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The strange outcome of the modern journey (2/2)

While the postmodern project has condemned since Kant the idea of ​​understanding "everything in the world" by rejecting any metaphysics saying the alpha and the omega, our planet is won over by a new great story, this time made up of numbers. . The age of the algorithm reinvents the mathesis universalis.

We had seen previously that postmodernism was a refusal of all teleology, of the very idea of ​​transcendence, and therefore of progress, and that, in this sense, humanism, as an ethical philosophy bearing on an essence of humanity and ends in the he story of its realization as emancipation was not compatible with the project of nihilism.

Read also:The tragedy of postmodernism (Salim Mokaddem)

The latter, on the contrary, institutes the essence as a bundle of cultural, ideal, moral, social, historical, scientific, religious determinations, in short asepistememaking it possible to understand the productions and the conditions of historical possibilities (archaeological and genealogical) of the ends of man. One can therefore ask what is the possible ethics of a postmodern anti- or counter-humanism.

Postmodernity is caught between, on the one hand, the pitfall of melancholy solitude which would come from the sterile repetition of its vanities – new Death of Virgil (Herman Broch) – and, on the other, the incessant rehashing of finitudes which determine his romantic tear. A romantic split that is both internal (the impossible unity of the subject) and external (the unattainable sovereignty of reason traversed). In this context, postmodernity can no longer oppose the disorders of the world and the chaos that upset it with the luminous rationalities of yesteryear. No general theory can govern events; no neutral language will reconcile the differences of the real due to the multiplication of truths and the multiple reasons for being more or less all legitimate.

The algorithm or the return of themathesis universalis

The era of the great Pan which reigned over everything is definitively closed; only themathesis universalisreturns today in the form of algorithm or numeracy as the ontological truth of the formalization of the world under the head of Number. This new illusion imposes a religion: that of economism as the truth of politics. Thus the States of the world obey an arithmetic logic (often confused with an investment logic) and a general calculation of data reduced to their coded expression andbehaviorist(as if all economic actors operated in a Pavlovian way to the stimuli of globalized consumerism).

The virtual world, information and communication technologies (and their variations in educational, media, banking, administrative, security, military, relational, social fields, etc.), the GAFAMs, tend to invest reality and to cover the world, the totality of the noosphere by producing a generalized hyper-connection, recognizing neither space-time nor logic of linear causality. Like the Freudian Unconscious[1]knowing neither chronological space nor time ordered by a principle of reversibility, and like postmodernism which lives on memories and relics more or less arranged in the form of comfortable patchworks in its store of memory, the religion of economism proceeds from a denial or indifference to reality. Also, the risk is great that the invisibilization of the discourse of the algorithm fits very well with the cultural relativism and the metaphysical indifference of postmodernism.

Here and there, methods of managing human resources, artificial intelligence and human capital begin to dehumanize the social fact to better subject it to the absolutism of the mathematical truths of the calculation of flows and the logic of purchase. , sale, resale, investment, financialization in order to optimize the resource considered as total exchange value. Must we repeat it: calculation is not intelligence and the first intelligence still resides in the use of the symbolic function?

The return to the Idea of ​​a grand narrative, that of Capital or Market Value as the fetish of work or the value of values, comes at a time when the world was believed to be freed from metaphysical chimeras. A new idolatry is emerging: that of economism or the anthropological reduction of the human world to that of the economy of investment and financialized capitalization. This would be nothing if the contradictions between the real and the speculative were not actualized by monetary flows that do not quite correspond to the values ​​issued by the more or less imaginary exchange vouchers of the currencies. Each central bank then invents its regulatory system (gold, commodity standard, circulation of goods, monetary exchanges, currency markets, credit regulation, structural adjustment plans, etc.). But the organizational thus becomes an abstract hypostasis that subjects peoples and human life to a supranational, supra-state and supra-biological order which is that of growth and decline revisited by so-called market economies (and which no longer exist since the banks regulate the circulation of currencies and loans on public markets).

New relationship to required knowledge

The ethics of modernity consisted in the project of the Enlightenment: to value any process of knowledge and all the sciences in order to leave the superstitious and more or less alienating fog of religions and false knowledge to emancipate the subject in order to make him a citizen autonomous, critical, capable of judgment, and able to assume the responsibilities of its new freedom and its actions in history. It was then a matter of constructing the man of man and giving a human face to his history by relying on knowledge freed from dogma and onto-theological beliefs.

The ethics of postmodernity requires another relationship to knowledge; a distance from the effects of science and technology so that technology (which is not technology) and the biopolitical effects of norms and algorithmic rationalizations do not become ways of animalizing the mind and robotize it to the point of turning ignorance into a passion. It is true that ICT and mass entertainment industries (already analyzed by Broch[2]in its time) and leisure tend to make each moment of life a moment when the living works against itself and without knowing it; the uses of digital and the use of metadata that are generated by the fact of “using” digital, whatever the way in which it is used, invade “free” time and private space.

