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P H I L O S O P H Y F O R B U S I N E S S ISSN 2043-0736
Issue number 62
3rd November 2010
I. 'Globalization, Technology, and the Future of Man' by Rafael D.
II. 'Ethics and Advertising Revisited' by Geoffrey Klempner
III. 'Some Questions on Freelancing' by Pritam Bhattacharyya
The major part of this issue is taken up with a long and gripping
paper by Rafael Pangilinan exploring the implications of the
accelerating pace at which we are becoming inhabitants of an emergent
reality we have created through technology and the global reach of
cyberspace. Citing the work of Arendt, Virilio and Baudrillard, he
paints a picture of humanity increasingly in peril as we lose our
sense of what it means to exist in a real world which we did not make.
A question to Ask a Philosopher from a Ugandan student taking a
Bachelors in Business Administration, prompted me to return to the
topic of Ethics and Advertising, which I first wrote about in 2004.
How much information should advertisers give about a product? Is it
legitimate to appeal to sex in advertising? If a celebrity endorses a
product which they don't use, is that lying? What, if any, are the
responsibilities of the consumer?
A couple of weeks back, there was an intriguing message on the
Management Philosophers e-list regarding a possible research project
on the international community of freelancers. How significant is the
growth of this work sector, and what are the prospects for the future?
If you have any thoughts on this topic, please contact the author
I. 'GLOBALIZATION, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FUTURE OF MAN' BY RAFAEL D.
In this paper, I put forward that in threatening our given
worldliness -- our particular, spatial limits and our
relation to objects not of our own making -- technology and
globalization threaten our humanity. Not only does this
tendency remove the external limits that define our being,
but as the outside world is brought within our immediate
grasp, we cease to see technology as a mediating term: we
disappear into our technology, our technology disappears
into us, and both collapse into a world that we no longer
see as external to ourselves.
Is globalization a problem? Is our understanding of what it means to
be human challenged by the fact that where one lives on the planet is
less determinant of how one lives today than ever before? I submit
that the answers are both yes, but not simply because the planetary
embrace of modern technologies appears to bring with it a convergence
of cultural, economic, and political practices. There is more at stake
here than the prospect of increasing societal homogenization, for
globalization promises more than mere sameness. I want to press the
additional claim that the technologies responsible for the shrinking
of the globe are by definition also responsible for humanity's
unprecedented release from the earthly constraints of space and time,
constraints that traditionally have been central to our understanding
of what it means to be human.
It is axiomatic that human existence is played out within the context
of the earth. It is into this material order, an order not of our
making, that we are born, and it is from this same realm that we
depart upon our death. Moreover, as beings who inhabit the earth,
we are also of the earth to the extent we share with the world the
properties of spatial and temporal extension. We could conclude,
then, along with Hannah Arendt, that the earth is the 'very
quintessence of the human condition.' Yet, perversely, we humans
always have been uneasy with our status as earthly beings. Max Weber
has noted that, historically, we have sought to mollify this
existential unease by diminishing the otherness of our worldly
environs. We want our earthly 'house' -- which has been given to us,
ready made -- to be a home, to bear the imprint of our presence.
According to this reading, technology is the means by which we
moderns have sought to make a home of the world, as magic was the
means for premoderns.
Domesticating the earth through technology is problematic, however.
For there is a difference between making a home of the world, and
remaking the world so thoroughly in an effort to humanize it that
'the world' effectively ceases to be, along with its humanizers. The
latter route is the one we appear to be following, and it speaks to
our radical disenchantment with the given. Ultimately, it is the
disavowing of humanity's earthly ties that propels modern technology
in its quest to reconcile self and world by substituting a world of
human making for the given world. While this project is tacitly
justified on the grounds that the technological reordering of the
given will make a home out of a mere house, I will argue here that we
are ill-fitted for this new abode and that finding in it a true home
would necessitate nothing less than a relinquishing of our humanity.
When Arendt first underscored the centrality of the earth to the
human condition almost half a century ago, it was in response to her
concern that there was a developing 'loss of contact between the
world of the senses and appearances and the physical world
view...' She contended that modern science had opened a rift
between the world we live in and the world we know. In the former
world, Arendt explains, we are certain 'that what we perceive has an
existence independent of the act of perceiving.' She goes on to
assert it is precisely this perceptual faith that modern science
undermines in its pursuit of 'true reality.'
Our faith in the congruence of the worlds of experience and knowledge
was dealt a fatal blow early in the twentieth century with Werner
Heisenberg's articulation of the uncertainty principle. It was
Heisenberg who informed us that the notion of a really real, or
objective, world, is an illusion. He countered that the physical
world, at its most elemental level at least, is inconceivable as
existing independently of the perceptual act, insofar as the act of
perceiving and measuring 'reality' alters the nature of the reality
perceived. Arendt draws from Heisenberg's observation that to the
extent that the subject is implicated in the constitution of the
object, man effectively confronts himself alone.
For Arendt, the uncovering of the illusion of objectivity in the
natural order finds a parallel within the technological order itself,
of which humans are a part. The technological matrix in which we are
embedded 'makes it more unlikely every day that man will encounter
anything in the world around him that is not man-made and hence is
not... he himself in a different guise.' The astronaut to Arendt was
the 'symbolic incarnation of Heisenberg's man,' a being totally
alienated from the otherness of the given world and thus wholly
immersed in and continuous with his constructed environment. Of
course, what troubled Arendt most is that, in formal terms, the fate
of the astronaut is the fate of every inhabitant in a sufficiently
advanced technological society: we are all fast becoming denizens of
a world whose objectivity is illusory.
