|Onion: Between Symbol and Metaphor|
Years ago I was writing about symbol and the way it was ruling more and more powerfully our existence in an absolutely pragmatic relation to the functions that gave the present configuration of this existence. For people, as abstraction makers, haven't contented themselves with creating golden coins identical in weight but with different values depending on their coins issue, as in the Byzantine Empire, but they have added another stratum to this shape of a potential utilitarian value, meaning the credit system and the interest rate later, so that today we have come to know about certain values ("goat", "house", "car") that they exist and move into the physical world in the same way that we know of some undetected galaxies that they are and evolve only by some mathematical ecuations.
We said then, briefly, that we were witnessing a recurrence of teh Maedieval situation when the social group at relative ease in handling the new abstraction level replaced the real value owners .; probably, it was the first time when a mammalian society found themselves lead not by a force or religion elite but by a group which was influential solely because they knew how to deal with abstraction.
Let me specify at this point: irresepctive of their old or new masters, the symbols of the symbols have have nothing to do with what they were supposed to be at the beginning,, meaning a one to one correspondence in any point of the sandwich we might probe. Nevertheless, the old and the new masters of teh values' abstraction are scarcely interested in these correspondences, it is as if you imagined a bank manager inquiring where exactly the money is that equals the goat of a certain X and that is invested by his bank together with many other amounts in who knows how many deals. What interests all these people - and it is natural to be so- is (this would be the point separating them esentially from political potence in our present meaning) their own well-being and, consequently, a world that would make this possible.
So, don't let us be foolled: the well-being doesn't refer only and at most to material wealth.. Maybe we see it this way from here but in the Western civilisation one doesn't want to have a car, but a certain car. This is the way to assert a culture, not only through a bunch of top people that are born statisticaly once in a generation but through the numerous average ones who applaud, encourage them and -what do you think?- even they pay them. Things haven't stopped here and -without many quality variations and imagination, as you wish- mankind continues to build other levels of abstraction and this is not difficult to see. It's less obvious that this new strata are not ruled anymore by the same social group that juggled with th former ones.
Money is changed to banknotes, banknotes to cheques, cheques to credit cards, shares, dividends and these are transformed one by one into bits. Our goods are crowded at the junction goat / bit in a desperate queue to pass customs, to pass them and their qulities to the other side, to the side of lists lacking the tiniest drop of meaning, obscure lists of 0 and 1, so mobile that they would surpass -if we bothered to make the comparison- the Brownian stir in a glass of water. Within this growing madness of separating from substance, the wealth of a Bill Gates becomes a good joke because it doesn't really exist. Certainly, one can produce papers to prove it does. But how much it will worth tomorrow if its unhappy master would decide to turn it to concrete valuables no bank manager would dare to count serenely.
Moreover, Gates is a perfect representative of the confusion of teh hyperconsumption of meaning in the frantic building of new abstract strata. His adherence, in anxious panic, as it seemed to me, to the class of previous generation's meaning manipulators, his failure in this attempt at betraying his kind, the abyss of meaning that Baudrillard deplores impertinently at the other side of the bridge as well as the little wars over encryption, the right to private communication, soon over the access to the Internet as fundamental human right, all these are only pleasant ripples in the whirl of the vortex.
Maybe you expect me to write now on the sites in the cyberspace, our daily existence on the chair by the computer, love on the Internet or correspondence courses. You are wrong: I don't refer in this text to some faraway group on the Web that we should witness and learn about its history but I invite you to think along with me because you, as readers, are the group concerned.
You (and me, meaning us) are those who - slowlier or faster, standing close or far, honestly and unwillingly or dihonestly and on purpose- have permanently taken part at the coup d'état these years and the consequences of that we may or may not live to see , depending on us, on our desires. We recognize each other when we talk, we laugh at the same jokes since we understand that for the moment PC-s are designed without coffee tray, we fight over Unix versus NT, we fold together our sheets at the beach or at least we exchange e-mailed musical postcards. I ask us then and will continue to ask this question periodically; How the new meaning cocoon of the globe will look like or simpler: where is your own well being?