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.

9 thoughts on “After Bauman

  1. “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. ”

    I like this sentence. I do think we’re trying to fill the void of religion/spirituality with things and materialism and that just isn’t working out very well.

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  2. Thanks for the new interesting author! I’ve immediately started searching for his books in English, but haven’t found No-Things. What is the title in Spanish?

    // 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.

    May be, because experiences are the only thing left, whether they are valuable or not.

    Besides, who said that they “aren’t even valuable for their own sake or for what they help you feel or see”?

    Naturally, the only value of my experiences to Zuckerberg is providing “more sellable data to Instagram,” but why cannot they have deep value to one’s own development as a human being?

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    1. Try Han’s Psychopolitics. It’s definitely available in English.

      As for one’s own development, this is a great question that goes to the heart of the matter. And it’s exactly what the next part of the book is about, as I’ll explain in the next post.

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    2. The English title is Non-Things – by Byung-Chul Han but has not been released yet; telease date: Jul 18, 2022. You can buy it as a preorder at Amazon and Target, maybe other book sellers as well.

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  3. My own misanthropic take is that there’s just too many people. In the industrial stage of production, the self-creating loop was heavily incentivized to make more able hands and bodies – but also to assign them strict roles and places to the point where the making part of the human was just a machine-in-waiting.

    Even though there’s a lot of despair about losing that place in the world even as it’s decried unfit for human being, – and I get both the despair and the denunciations – I still think a lot of what defines the current day is us being unable to deal with the success, not failure, of the previous stage. Specifically, being exposed to (and being part of) a roiling mass of barely-comprehensible strangers becoming the default human state, and the twin problems of not understanding the people that define your world and not being understood by them. And so the efforts to mark and brand, give one face to many, give yourself any face at all.

    Whatever all that is, it’s not crass materialism and it’s not disenchantment. For the average human, gods still swoop. I doubt it’s fundamental lack with makeup either.

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  4. “Onanism” – never heard that word before, had to Google it. Learned something new.

    Agree on that regarding things like the Oscars, not so on Twitter though, as who is buying that is a serious issue regarding freedom of speech right now. Twitter has shown itself to be quite censorship-happy against views it doesn’t like. They might have even swung the election by censoring the Hunter Biden story. I am not sure what to think about the overall points made. Humanity is a lot about experiences now, no doubt, at least in the West.

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  5. Do you know that Han has written about covid too in his book “Capitalism and the Death Drive” (2021)?

    Will read his “Psychopolitics_ Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power”. Thanks for the recommendation.

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