Corruption, evil and society: Baudrillard and dissolution


Getting to the roots of corruption would be an endless business. No one could plumb its depths. Without any doubt, it is consubstantial with social functioning. But at least the ‘war on corruption’ evokes its spectra and presents us with it as spectacle. Now, the spectacle of corruption is a vital function in a democracy: it provides entertainment and has an educative, cathartic function. It does not produce any deep-seated bitterness; otherwise revolt would be permanently festering. In the end, corruption does not arouse any collective indignation (though, this, naturally, is filtered by the media).

Everyone dimly realizes that any system functions in denial of its own principles, transgressing its own rules. And this resignation over principles feeds an abashed consensus on the hidden, immoral rules by which our society operates. Corruption in democracy is simply the new form assumed by privilege –the rule in earlier societies –which has merely become illegal, thus adding further to its charm. Corruption itself is, in this way, a vital function: a secret mechanism of a whole society, a source of political energy, a public service.

What people ultimately want is to be given a chance to give, as they have elsewhere been given the chance to vote or, on any of the confessional TV programs, the chance to speak. So those who satisfy this desire, taking their cut from it as they do, are performing a genuine public service. At any rate, the money misappropriated in the process, being deflected first from its useful (private) purposes, then from its useful (public) purposes by the cancer crooks, still meets the same fate: it is squandered. In this respect it is similar to the money sacrificed in gambling and in playing the lottery.

It has never been the primordial function of a society to put money and resources to moral ends, even if it is the alleged ideal of all our democracies. Money remains at all times and in all places the accursed share, the immoral share, the evil portion. And the primordial function remains that of managing that accursed share, of voiding and laundering money through gambling, waste, misappropriation and corruption; destroying money by its immoral use; destroying evil with evil. This is the strategy of evil, the politics of evil which preserves the symbolic equilibrium of a society. Evil be to him who evil thinks.

The centre cannot hold, the perfect crime

Yeats, in the aftermath of WWI, famously wrote: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;  /Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. 70 years later Elias Canetti, reflecting on postmodern world, came with a rather grim thought:

As of a certain point, history was no longer real. Without noticing it, all mankind suddenly left reality: everything happening since then was supposedly not true; but we supposedly didn’t notice. Our task would now be to find that point, and as long as we didn’t have it, we would be forced to abide in our present destruction.”

Jean Baudrillard put it as follows:

“We live as if inside Borges’s fable of the map and the territory; in this story, nothing is left but pieces of the map scattered throughout the empty space of the territory. Except that we must turn the tale upside down: today there is nothing left but a map (the virtual abstraction of the territory), and on this map, some fragments of the real are still floating and drifting. The human species could be dedicating itself to a sort of automatic writing of the world, to an automated and operationalized virtual reality, where human beings as such have no reason for existing anymore. Human subjectivity becomes a set of useless functions, as useless as sexuality is to clones. More generally, all traditional functions—the critical, the political, the sexual, the social functions—become useless in a virtual world. Or they survive only in simulation, like body-building in a disincarnated culture, as mock functions or alibis.

Let us be clear about this: if the Real is disappearing, it is not because of a lack of it—on the contrary, there is too much of it. It is the excess of reality that puts an end to reality, just as the excess of information puts an end to information, or the excess of communication puts an end to communication.

By shifting to a virtual world, we go beyond alienation, into a state of radical deprivation of the Other, or indeed of any otherness, alterity, or negativity. We move into a world where everything that exists only as idea, dream, fantasy, utopia will be eradicated because it will immediately be realized, operationalized. Nothing will survive as an idea or a concept. You will not even have time enough to imagine. Events, real events, will not even have time to take place. Everything will be preceded by its virtual realization. We are dealing with an attempt to construct an entirely positive world, a perfect world, expurgated of every illusion, of every sort of evil and negativity, exempt from death itself. This pure, absolute reality, this unconditional realization of the world—this is what I call the Perfect Crime.”