After Bauman

Zygmunt Bauman, the greatest philosopher of the 21st century, died a few years ago. That’s an enormous loss because nobody even came close to explaining the current moment as well as Bauman did twenty years before it came.

I’ve been looking everywhere, and the best I’ve found so far is the German-Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han. I’m reading his book No-Things and I wanted to share some thoughts. Before I begin, a little disclaimer: I only read Han in Spanish translation. I have no idea which of his works have been translated into English. Spain is about 15 years ahead of the US in both the development of its neoliberalism and the rise of a real resistance to it. Byung-Chul Han is massively popular in Spain because, instead of the vapid onanism of who slapped whom at the Oscars and which rich dude is buying Twitter, people are actually trying to figure things out.

Han says that in the Middle Ages people lived in the world of magic. There was constant contact between the immaterial world of the spirits and the material reality of people’s daily lives. If you want an easy way of understanding what this means, think of García Márquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude where a dead dude sits under his favorite tree long after kicking the bucket and nobody cares. García Márquez was writing about a pre-industrial semi-feudal society that never modernized and never shut the door to the world of spirits.

Once the Industrial Revolution came, the spirits were out, religion was dead (meaning it was no longer the defining experience of everybody’s life), and we all moved into the world of things. There isn’t much magic in the world of things but at least its real. Things ground us in reality. They keep us attached, and attachment keeps us sane.

Once deindustrialization hit (and with it the post-nation state), the world of things began to be substituted by the world of flows. Remember the WEF’s “you’ll own nothing and be happy”? The world of flows offers a completely new understanding of a human being. The new human isn’t about being or having. It’s about going through experiences. And these experiences aren’t even valuable for their own sake or for what they help you feel or see. The experiences are almost invariably about having something to put on social media. We are supposed to sacrifice attachment, friendship, family, locality, even the favorite objects that we’ve had for decades, and for what? To provide more sellable data to Instagram.

More on this later.

Murderous Rage

I don’t know about the restaurant but when my dad first started a business in the early post-Soviet times it was right around the corner from the spot you can see in the video.

It never stops feeling surreal to see places familiar from my childhood reduced to rubble. We always knew that Russians thought we were stupid, unsophisticated and funny but we didn’t know they felt this way. It was hard to imagine that “ha ha, your language sounds funny” concealed a truly murderous rage.

National Character

Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov (not to be confused with the propagandist of the same name) was a friend of Dostoyevsky’s and inspired one of the characters in The Brothers Karamazov. Unlike Dostoyevsky, though, he wasn’t an anti-Semite. Solovyov was a defender of the rights of the Jews in the Russian empire and even learned Hebrew.

This is how Solovyov (who was a descendant of the famous Ukrainian philosopher Hryhory Skovoroda) described the Russian national character:

Solovyov died in 1900, so it’s not like the crazy behavior we are seeing from the Russians today is new. Ironically, the chief Russian propagandist today has the same name as the philosopher. He dedicated his life to promoting exactly the worldview that his historical namesake described over a century ago.