Social networks are fields of virtual consumerism; the navigations populate tables of data profiling possible investments and economic profiles. Nothing escapes the machinery of indefinite calculability and infinitely exponentializable memory; the citizen then runs the risk of (again) becoming a human-machine, an “animated tool” (Aristotle, Politics) if not a machined human, machined by numbers. In this dystopia that is our present, in this epistemic configuration of generalized surveillance and the biopolitics of digitized norms, what power remains for the human agent? Where can the will still manifest its own freedom? How can the individual caught up in numeracy still act thoughtfully, rationally, by manifesting an authentic and free being that can give it an existence other than that of a cognitive and digital profile? How to become an actor in a fragmented, fragmented, postmodernized world, where the self is only the link in a digital chain that implements and understands it better than it understands itself? The Enlightenment had its dark side, manifested during the colonial conquests, the world wars and the barbarities conducted in the name of the civilization of humanism and the universal that reason guided in history (Hegel, 1830); postmodernity works to make discourse a useless event, a parasitic element, an excess to be eliminated in order to perfect the device for connecting impulses to the most aggressive economic markets.

In other words, today it would be a question of putting at a distance this Self which made the heyday of modernity and rejecting this presence to oneself which culminates in individualized narcissism, mass narcissism, allowing generalized filing and digital calculation of individual profiles in terms of data and metadata forming the equation of our lives, closest to our intimacies, in the interstices of our daily and continuous confessions on our tablets, computers, mobile phones and other connected objects. The digital economy is connected to our lives, our desires, our impulses and we are calculated as much as calculating in this digital game where we are acted as much as actors in our network of direct and indirect determinations.

Postmodernity or the sense of the West

It seems that the difference between modernity and postmodernity stems from a posture vis-à-vis history and the politics of truths and knowledge. The modern wants to be resolutely master and aware of its destiny where the postmodern willingly abandons itself to the flow of the computerization of its life and to the rational calculability of its possible: it experiences the virtual as a perfection or a perfectibility to come. As if postmodernity gave human beings the possibility of living what the history of humanity wanted since its origin and which was long contained in the colorful and more or less encrypted discourse of the Abrahamic religions. Postmodernity seems to whisper, in a slightly perverse way, to lustful ears, this new formula of temptation: "You will be like in the Garden of Eden,

Postmodernity could well then make the choice to no longer have to choose in order to better live its state of daze in a digital garden where the artificiality of the garden is not synthetic (a garden which is not natural because it was built by an Other benevolent and provident, God the Father); but, this paradise is not completely artificial either (because there are many carnal and sensual fruits on the trees of this garden) and it can just as well offer to the man and to the woman virtual desires, like those of no longer biting the apple directly, and of not taking direct pleasures from the carnal body of the human world. But thus, to live one's life in a virtual way, and to have artificial fruits crunched by virtual ghosts, holograms of a humanity that is no longer one, asks that the human abdicates his desire to know and his need for emancipation. To have to choose ignorance rather than the risk of sin, and to want to live a life which is however properly superhuman, to have overcome the belief in a world other than that where the body is caught in the trap of networks digital, these two issues of postmodernity seem to be the very current ones through which the meaning of the Western journey and of the whole world finds its strange denouement.

Namely, to pay the price of his comfort by a passion of accepted ignorance and a permanent recourse to the delegation and the devolution of the thought in order not to undergo the tragic drama of the finitude enslaved by his own amnesiac narcissism.

[1]Freud, Metapsychology (1915), trans. J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, eds. Folio, no. 30, Paris, 1986. [2]Hermann Broch,Logic of a disintegrating world(Logik einer zerfallender Welt, 1931) trans. Christian Bouchindhomme, published in:Logic of a ruined world, six philosophical essays, Editions de l'Eclat, coll. "Imaginary Philosophy", 2005; and especially thePsychology of the masses, 1959 (not currently available in French).


Aristotle, Policies, book 1, trans. P. Pellegrin, in Complete Works, ed. Flammarion, 2014

Hermann Broch,The Death of Virgil(1945), ed. Gallimard, 1980

Michel Foucault,Words and things, ed. Gallimard, 1966

Michel Foucault,The Archeology of Knowledge, ed. Gallimard, 1969

Georg WF Hegel,The reason in the story, trans. K. Papaioannou, ed. Plon, 1965

Georg WF Hegel,Phenomenology of Spirit(1806), trans. B. Bourgeois, ed. Vrin, 2006

Emmanuel Kant,Critique of pure reason(1781) in Complete Works, ed. Gallimard, “La Pléïade”.

Emmanuel Kant,Critique of practical reason(1787) in Complete Works, op. cit..

Jean-François Lyotard,The post-modern condition, ed. Midnight, 1975

Salim Mokaddem,Foucault. A philosophical life, ed. Social field, 2014

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