The arc of technological development into the twenty-first century
has done little to assuage the concerns of Arendt and other
like-minded thinkers. Doubtless, if she were alive today her
trepidation toward the cocooning of humanity within a second-order
reality would be more acute than ever. To further explore humanity's
exodus from earthly reality, and the consequences of its remove, I
will press into service two figures well known for their commentaries
on the contemporary technological order: Jean Baudrillard and Paul
Baudrillard and Virilio concur that the story of technology is the
story of humanity's decreasing dependence on the earth, and that this
growing autonomy from the 'real world' amounts to a kind of
self-alienation, as well. Despite differences in both approach and
tone, their analyses corroborate the view that our drifting from the
earth challenges a number of key assumptions regarding what it means
to be human.
To help frame the investigation, it is important to note that the
technologies responsible for distancing humanity from the earth fall
into two general categories. On the one hand, the freeing of the
bonds linking humans to the earth can be traced to the technologies
directly effecting this dissolution. In addition, humanity's remove
from the earth is enhanced by those technologies that further attune
humans with their created environment. In the former instance,
technology's impact upon its makers is best evaluated from the
context of the earth, where the operative assumption holds that
humans are earthly, or embodied, beings. Here, technology alienates
humanity from its geophysical environs in a manner analogous to the
way a spacecraft alienates an astronaut from the earth it orbits. In
the latter instance, where the frame of reference is reduced to the
created order itself, technology is assessed in accordance with the
internal criterion of efficiency. The goal here is to reconcile the
technological order with its human users. To continue with the
metaphor employed above, we could say that we moderns are not content
merely to leave the globe, but to do so in a vehicle so responsive to
our willing that its status as an alien 'thing' effectively
In more detailed terms, our escape from the pull of the earth is
being realized along two fronts. First, we are transcending the
limits of the earth by constructing a space -- a 'cyberspace' or
'virtual reality' -- that corresponds to the real world but is not of
it, and is therefore unconstrained by the limitations imposed by
earthly reality. This immanent transcendence of geophysical space is
effected primarily by so-called new, or digital, technologies, and
the virtual and simulatory 'worlds' that issue from them. The
technologies of alienation are counterpoised by technologies that aim
not to transcend the given world as much as integrate further human
beings with their environment. Technologies that seek to augment the
world -- both the given and created worlds -- fall under this second
category, the most obvious being so-called 'smart' technologies.
The implicit goal of these technologies is to better integrate the
world of atoms with the world of bits for the purpose of enhancing
the efficiency of our control over the given and created realms.
We are told repeatedly today that the 'information age' is upon us.
The industrial era, with its production of substantive consumables,
is fast giving way to the production and exchange of information --
to the much heralded 'knowledge economy.' This transition sees to it
as well that the transportation infrastructures that anchored the era
of industrial production are being supplanted by their information
counterparts: Electronic networks of information exchange are
overshadowing 'real world' transport systems. These myriad pathways
and communication nodes in turn have created a new kind of reality
alongside earthly reality, an informational space that at the very
least supplements geophysical space, or the real world.
It need hardly be emphasized that increasingly our communications
with persons and the world are mediated via electronic technologies,
and that this means of communication is absolutely crucial to our
functioning as residents of a developed technological society. The
question before us therefore pertains not to the efficacy of
cyberspace, but to its suitability to embodied beings such as
ourselves. We could ask: Is cyberspace just another 'reality option,'
or does cyberspace diminish at some fundamental level the human
Baudrillard's thoughts on the 'obscene' offer a good start for an
examination of this question. For Baudrillard, the pervasiveness of
contemporary communications technologies has led to a qualitative
transformation in the nature and role of the image in society. He
contends that this transformation has reshaped the entire visual
aesthetic, and employs the rubric 'obscene' to denote this altered
state. The mania for transparency and total illumination, which this
term is meant to convey, radically transfigures the perceptual realm
by presenting the perceiver with televisual imagery that is said to
lie at 'a special kind of distance' from the body that the body
cannot bridge. Baudrillard's argument here recalls Maurice
Merleau-Ponty's observation that one can possess the visible only if
one in turn is possessed by it. With unmediated or natural
vision, Merleau-Ponty argued, the space between perceiver and
perceived is the distance separating two 'objects' within a singular
and shared realm of being -- the phenomenal or real world of
appearances. The distance between the seer and the seen is bridgeable
with natural perception precisely because the two poles of the
perceptual experience partake of and occupy the same world. Given
this understanding, it is evident that the 'unbridgeable distance'
associated with virtual perception is less a true distance (which
implies a common world) than a kind of schism separating two
incommensurable realities -- the real and the virtually real.
Baudrillard suggests that the charm of the real world issues directly
from the gap that simultaneously separates and conjoins the perceiver
and the perceived. It is this distance that lends reality its
capacity to resist being 'all actual under the look' (to borrow
again from Merleau-Ponty), a capacity that accounts ultimately for
the elusive and seductive quality of real appearances. In conclusion,
Baudrillard suggests that real or embodied perception is characterized
by an active interplay between the perceiver and the perceived. The
eye is seduced and brought into the world of appearing things
precisely because what is 'there' before the eye resists being fully
revealed in a glance.
Real perception is incomplete in a way that virtual imagery is not.
With the latter, what you see is what you get. Should an aura of
mystery attend a perceived virtual 'object' it must of necessity be a
programmed aura -- a contrived mysteriousness. It is because the
virtual image is 'all actual under the look' that what otherwise lies
at a distance and is partially hidden, is brought up close and made
transparent. It is this collapse of space and the attending intimacy
of the virtual image that prompts Baudrillard to label it obscene.
