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IN ENGLISH

INTERVIEW | BYUNG-CHUL HAN >

“In Orwell’s ‘I984’ society knew it was


being dominated. Not today”
Speaking in Barcelona, South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han argues
social values have been eroded by consumerist culture
CARLES GELI

Barcelona - 7 FEB 2018 - 15:50 CET

Philosopher Byung-Chul Han, in Barcelona yesterday. MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI (EL PAlS)

Philosopher Byung-Chul Hal is one of the most recognized critics of the problems caused
by the hyper-consumerist and neoliberal society after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In books
such as Fatigue Society, Psychopolitics and The Expulsion of Difference (published in
Spain by Herder), the South Korean-born German author takes aim at this society and its
effects on the individual.

“ln Orwell’s 1984 society knew it was being dominated. Today we are not even aware of
the domination," he said on Tuesday at the Center of Contemporary Culture in Barcelona
(CCCB). There, speaking about the eradication of difference, the Berlin University of the
Arts professor gave his vision of the world today, a world where people exploit
themselves, fear otherness and live in “the desert, hell or sameness."

Authenticity. According to Han, people sell Time worked is time lost,


themselves as authentic “because everyone it is not timefor
wants to be different from the rest." This Ourselves
forces a person to “produce themselves” and
this is impossible to do authentically because
from “the desire to be different creates
sameness." As a result, the system only allows
“marketable differences," he says.

Self-exploitation. ln Han's opinion, society's attitude has moved from “we have to do it"
to “we can do it." “We live with the anguish of not always doing what we are able to do.”
“Today a person exploits themselves believing they are fulfilling themselves. It is the
wicked logic of neoliberalism that culminates in the syndrome of the burned-out worker."
This has a very damaging effect. “There is no one the revolution can attack, repression
does not come from other people." It is the “alienation of one’s self” that can manifest as
anorexia, overeating or the over-consumption of consumer or leisure products.

Big data. “Macrodata has made thought superfluous because if everything is countable
everything is the same We are in the middle of dataism: man is no longer in charge of
himself but is instead the result of an algorithmic operation that controls him without him
realizing it. We see it in China with the concession of visas according to state data, or in
face-recognition technology." Will refusing to share data or be on social networks turn
into an act of revolt? “We have to adjust the system: the ebook is made to be read, not so
I can be read through algorithms... Or does the algorithm now make the man? In the
United States, we have seen the influence of Facebook in the elections... We need a
digital agreement that restores human dignity and to consider a basic income for
professions that will be devoured by new technologies."

The desire to be different Communication. “Without the presence of


creates Sameness another, communication will degenerate into
an information exchange: relationships will be
replaced by connections, and only connect
with the same. Digital communication is just
sight, we have lost all our sense, we are at a
stage where communication has been weakened like never before: global communication
and “likes” are restricted to what is most similar. Sameness doesn't hurt!"
Garden. “I am different, I am surrounded by analogue objects. I have two 400kg pianos
and for three years I have grown a secret garden that connects me to reality: colors,
scents, feelings... I have allowed myself to notice the earth’s otherness: earth had weight,
everything was done by hand, what’s digital has no weight, no resistance, you can move a
finger and there it is It is the abolition of reality. My next book will be called Eulogy to
earth. The secretgarden. Earth is more than digits and numbers."

Narcissism. Han believes that “being observed is a central part of our being today." But
the problem is that the “narcissist is blind when it comes to seeing the other." and
without this other “one cannot create a sense of self-esteem by themselves." Art has also
been affected by this trend: “It has degenerated into narcissism, it is at the service of the
consumer, stupid and unjustifiable quantities of money are spent on it, it is already a
victim of the system."

Others. This is central to Han’_s most recent Earth is more than digits
reflections. “The greater the similarity between and numbers
people, the greater the production, this is the
current logic. Capitalism needs all of us to be
the same, including tourists. Neoliberalism
would not work if people were different." To
recover our differences, Han suggests “returning to the inner animal, which doesn't
consume or communicate unfortunately. I don’t have concrete solutions. In the end the
system might implode by itself... In whatever case, we are living in a radically conformist
time... the world is at the limit of its capacities, perhaps it will short circuit and we will
recover this inner animal."

Refugees. On this subject Han is very clear: with the current neoliberal system “refugees
do not inspire fear, terror or disgust but are rather seen as a burden, with resentment or
envy."

Time. The way time is used needs to be revolutionized, says Han. “Time worked is time
lost, it is not time for ourselves."

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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