Book Notes: Zygmunt Bauman’s Retrotopia
People often say that in my blog reviews they don’t recognize the books I’m reviewing because the books don’t contain much of what I say. This is precisely why I call these posts notes and not reviews. These are the ideas that the books I read prompt me to develop. Other people are likely to have a very different response to the books.
This is Zygmunt Bauman’s last book, and it’s impossible not to look at it for answers to all the questions he posed throughout his long life as a philosopher. The answers, however, are elusive because all of the serious problems we face are generated globally while the only political instruments we have are very local.
Societies of consumers train their denizens to believe that if anything goes wrong in your life, that’s your fault for not being productive, effective and well-managed enough to avoid the blows of faith. You tell people that somebody has cancer, and they immediately look for reasons to blame the sick person, even though it has been proven that most cancers are caused by random genetic mutations.
This is a lonely existence, made even lonelier by the destruction of categories around which people could unite to build up their identities. (Identity, after all, means identical to somebody.) Biological categories like sex, ethnicity and race have fallen victim to the consumer need to see oneself as the Creator, and, as a result, they no longer exist. All that’s left as a still-valid identity category is culture.
Culture hasn’t been as messed with by the proponents of the individualist “me, the Creator” ideology because it’s not as anti-consumerist. Nobody is declaring that “cultures” don’t exist, like they do for the strictly biological categories.
The reason why people will increasingly cling to the identity category of culture instead of creating a cosmopolitan, global identity is that such a global identity, by its very nature, cannot exist. Identity demands an Other. We don’t exist as a group if we can’t figure out who doesn’t belong to it. And belonging somewhere is an absolute necessity in the world of liquid flows and gaping narcissistic wounds.
At this point, I’m sorely tempted to add that instead of the flimsy category of culture, I’d love people to consider practicing the old-fashioned identity category of class but I don’t want to be too boring.