Like pornography, virtual imagery reveals too much, and in so doing
appears realer than real, or hyperreal. And like pornography, this
surfeit of visibility captures and fascinates the eye. Virilio is
in basic agreement with Baudrillard on this point. For instance, in
The Vision Machine he cites approvingly Merleau-Ponty's claim
that with unmediated or natural vision everything one sees is 'marked
on the map of the 'I can.'' Such an assertion underscores what has
been said previously regarding the linkage between natural perception
and real space. To argue as Merleau-Ponty has that with natural
vision seeing and doing overlap is to say that the perceiver and the
perceived occupy the same world. The assumption here is that as an
embodied perceiver one has the power to traverse the distance
separating oneself from the 'other.' This assumption in turn
presupposes the even more basic conviction that both the seer and the
seen inhabit the same ontological space.
For Virilio, so-called 'distance technologies' undercut the
sensibility that takes earthly reality to be the common space within
which the perceiver and the perceived are embedded. How this
sensibility is subverted is best illustrated by revisiting our
discussion of the astronaut. Earlier we cited Arendt's comment that
the astronaut can be regarded as a modern-day symbol of a being
isolated from the otherness of the given world. The implication was
that the astronaut's 'home' -- his spacecraft -- was wholly a product
of human artifice, and thus totally removed from the given, natural
world. In Open Sky, Virilio recounts for his readers the
experiences of several American astronauts who did not merely leave
the planet, but actually stepped onto the surface of another
celestial body. He elicits from the astronauts' descriptions of
their lunar excursions that the moon for them was not merely
'another' world, but, more profoundly, an altogether different
What accounts for this new reality is the quality of light found on
the moon's surface. Virilio sees in the astronauts' commentary proof
of the correlation between light and reality. Citing Apollo 11
astronaut Buzz Aldrin's description of light on the lunar surface as
'weird,' Virilio adds that Aldrin attributed this weirdness to the
fact that, unlike conditions on earth, solar light remains
unrefracted by an atmosphere before hitting the moon's surface.
Aldrin observed that the harshness of the moon's unrefracted light
was especially evident when he moved his hand from the shadow to the
light, a process he described as akin to 'crossing the barrier to
another dimension.' The 'super-bright spotlight' that was the sun
also seems to have wreaked havoc with Aldrin and others' ability to
estimate accurately distances and gradients on the lunar surface.
Evidently, the ease and speed with which their bodies adapted to the
new set of demands made on them by their one-sixth gravity
environment was not matched by the adaptive powers of vision.
Virilio gleans from these observations that our visual capacity to
assess the body's environs is not a generic place-independent
capacity, but context specific. Aldrin's comments also inform us that
when vision is alienated from its originary context, as is the case on
the atmosphereless moon, a different perception of reality emerges,
which for Virilio amounts to the emergence of a different reality
altogether. It could be said that the lunar astronauts were immersed
in a 'digital' or 'binary' reality to the extent the moon is a world
without penumbras. Aldrin perceived the transition from shadow to
light as unearthly in its abruptness, with no in-between separating
the presence and absence of reflected solar light. Virilio concludes
from this observation that objects on the lunar surface are not
illuminated by the sun as much as exposed by the sun's glare. They
are either real and there in the sun's light, or they are not. While
objects on earth appear to endure as they sweep from darkness to
light and back again, on the moon objects commute instantaneously
between lit and unlit states. It is the instantaneity of the
changeover that lends a binary or digital quality to light's effects,
and gives objects the appearance of flickering, quantum-like, from one
dimension to another. It is the radical disparity between the lit and
unlit portions of the lunar surface that also accounts for the
perceived compression of distances and the exaggeration of gradients.
Lunar reality for Virilio is a three-dimensional analogue of
cyberspace. The sun's light in lunar reality is for all intents and
purposes the same light that exposes 'light-objects' in virtual
reality. The implication is that we are all astronauts to the extent
we live within the glow of the unrefracted light of a computer
monitor. Similar in form to the perceptual experience of a lunar
astronaut, what one perceives in virtual reality is a realm of
collapsed space populated by 'objects' that pop in and out of view,
in a trice.
Whereas Baudrillard links earthly reality to distance and Virilio to
light, the difference between their respective commentaries on the
unearthliness of cyberspace is very slight indeed. It is slim
because, ultimately, distance and light themselves are correlated.
When Virilio attempts to illustrate how reality and light are
interconnected in the example of the moon walkers, he is not so much
talking about light per se as the quality of light. On these terms,
the difference between light on earth and its sister planet is
significant. But what truly accounts for this difference is the
variance of the worldly conditions on these two astronomical bodies.
Specifically, it is the presence or absence of an atmosphere that
determines the extent to which we can accurately read the topography
of our environment. Insofar as the earth constitutes the worldly
context in which humans have evolved, it is hardly surprising that
our physiology has adapted to the conditions specific to it, and that
earthly reality is the context for which we are best suited. Clearly,
the perceived weirdness of the lunar surface indicates as much.
Cyberspace is equally weird for Baudrillard and Virilio. Whereas
Baudrillard credits cyberspace's strangeness to its distanceless
spaces, and Virilio to its exposure by light, both use the conditions
of the earth as a reference point for their respective critiques. For
Baudrillard cyberspace is weird because, unlike earthly reality, it
is a substanceless realm without extension. Likewise, for Virilio
cyberspace is alien because, in contrast to earthly reality, it is a
realm whose 'objects' are exposed by light.
