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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The end of the universal

Read this piece about big data and the company that helped Trump to get elected by directing each of his messages directly to those who wanted to hear them. Dude in the company declares at some point in the text that "My children will certainly never, ever understand this concept of mass communication." That is, communication is turning local, maybe personal, but clearly not universal. It's not about what everyone thinks, it is rather about what a group believes that is a matter of information. Information ceases to be universal because the medium is the message: there is no universal information if there is no universal communication. We inform some about the beliefs of some. There is no mass information, there is no mass communication. As a consequence, there is little room for independent standards - and little room for belief-independent standards. This explains why now the right can freely talk about preferences and even prejudices: there is nothing that can rule how should one maintain one's beliefs. Prejudices are not racist or sexist, they would say, they're just ways to form one's belief that is as valid as any other. The only universality left is that of prevailing (universally). The new thing around is a new right for the post-mass media time: local like corporate America from the inside, uncommitted to universal justice in speech as in act as Moldbug's neo-cameralism and preference-based instead of truth-oriented in order never to be racist or sexist because there is no universally acceptable opinion - there is just one's side. So, no more state that defends a general interest; better to have a corporation that defends its shareholders and experience no limit in their sovereignty. Alongside with than a post-truth era, this is a post-universality era where no one responds to anything beyond one's beliefs.

The emerging image reminds me of Hitlerism as portrayed by Levinas in his prophetic and clarifying essay on it published in 1934. He holds that Hitlerism is a break with the idea that we can examine our thoughts and beliefs and rethink our acts to defend the idea that we are slave to soil and body and ought to be loyal to them. The appeal to the body and the soil - what one is - is crucial: it is not a matter of one's history, it is a matter of being bound. Levinas then goes on to talk about universality in this context and he claims that the only universality left is the one of conquering, of exercising explicit colonial power. That is, the universality of prevailing.

The left has decided to bet a lot on universality (justice, the appropriate stance, universal rights) instead of just defending a different group - for instance, being based on a Pasolinian love of the working class. The working class itself was presented as being somehow universal. The universal was the realm of debate and the arena of the political fight. Not any longer. The right has forsaken it. Next move is to go on explicitly about prevailing. Now, universality was a way to respond to the others. Maybe not the best one. However without it, one does no more than hold on to un-repented, un-enlightened self-interest. The other could be responded on a particular basis but the universal was a way to make it be heard. Without it, the battle between the sameness of me and the interruption of the other is unveiled in its crudest form and made explicit.

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