pessimism in french philosophy and the deceiving ice bucket challenge

In the era where information accessibility has almost reached its pick it is hard to believe in the words of Emil Cioran: “Knowledge is the plague of life, and consciousness, an open wound in its heart”. An advocate of existential pessimism, whose constant struggle with physical conditions and childhood years spent near a cemetery situated at his parents` house garden, Cioran has been convinced that people seek for pleasure in disillusionment. Those who live in utopias are surprised after their awakening and perceiving the verity. If Cioran is right, why would we say that the information around us forms illusions? Why would the seemingly trustworthy sources of information be deceiving us? First, think of the world history, wasn`t it portrayed differently by various authors? Think of the governments, don`t they have power to use the largest periodicals as means of transmitting specific information to the public? Doesn’t mass media own our mind? In some way, we do become slaves of public opinion and lose our identity to the values, ideas and preferences of the more powerful bodies.

The question I posed myself was: do we become mere masses when we are penetrated with public opinions, social trends and terabytes of information? To answer this question (better say to get closer to answering) I referred to the philosopher whose views have been so interesting to me in the past year. Baudrillard has redefined the notion of masses by calling them black holes that do not reflect the social. The masses devour information and at the same time they do not represent any social groups, this is why they are black holes. Does it mean that they are easily controlled? Maybe not, as according to Baudrillard masses are neither subjects, not objects of simulation. And the more information is infused in the masses, the bigger they become. The original objective to control the hypnotized masses led to an opposite effect – the masses use this information to create a hyperreality.

Although the idea of having your mind controlled by vast amounts of information that fall on us daily is not very appealing, often we do not realize when we become victims of false information. In summer 2014 an Ice Bucket Challenge initiated by ALS Association has rocketed in social media when around 17 million people have uploaded their videos on Facebook to demonstrate their support. When the original purpose of launching the viral campaign was to make people donate money, one cannot be assured that first, everyone who made a video, donated money, second, each of the participants knew the real scale of the problem, third, what percentage of money should be spent on the research and how much on marketing. The fun idea of pouring a bucket of ice cold water on your head was launched into the ‘masses’ and made viral in a blink of an eye, however, the true meaning of the campaign was partially lost. However, this does not mean that they haven`t raised much money, because they did raise 98.2$ millions. But the reason why people did it has changed – some did it to increment popularity in social networks, some just for fun, some in order to donate less money. Some of the celebrities with higher income have donated same amounts as people with average income and some have refused to do the challenge even though being nominated. As discussed previously, the crowd has devoured the challenge, but its meaning was partially lost.

To start with, the original purpose of dumping water on your head was NOT TO DONATE, hence, all of the millions of videos posted signpost that the donation has not been made. Well, eventually they made a smaller donation, but the original idea was deformed by the masses. Taking this idea further it should be highlighted that the challenge had a negative effect on other charities. First, say a small plastic bucket holds 6 liters of water in it which makes it 102000000 liters of sweet water wasted on the challenge (assuming that most of the people would take the water out of the tap). Does it go against the water-saving initiatives worldwide? I think yes.

Second, the ALS challenge brought up the moral licensing problem which psychologists explain as a behavioral pattern when doing something good (like donating to a charity) makes people create a subconscious excuse for doing something less ethically acceptable. Therefore, making a financial contribution might lead to negative consequences from the other side of the spectrum. The issues discussed above complimented with the fact that charities with more creative marketing campaigns (and not with more urgent causes) win more money, lead to the point made by Baudrillard that while vast amounts of information are being injected into masses, this information dissolves in the minds of the masses rather than being structured, which makes it hard to define and direct the mass towards a unified meaning. The mass is disillusioned with the information and the impulses that specific groups try to impose on. A similar effect Baudrillard explains as simulacra, the false representation of reality, the world that seems defined and well-explained when in fact it is a system of illusions and false representations.

Hyperreality is all around us and it is such a perfect reflection that we don`t even notice it. The virtual exists not only due to modern technologies, social networks and 3D movies, rather than it is a carefully elaborated strategy of the elite, powerful storytelling of mass media and advertising gurus and the boundless possibilities of human imagination.



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