For Baudrillard, the unearthliness that characterizes cyberspace is
fast becoming a general condition of the entire technological order.
Our relationship to the 'real world' of technology parallels the
obscene character of virtuality in that there is a progressive
collapsing of the space separating humans from their technologies.
The term space is not to be understood here in a physicalistic
sense but as the gap between desire and its satisfaction as it relates
to the human-machine interface. Thus, it is the space between an actor
and an acted upon object that accounts for the relative
unresponsiveness of the latter toward the intentions of the former,
for the object's 'unfriendliness.'
Ornery hardware is a problem in need of a solution. In the words of a
prominent researcher at MIT's Media Laboratory, we humans have a right
to 'use technology without attending to its needs.' To exercise
this right -- the right to reconcile humans with their created
environment -- technology must be made transparent: it must disappear
behind its own utility. Baudrillard concurs that the seamless
interfacing of humans and the created world is the sought-for end of
much technological development. He informs us this end is being
realized today in a double process that advances both the humanizing
of our technologies and the technologizing of humanity.
For Baudrillard, the same radical disaffection with the contingency
of appearances that incites us to (virtually) overexpose the world,
prompts us as well to reorder the given world as a manageable order.
Simulation is the blanket term Baudrillard applies to the various
facets of this reconstituted, user-friendly order. Although he
contends that all kinds of systems (i.e., political, economic,
social, etc.) are simulated today, for our purposes here I will focus
on simulation as it pertains to the relationship between humans and
Baudrillard claims that in the name of 'maximizing performativity' we
are ruthlessly excising those spaces, or system 'noise,' that obviate
the collapse of subject (the human user) and object (the used
artifact). The operative assumption behind this drive is that only by
eradicating the sources of noise within a system can the war against
the intransigent 'other' be successfully waged. Take, for
instance, the paradigmatic case of advancing automotive technology
and its impact on the experience of driving. Of late, the most
impressive advances in car performance have originated from the
implementation of digital technologies. With the aid of on-board
computers, cars routinely monitor and adjust their own operating
systems as well as keep their operators informed of the proceedings.
These aptly named 'smart' cars are paragons of functionality because
they communicate. On the one hand, they are forever 'speaking' to
themselves by replying to perturbations detected either within the
operating system itself or between the system and its immediate
environment. At the same time these automobiles speak to their
drivers in the form of informational readouts on their ongoing
operational status, demanding replies from their human operators only
on those occasions when perturbations within the system cannot be
Baudrillard brings to our attention that the functioning of this and
all integrated technological systems demands complicity between the
machine and its human operator. Each pole of the dyad 'human-machine'
must read and correct the behavior of the 'other' to optimize the
performance of a given technology. The technology itself demands that
each of its constituent elements -- including its operator -- perform
their appointed functions so as to maintain the integrity of the
feedback loops that secure the system's performance. Baudrillard
notes that under these circumstances technology users cease to regard
the technology in question as a means of extending their power.
Increasingly, a car is less a thing that is driven, an object of our
command, than a technological system requiring our measured input for
its functional fulfillment. Baudrillard concludes that the distinction
between cause (the human operator) and effect (the technical
operation) is sufficiently blurred in any evolved technology that the
operator/ subject properly disappears into the ecology of the system.
Whereas Baudrillard tends to view the collapsing of spaces in terms
of the subsuming of the self into the logic of putatively exogenous
technological systems, Virilio prefers to see this process as a
grafting of technology onto the self. We are fast becoming, in the
latter's words, 'the hood over the engine of micromachines capable of
transplanting life and transfusing its impulses with the help of
computer software.' The infusion of 'intelligence' into our
technological milieu, the consequences of which primarily interest
Baudrillard, is therefore complemented by Virilio's considerations on
the colonization of the self by intelligent machines.
The habitation of the body by intelligent machines Virilio calls the
'new eugenics.'21 The implicit aim of this new eugenics, he says, is
the making of a 'metabody' through the addition of 'superficial
prostheses' and 'intraorganic nanotechnologies.' Despite differing
emphases, the consequence for the individual of the grafting of
technology onto the bodily self is largely congruent with
Baudrillard's assessment of life in an age where persons have adapted
to the demands of their technological milieu. For the latter, our
succumbing to the 'sacrificial religion of performance' has
produced a new form of individualism which bears no resemblance to
its bourgeois predecessor. The 'postmodern' or 'neo-' individual for
Baudrillard is nothing more than a proverbial cog in the machine, an
interactive, plugged-in being both self-identical and at one with its
The dominant existential mood of the neo-individual can best be
described as dispassionate intensity. On the one hand, the postmodern
self is dispassionate because passion suggests desire, or a 'space'
between desire and its satisfaction, the existence of which
Baudrillard says is ruthlessly being erased in a world that demands
transparency. The postmodern individual is compelled to
dispassionately operate a technology, such as an automobile,
precisely because the technology presents itself to its operator as
an interactive system whose optimal functioning (i.e., the desired
end) demands human surveillance and input (i.e., the means to the
satisfaction of this end). On the other hand, operating a technology
is an intense experience, owing to the extensive powers of control
offered by most new technologies. Yet because the considerable powers
of control at our disposal are not properly ours, but emanate from a
system within which we participate, this intensity is tempered or
restrained. The prevailing mood of Baudrillard's new man is perhaps
best exemplified by the stereotypical 'thumb surfer,' who intently
surveys the televisual landscape in the hope of stumbling across yet
another momentary diversion. This and other inhabitants of
hyperreality exhibit the kind of brittle intensity that can arise
only when the pursuit of an end is conflated with the extension of
Virilio, too, believes that closing the gap between humans and their
technology is helping to create a new ethos that is at once both cool
and hot, dispassionate and intense. He notes that only with the
technological advances of the machine age did humanity begin to free
itself from the 'traditional conditions of existence,' whose
harshness had till then impelled us to economize physical activity in
an effort to maximize long-term survival. The 'law of least action'
has been in decline since that time, and it is almost entirely
deactivated today with the advent of distance technologies and the
resulting eclipse of geophysical space. Rather than conserve bodily
energy, as was necessary when our very existence relied on its
expenditure, the redundancy of the human body in the information age
produces the obverse need to live 'more acutely.'
