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In The Waste Land
With Mr. Zygmunt Bauman
Death itself is ‘banalized’ by proxy when that second-order substitute, the ‘twice removed’ death-experience, turns into a frequently repeated and infinitely repeatable occurrence. This indeed happens when human bonds become fragile, tied up only provisionally, with little if any prospect of durability, and are from the start frightfully easy to be untied at will and with little or no warning. As human bonds of the liquid-modern era become evidently brittle and ‘until further notice’, life turns into a daily rehearsal of death and of ‘life after death’, of resurrection or reincarnation - all performed by proxy, but like the ‘reality TV’ no less ‘real’ for that reason. The ‘absolute alterity’ that sets death experience apart from all life experiences, becomes now a familiar feature of quotidianity; stripped thereby of its mystery, familiarized and domesticated, the wild beast turns into a house pet.

The theme of the conflict in the relationship with the Others, especially in times of globalization and “great migrations” was the center of your thoughts already in Pensare Sociologicamente (Thinking Sociologically), in which you devote the whole III chapter to this theme. You return on it subsequently, in more systematic way, in Vite di scarto (Wasted Lives. Modernity and its Outcast). In reality, the “wasted lives” aren’t only those of those people whom live in so-called geographical “Third World”, but also those of those people whom are rejected to the borders (economic, cultural borders) of the advanced societies – and that are always more. Do you agree whit this affirmation?
As Peter Townsend pointed out, it is the logic of a consumer society to mould its poor as un-accomplished, or ‘flawed’, consumers: ‘consumer lifestyles are becoming increasingly inaccessible to those on the low incomes defined historically in terms of a fixed purchasing value of subsistence or basic needs ’. However, it is precisely that inaccessibility of consumer lifestyles that the consumer society trains its members to experience as the most painful of deprivations.
Every type of social order produces some visions of the dangers which threaten its identity. But each society spawns visions made to its own measure – to the measure of the kind of social order it struggles to achieve. On the whole, these visions tend to be mirror images of the society which spawns them, while images of threat tend to be self-portraits of the society with minus signs. Or, to put this in psychoanalytical terms, threats are projections of a society ’s own inner ambivalence about its own ways and means; about the fashion in which it lives and perpetuates its living.
A society unsure about the survival of its mode of being develops the mentality of a besieged fortress. The enemies who lay siege to its walls are its own, very own ‘inner demons’, the suppressed, ambient fears which permeate its daily life, its ‘normality’, yet which, in order to make the daily reality endurable, must be squashed and squeezed out of the lived-through quotidianity and moulded into an alien body: into a tangible enemy whom one can fight, and fight again, and even hope to conquer.
In line with this universal rule, the danger which haunted the classic, order-building and order-obsessed modern state was that of the revolution. The enemies were the revolutionaries, or, rather, the hot-headed, hare- brained, all-too-radical reformists, the subversive forces trying to replace the extant state-managed order with another state-managed order, with a counter-order reversing each and any principle by which the present order lived or aimed to live.
The self-image of social order has changed since those times and so the image of the threat – the image of order with a minus sign – has acquired a new shape. Whatever has been registered in recent years as rising criminality (a process, let us note, which happened to run parallel to the falling membership of the Communist or other radical parties of ‘alternative order’), is not a product of malfunction or neglect, but consumer society’s own product, logically (if not legally) legitimate. What is more, it is also its inescapable product. The higher is the consumer demand (that is, the more effective is the market seduction) the more is the consumer society safe and prosperous. Yet, simultaneously, the wider and deeper does the gap grow between those who desire and can satisfy their desires (those who have been seduced and
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proceed to act in the way the state of being seduced prompts them to act), and those who have been seduced and yet are unable to act in the way the seduced are expected to act. Market seduction is, simultaneously, the great equalizer and the great divider. To be effective, the enticement to consume, and to consume more, must be transmitted in all directions and addressed indiscriminately to everybody who will listen.
But more people can listen than can respond in the fashion which the seductive message was meant to elicit. Those who cannot act on the desires so induced are treated daily to the dazzling spectacle of those who can. Lavish consumption, they are told, is the sign of success, a highway leading straight to public applause and fame.
They also learn that possessing and consuming certain objects and practising certain lifestyles is the necessary condition of happiness; perhaps even of human dignity.
If consumption is the measure of a successful life, of happiness and even of human decency, then the lid has been taken off human desires; no amount of acquisitions and exciting sensations is likely ever to bring satisfaction in the way the ‘keeping up to the standards’ once promised: there are no standards to keep up to. The finishing line moves forward together with the runner, the goals keep forever a step or two ahead as one tries to reach them. Records keep being broken, and there seems to be no end to what a human may desire. Dazzled and baffled, people learn that in the newly privatized, and thus ‘liberated’ companies which they remember as austere public institutions constantly famished for cash, the present managers draw salaries measured in millions, while those sacked from their managerial chairs are indemnified, again in millions of pounds, for their botched and sloppy work.
From all places, through all communication channels, the message comes loud and clear: there are no standards except that of grabbing more, and no rules, except the imperative of ‘playing one’s cards right’.
However, no card game hands are even. If winning is the sole object of the game, those who got a poor hand are tempted to try whatever other re- sources they can muster.
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