Conformity and Autonomy: Baudrillard and Emerging Leadership

In our world of imploding meaning, of information saturation, of media manipulation, Jean Baudrillard outlines our double bind, the dual demands of the system. The example is that of Children: they have the dual demand to be 1) autonomous individuals, conscious and free, or Subjects; and to be 2) submissive, inert, obedient and conforming, or Objects. Children are not yet Adults; but are not meant to stay Children.

Baudrillard explains that we have the same double bind in our society. 1) It demands that we conformed to its ways, manner, goals, and desires. Our resistance is expressed by becoming free-spirits, autonomous and emancipated; we become Subjects. He notes that this demand and its effect are universally valorized in our society. 2) But, our society also always demands that we constitute ourselves as liberated, democratic/consumer subjects, choosing our own destiny (products). We resist this by not becoming anything, by choosing nothing, through inertia and meaninglessness; we are Objects. This, according to Baudrillard is our consumer society situation.

What does this drive toward conformity and its resulting of autonomy, and the drive toward autonomy and its resulting conformity, have to say about our postmodern condition as emerging church leaders?

We have to recognize the dual bind of our situation with the post/modern church (within modernity and beyond). The first is the pressure of conforming modernity (fill in your favorite definition), the pressure of subjectivity (meaning both bias/personal/partisan, and subjugation/subjected). This results in an anti-modern reactionary perspective, a movement beyond, crashing through the self-important posturing of the powerful; or a Revolutionary Subject. The second is the pressure of liberating postmodernism (in all its colors and flavors), the pressure to express yourself, be yourself, be outside the box. This results in a conforming expression of individualism (even of the communal type) in which to be like no one else, we become no one, become nothing, and in our “like no one else-ness” we become like everyone. “I want to be different, like everyone else” becomes our motto; or a Replicated Object. So we are our worst conformity. (This is why much of the emerging/pomo church reads all the same books, links to all the same blogs, and have all the same big ideas, even me.)

Revolutionary Subject or Replicated Object: What is beyond this opposition? How can we release the pressure? How can we relieve the tension? Well, just as a child does, by growing up. We must grow beyond this tiring binary opposition, this reactionary operation, incising the old from new, the liner from loop, etc. from etc. As children, however, we can’t really grow up if we are only with other children, which is what we are. We must listen to more adult voices and follow more mature models. This means the mostly white emerging church movement (and really we are basically still children learning to talk—note all our discussions about words and language) needs to start listening to global voices and languages (Latina/o, African, Asian, African-American) as a means toward breaking out of the post/modern double bind (the binding of our tongues), as a means toward learning how to talk about/to the Word.

These thought brought to you by “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media” in Simulacra and Simulation.

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