Again, intensity is the order of the day. For Virilio, the human body
in a body-less world -- in a world whose geophysical substance has
been eclipsed technologically -- is an anomaly that can be normalized
only by tuning the body's rhythms with those of its electronic
environment. This invariably entails the acceleration of human
physiological processes, since the information age is founded on the
principle of instant communication. The impetus, therefore, is to
treat the body as a motor or machine that 'needs to be constantly
revved up,' either through the ingestion of chemical stimulants or
the implantation of biotechnologies that amplify basic physiological
Virilio follows Baudrillard in arguing that the intensifying of lived
existence is ultimately a cool form of intensity. That is to say, the
drive to overstimulate the nervous energies of the body is
accompanied by a countertrend to tranquilize these same energies by
managing and coordinating their expression. If for Virilio the human
body is quickly becoming motorized, then like a motor the body is
destined to be programmed: like any other technology, the 'metabody'
is a cybernetized system.
It has been argued here, along with Arendt, that the human condition
is defined in large part by its geocentrism. It has been argued as
well that we desire to be at home in this earthly abode, to reconcile
ourselves with the 'free gift' that constitutes both the being of
the earth and ourselves as earthly creatures. Importantly,
reconciling ourselves with the given involves resisting the
temptation to resent what is not of our own making. Reconciliation
and alienation prove not incompatible terms in this context.
To argue that one can be reconciled with an environment from which
one is nevertheless alienated seems contradictory only if alienation
is conflated with resentment. It is axiomatic that human beings are
not simply in and of the world, as are insentient objects. So
although the earth may be the very quintessence of the human
condition, it does not follow that humans are at one with the earth
or that they need identify with it in any simplistic sense. Indeed,
reconciliation with the earth means, if not openly embracing, then at
least not resenting alienation as a core constituent of the human
condition. When our comportment toward the otherness of the world's
materiality -- including that of the earth, ourselves as corporeal
beings, and even our creations -- which is always marked by a certain
discontentment, transforms itself into contempt, the stage is set for
the overcoming of alienation and, along with it, the overcoming of
both humans and world.
This lesson is not lost on either Baudrillard or Virilio. The former
believes we are in the midst of a war against the intransigent
'other' that cannot be won because we misguidedly assume victory can
be realized only by eradicating all the sources of system noise. This
strategy contravenes what may be called the wisdom of superfluity,
a central organizational principle of both the natural and social
orders that ensures a place for redundancy within the economies of
these orders. Given this understanding, Baudrillard postulates that
the difficulties associated with postmodernity originate 'not in an
excess of alienation, but in a disappearance of alienation in favor
of a maximum transparency between subjects.'
The message is clear for Baudrillard: 'Total prophylaxis is
lethal.' By maximizing the interconnectedness of a system's
elements, which of necessity entails collapsing the space separating
these elements, a 'malignant reversibility' is generated that
destabilizes the entire system. In short, there is a point beyond
which the maximizing of efficiency is self-defeating. No one, it
turns out, is more vulnerable to catastrophic reversals and collapses
than Arendt's 'astronaut' or Baudrillard's 'Boy in the Bubble.'
Virilio likewise regards the disappearance of alienation with
trepidation. Technology, he says ironically, is well on the way to
putting an end to 'the scandal of the interval of space and time that
used to separate man so unacceptably from his objective.' Virilio
can make such a claim because he works from the premise that the
materiality of the 'space-world' (i.e., geophysical reality) acts as
a break in space and time, lending to both the quality of extension.
So it is, for instance, that in the real world of appearances an
object (including the human body) cannot exist in two different
places simultaneously. If an object does occupy two sites, common
sense tells us an interval of time must have elapsed between these
positionings. Virilio concludes that time is nothing other than 'the
form of matter in motion.' Moreover, because in the context of
real phenomena speed pertains to objects with mass, speed in its
worldly register always falls short of its upward threshold -- the
speed of light. Thus, the space-world proves to be speed's nemesis in
that it withholds from speed the promise of its perfection. And it is
this withholding that is crucial for Virilio, for the exaction of the
payment of time demanded by traversing the terrestrial surface
accounts in part for the depth of embodied experience.
It is because we resent earthly reality, taking it to be a drag --
quite literally, as responsible for the dragging out time and space
-- that the refractory and hence alien space-world is being
supplanted with the resistantless light-world called cyberspace. In
this world where the 'scandal' of space has been obliterated,
durational time, Bergson's duree is superseded by 'real-time,'
and the 'depth of historical successivity' has yielded to the 'relief
of instantaneity.' Virilio takes as proof of the earth's demise
that what matters most in our digital age is not the actuality of an
event, but 'being there' as it happens. We value the immediacy of
real-time interaction with virtual representations of events over
real-world participation in the concrete events themselves.
The ongoing digital and communications revolution continues to
compress both geophysical space and the space separating humans from
their creations. By dematerializing the real world of appearances and
embedding ourselves seamlessly within a world of our own making, we
are more than ever liberated from the 'body' of the world and our own
somatic selves. Should these developments be a matter of concern?
