The crisis of modernity
Reviewed by Shelley Walia

Collateral Damage
by Zygmunt Bauman
Cambridge: Polity. Pages 182. £14.99.

Collateral Damage as a term is not unique to only armed conflict. As argued by Zygmunt Bauman in his recent book Collateral Damage, it is also "one of the most salient and striking dimensions of contemporary social inequality. The inflammable mixture of growing social inequality and the rising volume of human suffering marginalised as ‘collateral’ is becoming one of most cataclysmic problems of our time."

Bauman goes on to elaborate this idea: "For the political class, poverty is commonly seen as a problem of law and order — a matter of how to deal with individuals, such as unemployed youth, who fall foul of the law. But treating poverty as a criminal problem obscures the social roots of inequality, which lie in the combination of a consumerist life philosophy propagated and instilled by a consumer-oriented economy, on the one hand, and the rapid shrinking of life chances available to the poor, on the other."

Collateral damage is contextualised within a broader global scenario where order and rationality have ended in an "uncertainty and randomness of 'liquid' modernity". Dreams of a progressive society now lie buried under consumerism that is central to the crisis of modernity. Those at the margins stand neglected in a world order where exclusivity of a few is guarded against any encroachments from below.

Such a cultural struggle, as argued by another contemporary cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek, is needed at every level to fix the problem of this damage. His concern is with an economic life that is pervaded by culture and is dependent on moral bonds of social trust. Only societies with a high degree of social trust can create the kind of flexible, large-scale business organisations needed for successful competition in the emerging global economy and international order. Joining hands with Marx and Walter Benjamin, Zizek castigates the lack of aura in late capitalism: "While capitalism does suspend the power of the old ghosts of tradition, it generates its own monstrous ghosts. That is to say: On the one hand, capitalism entails the radical secularization of social life — it mercilessly tears apart any aura of authentic nobility, sacredness, honour, and so on."

But where does this 'trust' come from especially in a society where you have a new global class with citizenships of various countries and ownership of mansions, cottages and bungalows strewn across the globe? These global citizens live a private life of seclusion, which is dotted with well-planned itineraries to the most exotic of places and adventures in the most exhilarating of terrains. The farce lies in the very idea of ‘fear’ that haunts the super rich who endeavour to keep themselves away from disease, violence and crime. In such a world there is the absence of the other less-'fortunate' classes.

All this opulence is obviously gained through the predatory workings of the free-market economy under capitalism. Bauman holds on to his faith in the emancipatory thinking of Marx and Engels, who wrote in The Communist Manifesto that "capitalism had drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation." In such a world of technological development in the area of communication and surveillance, privacy is dead, and "consumerism, built on capitalism's wager on the infinity of human needs, makes the attempt to solve humanity's problems by finding or imposing ordered solutions which is an impossibility, given the permanent state of recasting needs and desires." Though global transformist thought in areas of social justice, universal human rights, rule of law, global anti-war movements and transnational goodwill remain an aspiration of survival, the free market dramatics is underneath designed to accept casualties without questioning the rationality of the system. Clearly "casualties are dubbed 'collateral' in so far as they are dismissed as not important enough to justify the costs of their prevention, or simply 'unexpected' because the planners did not consider them worthy of inclusion among the objects of preparatory reconnoitring."