The Placebo of Simulacra

ImageAt some point, everyone experiences difficulty, an issue at hand, a struggle which they hope to overcome. These struggles are as varied as the stars, and may take the best part of one’s life to play out; many will not succeed. One of the greatest struggles facing so many people today is developing nurturing, fruitful relationships grounded upon honesty and mutual respect. Such enriching associations have become increasingly rare as life itself has become almost absolutely commoditised into a one-size-fits-all, third-party-designed, constructed mush that calls itself ‘community’, while actually choking the roots of the older, organic communities that grew out of the mutual aid that characterises so much of nature. As the broad mass of people they have become dependent upon faceless, apparitional institutions called states (or, to use their more ancient, monstrous name: Leviathans), they no longer need to relate to others in order to be given their daily bread or to have their trespasses forgiven.

The desire to relate and create real communities has not wholly dissipated but instead continues to rumble underneath the concrete of constructed relations. But the desire is rarely – if ever – manifested in a rationally-chosen act that leads to real emancipation. Why? 

The answer is found in the nature of the present social paradigm, in that it is committed to the consumption and destruction of all organic relations.

So, as struggles emerge, they are not usually identified and analysed by the person involved in the struggle. Instead, the struggle continues long enough to be recognised by those seeking to profit from the ills of others, and a solution (in the form of a product or service) is offered. But are these real solutions or merely rather placebos, which do nothing but fill us with a transient contentedness that utterly avoids the crux of the matter?

Recently I witnessed a documentary which discussed the growth of the sex doll industry – a sub-section of the modern leviathan dedicated to the production of hyper-realistic, life-sized dolls that provide a form of sexual relief for interested parties who, for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to obtain it from or with other people. It has been discovered that some users actually treat the dolls as ‘the other half’ of a simulated full relationship. The dolls are – by their very lifelessness – perfect in the sense that their form is designed to conform to the notions of beauty held by the consumer. In fact, their appearance can be entirely moulded by the owner. More importantly they do not speak – so there are no disagreements, no discussions; the pretence of a relationship is maintained but without the challenge and reward of a real relationship. The dolls have no consciousness, no feelings, no values, no desires and neither could they demonstrate them even if they did have them, lacking volition. Ultimately, all of these missing elements are projected from the imagination of the customer onto the doll in question, filling in the empty gaps that make up what we call life. Indeed, those gaps are seen in a positive light, a perverse creative freedom to create the conditions of ‘life’ that the dead-eyed tabula rasa in front of them must accommodate, limited only by the owners’ ability to imagine the different personalities to imprint upon it.

Some commentators undoubtedly see the creation of such simulacra as a triumph of human reason, design and engineering. To some, these dolls demonstrate the incredible ability of economic markets to provide exactly what people want. I see it as nothing more than an outgrowth of stupidity, fear and laziness. The artificial cannot offer a real cure for the ills of social alienation and loneliness of industrialised society, only a sterile placebo.

When asked about the social effects of the production of these dolls, one manufacturer gave the example of a particular customer in Alaska. Selling his labour in a particularly inhospitable part of Alaska, the customer in question found it difficult to meet people to develop friendships with, let alone full-scale romantic relationships. The company owner was proud to be making such a difference to this particular man’s life, and claimed to be enriching both himself and the customer through the provision of the cutting-edge technology his organization produces.

Upon watching this, my head was filled with many questions, but most clear was: “What was this person doing in such a remote part of Alaska?”. We may reasonably assume that his position has something to do with some form of economic resource which industrial markets demand, his situation of life thus dictated by the facts of utilitarian industrial society. Further, we may deduce that said customer was paid at a higher rate for working in such an inhospitable and lonely climate. What further supports this is the fact that the customer had enough petty cash at hand to afford the shipment of a hyper-realistic sex doll to Alaska, which in many cases are sold at prices numbering in many thousands of dollars.

What is most disturbing is the following conclusion: – that, rather than choosing to leave Alaska and move to a climate far more conducive for the establishment of a real relationship, the customer chose to use his wealth to purchase a lifeless placebo provided to him through the implements of industrial society. Thus, the industrialised social process demonstrates its own self-replicating completion – a misery which creates more demand for a placebo. The misery and the placebo are both products of industrial society. Relentlessly, the immiseration continues, briefly punctuated by the artificial sense of ‘lift’ created by the consumption of placebos, yet always returning to a void of no value. Continually, the self is in retreat from the issue at hand, afraid to confront and rectify the fundamental conflicts in its life.  Running away from our struggles for authenticity will lead us only into cul-de-sacs further and further away from where we want to be; from where we need to be. 

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