Absolutely, and for at least two reasons. On the one hand, our
liberation from the materiality of the world is purchased at the
price of inhabiting a parallel world of incomparably less depth and
density. While the virtually real world is habitable, in some sense
of the word, it remains ultimately a charmless realm devoid of the
existential heft, and thus the enduring allure, of the world it
progressively occludes. In addition, because we are not beings who
merely happen to have earth-inhabiting bodies but beings for whom
earthly embodiment is the sine qua non of existence, the
ascendancy of the virtual over the real undercuts the very reality of
The interpenetrating of human and machine only reinforces the unreal
or abstract quality of much of contemporary existence. As our earthly
home is radically transformed into a singularly human environment,
whose artifice means we confront nothing but ourselves, we risk
losing ourselves in our self-reflected image. It is the space, or
tension, between humans and their recreated environment that keeps
the poles of the dyad from imploding and forming a hybrid that is
neither strictly human nor machine.
Specifically human aspirations and realizations heretofore have
emerged in the relation to the limits imposed on us both by our given
nature and the natural order itself. By gaining control of the very
substance of our being and by attuning the rhythm of our
physiological processes to the tempo of the new technologies, we are
not merely altering the accidental qualities of some inviolable human
essence, but tampering with the very core of our humanness. The
protracted attempt we are witnessing today to extricate humanity from
its earthly confines speaks to our radical disenchantment with the
human condition. Our embrace of the new technologies is therefore not
an affirmation of life as much as a kitschified version of an
existence whose end is to purge an 'impure' materiality from both
world and self. It is a life befitting the satisfied and soulless
animals of posthistory.
1. To assert that the human condition is fundamentally earthly is not
to make the more extravagant and reductionist claim that the full
spectrum of human experience can be adequately captured in
materialist terms alone. There is no contradiction contained in the
assertion that what is revealed to us as earthly beings may exceed
the merely earthly.
2. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: The University
of Chicago Press, 1958), 2.
3. For an overview of Max Weber's analysis of the historical
relationship between humans, nature, and technology, see Gilbert G.
Germain's A Discourse on Disenchantment: Reflections on Politics
and Technology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).
4. The 'we' to whom I am referring is primarily, but not exclusively,
the populations of the technologically developed Western world.
5. Hannah Arendt, 'The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man,' in
Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought
(New York: Viking, 1954), 273.
6. Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 46.
7. Arendt addresses the issue of Heisenberg and his relevance to
contemporary technological culture in Between Past and Future,
8. The 'reality' that technologies augment comprises both the realm
of human artifice and the natural order. Smart technologies is a term
usually reserved to describe those technological means that help
further integrate humans with their created environment. Of course,
the given world can be augmented (as the rubric 'genetic engineering'
indicates vis-a-vis the human body) as well, but its inclusion here as
a topic of consideration would extend beyond the confines of the
9. Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme
Phenomena, trans. James Benedict (London: Verso, 1993), 55.
10. This characterization of vision is not as fanciful as it might
otherwise seem if we keep in mind that for Merleau-Ponty, perceiving,
like touching, is an embodied act occurring within the world's flesh.
In his effort to overturn the Cartesian understanding of vision as an
internal mental representation of an external object, Merleau-Ponty
reminds his readers of the basic attunement between the seer and the
seen that attests to their common home in the world's flesh. Like a
pair of ballroom dancers whose coordinated movements are so expertly
and effortlessly executed that one cannot readily distinguish the
person who leads from the one who follows, the relation between the
seer and the seen is said to be 'magical' in its exquisite
complementarity. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty's, The Visible and the
Invisible, ed. Claude LeFort (Evanston: Northwestern University
Press, 1968), 146.
11. Ibid., 191.
12. Jean Baudrillard, 'The Ecstasy of Communication,' in
Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (London: Pluto Press,
13. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans.
Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), 137.
14. Paul Virilio's Open Sky, trans. Julie Rose (London: Verso,
15. Ibid., 138.
16. Neil Gershenfeld, When Things Start to Think (New York:
Henry Holt, 1999), 102.
17. For Baudrillard, radical disaffection with the contingent nature
of the real or unreconstructed world provokes an equally radical
desire to recreate the world as a manageable order. The control that
simulation promises is achieved through the employment of feedback
mechanisms of various sorts. Simulation within the economic realm,
for instance, is evident in the now routine practice whereby the
production of an actual commodity postdates its (virtual) testing in
the marketplace. Commodities are not only produced but literally
conceived in the crucible called 'consumer feedback.' This prompts
Baudrillard to comment that only in the age of simulation are
commodities 'conceived according to their very reproducibility' (Jean
Baudrillard, Seduction, trans. B. Singer [Montreal: New World
Perspectives, 1990]), 56. See also Jean Baudrillard,
Simulations, trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip
Beitchman (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983), 171.
18. Jean Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, trans. Chris
Turner (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 81.
19. The further integration of humans with their technologies takes
on a multiplicity of forms today. Apart from some of the more obvious
examples--such as smart houses or fly-by-wire aircraft--the most
interesting advances in this integration process are happening in the
computer technology field. For instance, The Tangible Media Group, a
subdivision of MIT's Media Laboratory, has as its mandate improving
'human-computer interaction' (HCI) by foregrounding the haptic or
tactile dimension of human communication. In the words of the Group,
its research goal is to 'rejoin the richness of the physical world in
HCI.' According to this reading, computers need more 'body' if the
goal of relating to our digital environment in a more multimodal and,
hence, a more fully human way is to be realized. See Hiroshi Ishii and
Brygg Ulmer, 'Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between
People, Bits and Atoms,' published in the proceedings of CHI '97,
March 22-27, 1997.
