The Expulsion of the Other
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The Expulsion of the Other

Society, Perception and Communication Today

Byung-Chul Han, Wieland Hoban

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eBook - ePub

The Expulsion of the Other

Society, Perception and Communication Today

Byung-Chul Han, Wieland Hoban

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About This Book

The days of the Other are over in this age of excessive communication, information and consumption. What used to be the Other, be it as friend, as Eros or as hell, is now indistinguishable from the self in our narcissistic desire to assimilate everything and everyone until there are no boundaries left. The result is a 'terror of the Same', lives in which we no longer pursue knowledge, insight and experience but are instead reduced to the echo chambers and illusory encounters offered by social media. In extreme cases, this feeling of disorientation and senselessness is compensated through self-harm, or even harming others through acts of terrorism. Byung-Chul Han argues that our times are characterized not by external repression but by an internal depression, whereby the destructive pressure comes not from the Other but from the self. It is only by returning to a society of listeners and lovers, by acknowledging and desiring the Other, that we can seek to overcome the isolation and suffering caused by this crushing process of total assimilation.

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Information

Publisher
Polity
Year
2018
ISBN
9781509523092

1
The Terror of the Same

The time in which there was such a thing as the Other is over. The Other as a secret, the Other as a temptation, the Other as eros, the Other as desire, the Other as hell and the Other as pain disappear. The negativity of the Other now gives way to the positivity of the Same. The proliferation of the Same constitutes the pathological changes that afflict the social body. It is made sick not by denial and prohibition, but by over-communication and over-consumption; not by suppression and negation, but by permissiveness and affirmation. The pathological sign of our times is not repression but depression. Destructive pressure comes not from the Other but from within.
Depression as internal pressure develops autoaggressive traits. The depressive performance subject1 is as it were beaten down or suffocated by the self. Not only the violence of the Other is destructive; the expulsion of the Other sets in motion an entirely different process of destruction, namely that of self-destruction. In general, the dialectic of violence applies: a system that rejects the negativity of the Other develops self-destructive traits.
The violence of the Same is invisible because of its positivity. The proliferation of the Same presents itself as growth. At a certain point, however, production is no longer productive but destructive, information is no longer informative but deformative, and communication is no longer communicative but merely cumulative.
Today, perception itself takes the form of ‘bingewatching’. This refers to the consumption of videos and films without any temporal restrictions. The consumers are continuously offered those films and series that match their taste, and therefore please them. Like consumer livestock, they are fattened with ever-new sameness. Binge-watching can be generalized as the contemporary mode of perception. The proliferation of the Same resembles not a carcinoma but a coma, and does not meet with any immunological defences. One goggles oneself into unconsciousness.
The cause of an infection is the negativity of the Other, who infiltrates the Same and leads to the formation of antibodies. The infarction, on the other hand, comes from an excess of the Same, from the obesity of the system. It is not infectious but adipose. Fat creates no antibodies. No immunological defence can prevent the proliferation of the Same.
The negativity of the Other provides form and measure for the Selfsame; without it, the Same proliferates.2 The Selfsame is not identical to the Same; it always appears in tandem with the Other. The Same, by contrast, lacks a dialectical counterpart that can limit and form it, and thus proliferates into a formless mass. The Selfsame has a form, an inner collectedness, an inwardness that is due to its difference from the Other. The Same, however, is formless. As it lacks dialectical tension, it leads to an indifferent collection, a sprawling mass of indistinguishability.
We can only say ‘the selfsame’ if we think difference. It is in the carrying out and settling of differences that the gathering nature of the selfsame comes to light. The selfsame banishes all zeal always to level what is different into the same. The selfsame gathers what is distinct into an original being-at-one. The same, on the contrary, disperses them into the dull unity of mere uniformity.3
The terror of the Same affects all areas of life today. One travels everywhere, yet does not experience anything. One catches sight of everything, yet reaches no insight. One accumulates information and data, yet does not attain knowledge. One lusts after adventures and stimulation, but always remains the same. One accumulates online ‘friends’ and ‘followers’, yet never encounters another person. Social media constitutes an absolute zero grade of the social.
Total interconnection and total communication by digital means does not facilitate encounters with Others. Rather, it serves to pass over those who are unfamiliar and other, and instead find those who are the same or like-minded, ensuring that our horizon of experience becomes ever narrower. It draws us into an endless ego loop, ultimately leading to an ‘autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas’.4
The negativity of the Other and of transformation is what constitutes experience in an emphatic sense. To have an experience of something means ‘that this something befalls us, strikes us, comes over us, overwhelms and transforms us’.5 Its essence is pain. The same, however, is not painful. Today, pain gives way to an online ‘like’, which continues the Same.
Information is simply available. Knowledge in an emphatic sense, however, is a long and slow process. It displays an entirely different temporality. It matures. Maturation is a temporality that we are increasingly losing today. It is not compatible with today’s politics of time, which fragments time and eliminates temporally stable structures in order to increase efficiency and productivity.
Even the largest accumulation of information, Big Data, possesses very little knowledge. Big Data is used to find correlations. A correlation states: when A occurs, B often also occurs. It is not known, however, why this is so. Correlation is the most primitive form of knowledge, being not even capable of ascertaining the relationship between cause and effect. It is so. The question of why becomes irrelevant; thus nothing is understood. But knowledge is understanding. Hence Big Data renders thought superfluous. We surrender ourselves without concern to the it-is-so.
Thought has access to the entirely Other. It can interrupt the Same; therein lies its event character. Calculation, on the other hand, is an endless repetition of the Same; in contrast to thought, it cannot produce any new state. It is blind to the event. True thought, however, is eventful. The French word for ‘digital’ is numérique. The numerical makes everything countable and comparable. Thus it perpetuates the Same.
Insight6 in an emphatic sense is also transformative. It produces a new state of consciousness. Its structure resembles that of a redemption, providing more than the solution to a problem. It puts those in need of redemption in an entirely different state of being.
In his text ‘Love and Knowledge’, Max Scheler points out that Augustine ascribes to plants ‘in mysterious ways’ a longing to be looked at by humans, ‘as though what happens to plants through love-derived insight is a kind of analogue of […] redemption’.7 If a flower had a fullness of being within itself it would not feel a need to be looked at; hence it has a lack, a lack of being. The loving gaze, a ‘love-derived insight’, redeems it from the state of lack. It is thus an ‘analogue of redemption’. Insight is redemption. It has a loving relation to its object as something Other. This is where it differs from mere cognizance or information, which entirely lacks the dimension of the Other.
Negativity inheres in the event, for it brings with it a new relationship with reality, a new world, a new understanding of what is. It suddenly places everything in an entirely different light. Heidegger’s ‘forgetfulness of being’ means nothing other than this event-blindness. Heidegger would say that today’s communication noise, the digital flurry of data and information, deafens us to the noiseless roar of the truth, to its silent violence: ‘A roar: it is / truth itself / stepped among / mankind, / right into the / metaphor-flurry.’8
The beginnings of the digital revolution were dominated above all by utopian projects. Flusser, for example, elevated digital interconnection to the technology of altruism. Being-human then means being-connected to Others. Digital interconnection supposedly enables a ...

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