What the neoliberal economy of our consumer society is nowadays extensively imposing as “The virtual world” is actually the reality of a technological dependence that is based on an endlessly growing derivative of its markets. This new fractal geography is boosted by our obsession with progress.
The energy consumption and raw materials extraction required to develop, construct, and sustain the function of electronic devices, without which it would be impossible to enter the digitized world, are interdependent with our consuming behavior, dogmatized as a “raison d’être” by the society we live in: “I consume, therefore I am.” From the individual to the group, we are all the real objects of this contemporary virtualization—of both capitalism and science.
The subject has become the object of a virtual, capitalist order of things (and thought), within a “mise en abîme,” the depth of which is constantly increased by the improvement of data transmission speeds. In an endless loop, capitalism and science complementarily hijack each individual’s desire to possess. The Sisyphus “possession of the object,” as Jacques Lacan stated, “which is lost forever,” because it can never be reached but will always drag us toward it, is the key aspect of our natural social behavior instinct that is mimicked by capitalism and the sciences.
Be it society as a whole or each and every individual: our world continues to admire science as the promising gift that modernity has granted to mankind as a means to escape the conditions of an unsatisfying reality.
If a different form of virtual reality had survived over the course of the past centuries, what would the elders of earlier times have thought of the twenty-first century? As we all know, the virtual has always existed …
Around the world, from America and Europe to Africa and South East Asia, shamans and traditional healers say that spirits knew about the Internet long before it existed for us—as a shaman in Vietnam explained to me. He also told me that they would attack the Internet, because it has grown too fast and within this growth bad spirits auto-regenerate. Which is actually what viruses do …
Mankind has dealt with the fatal reality of natural and cultural evolution by inventing myths and beliefs that have helped people stand the pain of loss brought by death with a belief in the continuity of life in a virtual world. As does art, which is deeply connected to death, having emerged from the earliest sepulchers.
So what has happened since the Nietzschean “Death of God”? Have the old beliefs in a parallel immaterial world really gone? What kinds of beliefs lie between our contemporary world and the world of the past? Nothing has changed, except that we do not only believe in virtuality, we live in it, and do so not because of sepulchers, but thanks to the constantly improving ease provided by technology. Mankind is a “social animal” and its sociability has been hijacked by technology and capitalism. People believe they are together through social media—but they are not. They are virtually united by proxy of a technological device.
Moved by a desire to improve an existence in the “digital community,” the self of any subject becomes an object of the digital grammar in the very moment of connecting to it. Of course this dispossession is nothing but the continuity of the same devotion that over centuries believers have been submitting to, when waging war and building up cultures and religions. But they were gathering, they were celebrating and fighting together or against each other in reality, instead of being procured by a device. What is war today? The demonstration of the dehumanization of massive executions, in which, again, capitalism and science play a crucial role. How? By producing new markets for killing methods where the lethal weapon is the signifier of the digitized cleanness … From war to social media, the physicality, which was formerly a person’s main experience of everyday life, is disappearing. This dissolution of physicality, from public meetings to battlefields, follows one agenda: to give the psychological advantage to the wealthiest and most technologically advanced groups, in order to impose their orientations on the others: as regards economy, politics, and culture. Modernity and capitalism have, since colonialism, been the archetypes of such agency, which is moved by the so-called power of science to dehumanize all others, whose singular personalized existence contradicts its uniform supremacy.
So even if the virtual worlds of yesterday, when people “really” were united in gatherings, rituals, and worshipping, still persisted today, there would be a difference as we are attending a virtual form of the dispossession of such togetherness—a dispossession that is brought about by neoliberal logic, a logic that generally aims at dispossessing the self and the physicality of any individual as well as its correlative social members.
Opposed to this logic is the need for a real space: a place where the relevance of collective meeting and acting do not pretend to answer the endless question of the virtual and the real—which is another kind of “mise en abîme”—but where a counter-narrative is elaborated through real exchanges, finally leading to further initiative and not just to representative project spaces, but to the re-appropriation of what is mankind’s most fundamental instinct, the physical gregarious one.