20. Paul Virilio, The Art of the Motor, trans. Julie Rose
(Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 129.
21. See ibid., 116-30.
22. Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, 106.
23. In Baudrillard's words, the postmodern or neo-individual is 'the
purest product of 'other-directedness': an interactive,
communicational particle, plugged into the network....' See
Baudrillard's The Illusion of the End, 106.
24. Virilio, The Art of the Motor, 123.
25. Arendt, The Human Condition, 2.
26. The expression 'the wisdom of superfluity' is mine, not
27. Baudrillard, The Illusion of the End, 80-81.
28. Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil, 64.
29. 'The Boy in the Bubble' is Baudrillard's answer to Arendt's
astronaut, a being condemned to live a life in an entirely artificial
(and in this case, germ free) environment for want of a
well-functioning immune system. The Boy in the Bubble is 'a
prefigurement of the future,' according to Baudrillard, because of
the reigning confusion as to what constitutes health. We erroneously
assume that by cleansing ourselves and our environment of germs--the
purported noise within the human biological system--we maximize our
performativity, when in fact we are exposing ourselves to the
'malevolent reversals' that seek out hyperintegrated systems. See
Baudrilllard's The Transparency of Evil, 60-63.
30. Virilio, Open Sky, 119.
31. Ibid., 120.
32. Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb, trans. Chris Turner
(London: Verso, 2000), 129.
33. Virilio does not look upon the collapse of both real distance and
historical time with equanimity. Citing the human body as constituting
the basis of his work, he makes it clear that our capacity to see
anything in any place in real time transgresses the limits placed
upon us as incarnate beings. In his words: 'The technologies of
virtual reality are attempting to make us see from beneath, from
inside, from behind...as if we were God.' See the 1994
CTheory transcript, 'Cyberwar, God and Television: Interview
with Paul Virilio.'
34. My understanding of kitsch is informed by Milan Kundera's
discussion of the same in The Unbearable Lightness of Being,
trans. Michael Henry Heim (New York: Harper and Row, 1984). See
(c) Rafael Pangilinan 2010
II. 'ETHICS AND ADVERTISING REVISITED' BY GEOFFREY KLEMPNER
On Wed, Oct 20, 2010 09:11:03
Emmanuel asked this question:
Dr I am Emmanuel a student at a university pursuing a Bachelors in
Business Administration. I need your assistance on some questions such
Provide philosophical arguments to the ethical questions which arise
when considering modern advertising techniques:
1. What responsibility, if any, does a company have for honestly
educating the consumer about its product?
2. Should advertisers be allowed to suggest that a product will make
a person more sexy/ interesting/ beautiful/ successful etc?
3. Is it ethical to use celebrities to sell products they probably
don't even use themselves?
4. Is it the buyer's responsibility to be aware of these strategies
and not allow adverts to manipulate their emotions?
This question was sent as a personal email rather than submitted to
Ask a Philosopher. I'm guessing that Emmanuel found my article
'Ethics and Advertising'. I don't give private advice because
that's too close to helping students cheat with their homework. All
answers to questions submitted to Ask a Philosopher are published on
These are very good questions, which you won't find the answers to in
my article. I was more concerned to set limits to what ethics can
reasonably demand from advertisers, rather than put forward specific
principles governing the ethics of advertising. However, it seems to
me that the questions Emmanuel raises don't require any special
expertise in business ethics. They are a matter of plain common sense.
What responsibility, if any, does a company have for honestly
educating the consumer about its product? Let's imagine a case
where you are marketing a very nice product, which has some features
not found in any of the competing products in the marketplace. You go
to an advertising agency, who discuss your 'unique selling point'
(USP), and possible ways of presenting this in TV adverts, billboard
However, you know, and your advertising agency knows that there is a
better product available from a rival company. You've done extensive
secret testing and their product beats yours every time. Yes, your
product has features the rival product doesn't have, but that is more
than offset by the fact that these features are mostly eye candy and
not very useful. Is it unethical to tell consumers that yours is the
I am told that in Germany it is actually against the law to state in
an advert that your product is the best unless you can prove
that it is. Elsewhere, such as the UK where the rules are a bit more
relaxed, saying that a product is 'the best' isn't considered as
potentially misleading information. Whereas if you say that your
toilet cleaner kills 99% of germs when it only kills 75% then you are
breaking the Trade Descriptions Act.
'We think it's the best,' is a way of saying, 'We believe in our
product, we stand behind it.' To me, that is a perfectly reasonable
Do you have an ethical obligation to tell your potential customers
that the rival product is better, according to your own tests?
Absolutely not. You are ethically (and in many cases legally) obliged
to ensure that your product is fit for purpose, not dangerous to use,
and not misleadingly described. On the other hand, a sufficiently
resourceful and creative advertising agency can make the most of the
fact that you are not the leading brand. 'We're Number Two But We Try
Harder,' was the famous Avis advert which won them an increased slice
of the car hire market against their leading rivals, Herz.
I would love to see an advert which said, 'Product X is Better But
Ours Has More Eye Candy!'
Should advertisers be allowed to suggest that a product will make
a person more sexy/ interesting/ beautiful/ successful etc? My
answer to this would be, Yes, if it's true. If the product in
question really does make you more sexy, for example, then you have
every right to tell consumers that it does.
