exciting. Euphoric and catastrophic at the same time, a scenario never before seen in contemporary society, a dangerous and deadly scenario. It brought something that none had seen before. Not even the elders and the, so called, experts of society had lived through an experience like the pandemic before. And once again it felt like life and death was at stake. Which is also why it felt important and meaningful to protect people around you against the virus, it felt important to follow restrictions, and one could derive meaning from the chaos and uncertainty of this novel situation.

Eventually though, the cold, lifeless, reality of simulacra and simulations caught up with the pandemic. In Swedish newspapers there are now very few mentions of the situation, instead we are being mixed up in the simulations and simulacra of reality, just as we did before. Now the youth is out partying, meeting friends etcetera, without any regard for the possible dangers. Why? Information devours meaning, what once felt real and meaningful has been rendered meaningless and simulative by information. The pandemic is not real anymore, it, like much else, has become a simulation of reality. It has been reduced to numbers, graphs of new cases per day, and analyses of economic impact. It is a spectacle that now resides in the periphery of society, with almost no real consequences for the social, especially in Sweden.

This might have been the last death pang of the real, a final exhalation of the real before history and the real once again recede into the void.

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