- ---- by Gerry CoulterReversion is an ancient concept in western thought. Herodotus speaks of those who were 'great long ago' but who have now 'become small' (Herodotus, Book I). At some points in our history we would have referred to what reversibility represents as poetic justice or the turning of the wheel of fortune. With the Renaissance, humanism, the Enlightenment and the stew of events and ideas which congealed, for a time, under the signs of modernity and progress, we have tended to downplay reversion. Indeed, many still see such a concept as a relic of previous determinisms. Baudrillard says that along with challenge and seduction reversibility is indestructible (CA) and that 'reversibility is the fundamental rule' (LP, 41). Determinism is not at work here, however, as for Baudrillard reversibility is important precisely because it is an 'absolute weapon' (FS, 82) against determination, against such notions as progress being the inevitable result of the passage of time (history).Reversibility is a vital concept informing Baudrillard's reassessment of linear notions of progress that came to dominate the modern world. Reversibility is predicated on Baudrillard's belief, and his observation, that systems have within them a kind of built-in ability to undermine themselves by their very functioning. Hence, when advanced corporate and scientific medical systems develop antibiotics we find virulent viruses quickly develop which would not otherwise have done so. Our efforts to overprotect ourselves lead to a situation in which we are 'eminently vulnerable' (EC, 38). Similarly, computer viruses which can lead to the shutdown of the World Wide Web (such as the 'Love Bug' of 2003) proliferate along the very networks that computer systems use to function. This kind of reversibility was a source of great enjoyment for Baudrillard who deeply disliked systems. Reversibility thus fits into Baudrillard's Manichean dualism by which he understands evil to be every bit as powerful as good. It is in our attempt to do good (antibiotics, computer systems) that we create the possibility of reversion, in the form of human and machinic viruses.In his distinctive poetic fashion Baudrillard deploys the concept of reversibility to broaden our intellectual horizons concerning development, progress and systems. He wonders in a cool memory (CM3) if the dinosaurs did not disappear as the result of a catastrophic internal process due to their very powers, and points out that our species may do the same thing precisely because of our superior powers (the ability to build systems which may well collapse or kill the natural environment we depend upon for life). In short, Baudrillard believed that systems tend to reverse at their apogee.Against the likes of Noam Chomsky, Baudrillard wonders if the masses do not use the popular media to destabilise power by paralysing and immobilising everything (CA). In our time of hundreds of television channels and the Fox News motto 'We Report, You Decide', Baudrillard kept his cold eye on the power of the silent majority (SSM). His writing in this area helps us to understand that social scientists have a tendency to project their own assumptions on the masses through empirical data-gathering techniques. There is nothing more suspect in Baudrillard's mind than a questionnaire as such an instrument often amounts to little more than a menu of the researcher's preconceptions.As for the great wave of 'liberation' which was the abandonment of colonial power in the 1950s through to the 1970s, Baudrillard wonders if the subaltern's liberation was not simply the best way the colonial masters could hand to them a bogus power and freedom (P). When we examine the crippling debt load carried by many of these countries in the post-colonial era of the World Bank we see one possible meaning of Baudrillard's assertion.Baudrillard recently used reversibility to explain what has been happening to American power. When the images of abused Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were released to the world we soon discovered that the images originated from the digital cameras American troops are now outfitted with. These images were powerful examples of how far America had fallen from its promise to bring democracy and liberation to the peoples of the Middle East. Baudrillard pointed to the moment as one of reversibility as America, whose global status had so long lived by the image, was now dying by it (CA).Reversibility is also important to Baudrillard's challenge to morality and ethics as for these concepts there must always be progress. Reversibility then is the concept which allows Baudrillard to look for ironies superior to morality. Terrorism too is also based in reversibility. In the case of 9/11 it was a reversal of humiliation.From his first use of the term in a more analytical manner to his last (in a more ironic way), reversibility remains a quasi-spiritual entity in Baudrillard's thought - a kind of evil spirit that would ensure that every system will be overturned (LP). It is the concept which he deploys to argue that modernity is a mythology devoted to the irreversibility of time, production and history (EC). An irreversibility against which Baudrillard posits reversibility, one that is poetic and always already open to reversion itself (AA).Passwords§ duality§ evil§ masses§ media
The Baudrillard dictionary. Richard G. Smith. 2015.