But how could this be measured? 'In a survey of a randomly chosen
sample of consumers, users of laptop A were considered more sexy than
users of laptop B.' Well, an advertiser would never say this, just
like that. But they would imply it. The finesse here (as I argue in
'Ethics and Advertising') is to realize that the advertising campaign
in itself can give the product the power to make you more feel,
or appear sexy. The money invested in the campaign adds to the value
of the product, not by making it more useful, but by making the users
of the product feel or appear more sexy, or cool, or whatever.
I suspect that behind this question is a puritanical attitude that
hates the glitz and the glamour of today's marketplace. A car is just
a useful machine from getting you from A to B. A laptop is just a
useful device for sending emails and browsing the internet. As if!
I know that there will be some who are unsatisfied with my defence of
the glitz and glamour. Do we really want to live in a tinsel world far
removed from reality? -- How close to reality do you want to be? I
don't want my face rubbed in the dirt. Don't take away my dreams, the
world can be a hard place. But I understand that there's a happy
medium. Use value is an important consideration, of course it is.
Just don't get puritanical on me.
Is it ethical to use celebrities to sell products they probably
don't even use themselves? This is a sneaky question, because of
the use of the qualifier 'probably'. We have to look at two different
The first case is where a celebrity states that they use a product,
and that they like it and they endorse it. If they are lying, if they
don't use the product, then that is unethical, because it is unethical
to lie. There's no argument here. However, in the real world things
are not quite so black and white. Consider the immensely lucrative
field of sports endorsements. A leading tennis player uses Wilson
tennis rackets. But this isn't a Wilson that they purchased in a
local store. The racket has been finely adjusted and tweaked. To buy
something like that in a shop would cost you thousands. But surely
you'd have to be an idiot to think that you could win Wimbledon with
a racket you got from the local sports shop!
The second case is where celebrities appear in adverts but don't
explicitly endorse the product. Rather, the product gains glamour
through the association. Here, again, I think that most viewers of
the advert are not taken in. Having said that, you have to consider
things from the point of view of the celebrity. Would you, a famous
film actor for example, appear in an advert for a product that you
considered junk, which had the potential to harm your image? It is
not unreasonable to infer some degree of endorsement, even if this
isn't explicitly stated.
Is it the buyer's responsibility to be aware of these strategies
and not allow adverts to manipulate their emotions? If you are
able to prevent anyone ever manipulating your emotions then you are a
better man than me. Of course our emotions get manipulated, and often
we willingly allow this to happen. I don't like it when an
advert makes me feel bad, yet if it is an advert, say, for the
charity NSPCC which campaigns against child abuse then, then I know
that I ought to feel bad about the things the adverts depict.
On the other hand, if an advert makes me feel good that's a gift for
free, and I haven't even bought the product! Before buying it I will
consider the practicalities, of course, but in my eyes its value is
already enhanced. That's how human emotions work.
Consumers are not puppets, we do succeed in resisting what we see as
irresponsible or shameless manipulation of our emotions. It is in the
advertiser's own interest not to go too far in this respect, but to
remain within the bounds of good taste. Campaigns backfire badly when
advertising executives get this wrong.
Yes, emphatically, the buyer has responsibilities. The responsibility
doesn't all lie with the seller or advertiser. But there are different
cases to consider. If your marketing campaign is aimed at younger
persons, especially children, then different rules apply than if it
is aimed at adults. It's a matter of common sense.
1. Ask a Philosopher http://klempner.freeshell.org/askaphilosopher/
2. 'Ethics and Advertising'. Commissioned in 2004 by the Cardiff
Centre for Ethics, Law and Society http://www.ccels.cf.ac.uk
Anthologized in: Advertising Ethics: Indian Perspectives Le Magnus
University Press 2005 and also in Ethics, Law and Society Volume 2,
Jennifer Gunning and Soren Holm Eds., Ashgate 2006.
Online at: http://klempner.freeshell.org/articles/advertising.html
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2010
III. 'SOME QUESTIONS ON FREELANCING' BY PRITAM BHATTACHARYYA
Greetings ! My name is Pritam and I had been an attendee in the last
Philosophy of Management Conference in St. Annes. As a non-accademic,
it has been a humbling as well as interesting experience. I am writing
this to get some informed advice and judgement on a Research Project I
have been contemplating.
Before I put the Research project's key questions and issues, I think
my background would help you to advise me better. I have been trained
as a Telecom Engineer (1996) and later worked for a decade in various
Telecom corporations. Having done my Masters in Communication
Management from Strathclyde Business School, I started a language and
Cross Cultural Consulting Company www.wordsmithcommunication.com.
We have been providing translation, localization, digital publishing
and Print on Demand Services( 2005-till date). All these business
verticals utilize freelancers worldwide.
For last five years, in terms of developing and running my business I
had been dealing with freelancers all around the globe. Many such
business relationships graduated into deeper personal relationship.
My own readings about the changing nature of jobs in Internet world
as well as my daily interactions with freelancers make me ask
1. Is Freelancing a natural evolution of Job/ Work as we know or a
by-product of recession/ business cycles/ new technological paradigm?
2. How will this community of freelancers evolve in future?
3. What will be intra-community and inter-community impact/
repercussions of such evolution?
My research tells me that very little research work in academia has
been undertaken on this theme.
I would like to ask the community of academicians and professional
teachers and researchers whether these questions merit a formal
research. If yes, what are the possible and feasible ways this can be
I am a business owner with family to take care and hence a research
project/ process that I could afford to undertake needs to be
harmonized with what I do (for living) and intend to do (the
Kindly send me your advice/ input/ comment direct to my id at:
Many thanks for your time and kindness.
[Originally posted on the E-Management discussion list. To subscribe,